That photo was made at the risk of my life during the May Day
Festival, 1960, in East Berlin. It is of an East Berlin soldier on guard duty. At that time, it was against the law in East Berlin to
photograph soldiers (and police). He is standing on a railing on
Unter Den Linden, looking right down at me photographing him, without
knowing he was in the picture. That was
accomplished using the very first super-wide angle, 20mm lens for 35mm
to be brought to market, an East German Zeiss Jena lens that I had
recently gotten in East Berlin almost the day it came out. It was on an
Exakta Varex camera, also East-bought for relative pennies, because of
the ridiculously unbalanced rates of exchange. The soldier was on the
North side of Unter Den Linden, with the old, bombed Reichstag building
showing behind him to the right.
Because the short focal-length lens had to clear the mirror on a single-lens reflex camera, that Zeiss Jena lens was a radical retro design umpteen times the size of any wide-angle lenses of the day, making it stick out forward like a fairly large tele lens. So I walked right up to the soldier, asked him if that were the Reichstag Building, acted like I was taking a telephoto shot of the building and managed to get him into the photo down the whole left side of the picture, with his feet and legs somewhat amusingly exaggerated (distorted by the close perspective), but his face and upper body undistorted. That was my interpretation of the ridiculousness and futility of the whole situation that May Day in the divided city. The lens was wide enough to include all of him while pointing straight ahead.
Later, I was arrested for taking photos of cripples and street artists, and almost lost everything, including the film and my freedom (there was no recourse for Americans in East Germany, as we didn't have formal relations of that kind). But some students I was with came to the police station and convinced them I was just an exchange student, saving my life and my film.
This photo has since been exhibited all over the world.
Errata: it was brought to my attention that the building in this photo is really not the Reichstag but is the Berliner Dome, which was and is the largest ruined church in Berlin. I apologize for the misnomer, but at the time, I was new to Berlin.
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© 2005 Mark Anstendig
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