We're pleased to continue presenting Exposures: An Aperture Blog, where fine-art photography enthusiasts around the world can interact with some of the most engaged professionals in the field. We welcome your comments.

04 May 2007


Once I've arrived in the area that I picked out to go to, the search begins. There are many different ways of getting around and finding places. It all depends on the people of that particular region. The simplest way is to drive around and start knocking on doors, and see what happens. In some countries this works, but also only up to a certain level; sometimes you arrive in an area where strange or bad things may have happened awhile ago. There, people will no longer let you in.

And sometimes you just know that there are interesting places that you want to see, but you don't want to knock on the door. You're afraid it will be a great place to photograph but they won't let you in. In Germany (Das Bayerische Wald, where I traveled with my daughter), there were a couple of places like this; I had seen them and I was afraid to spoil the opportunity. In that case, there are several ways to get around. One of them is to ask around and see if you can find someone who knows the person living in the place in question. You try to get an introduction from this intermediary.

You see some of the directions that were given to us when we were trying to approach certain places. I made a simple sketch of how to get there (or to show the informant which place I wanted to get into) and I wrote down the names that were important for me. In both situations, it worked out.

After I had found people who knew these places and the people living in them, they told me to go there and tell the inhabitants that I had been sent to make the photograph by the go-between; often this was enough, and often this IS enough. If you have a name of the person who introduced you, and the name of the person you want to meet, you come in with an air of trust. People feel much more comfortable. In Portugal for instance, we often went to the local fire brigade and talked to the commander-in-chief. If we then knocked on certain doors and said that Mr. So-and-so—chief of the fire brigade—had sent us, no questions were asked.

02 May 2007


My travels made me face the facts: the people I portray are an endangered species. One such member of that species is this man, who lives about 50 meters away from the Czech border, which in this area is marked by a creek.

(The second photograph is my daughter’s.)

There used to be a farming community across the creek. After the Russians took over and the other side became communistic, a five kilometer-wide buffer zone was established at the border; all houses in the zone had to be destroyed, and all the people who lived there had to go. Meanwhile, Germany began installing electricity and running water in outlying homes. But because he lived far from the public road, plumbing and electricity would cost extra. He and his mother refused to pay. They never got any electricity or running water. He just collects wood for the fire; the entire house is filled with it. He was kind of a strange guy, but a lovely man with a very basic life.

01 May 2007

Bomb Shelter

World War II turned decisively against the Axis Powers when they were pushed back on the eastern front by the armies of the Soviet Union. It was after this failure that the German Resistance became determined to assassinate Adolf Hitler and his closest deputies, in order to form a government that would surrender to the Allies instead of being overrun by the Soviets. Hans Georg Klamroth was a member what became known as the July 20 Plot, was captured just like the rest, and executed in August 1944. I was in Germany on the anniversary of this attempt, and made this composite photograph of the TV movie about the assassination, aired on that day.

Klamroth’s youngest daughter, Wibke Bruns, wrote a book about her family and how they entered the World Wars; it sheds light on the thoughts of the German aristocracy around that time. (The book is titled: Meines Vaters Land: Geschichten einer deutschen Familie.) Wibke Bruns would present the German television news when I was a young boy. We watched German television much more than Dutch television because of the bad reception and limited programming at home.

The Red Army marched into Berlin in April of 1945. Ultimately, not only did the German Resistance fail to assassinate Hitler, but their larger goal was never realized: the part of Berlin occupied by the USSR became the capital of Soviet-controlled East Germany.

This man was the uncle of the guy who helped me prepare my trip to Germany. He told us about life in the area close to what was then the East German border. Back then there was a big military compound just across the border, and he was afraid that if a confrontation arose between East and West Germany, the compound—and his home nearby—would be a target for an American nuclear bomb.

He was the only one in the whole neighborhood who had a bomb shelter built in his yard. He showed us how he could survive an atomic attack and how he would live off his supply of food and water. It was a strange experience to see how anyone could have thought to survive an attack like that at all. It must have cost him a fortune to have it installed; his neighbors never really took him seriously.

30 April 2007


The house where I was born and raised was knocked down when I was nine years old. Right now I live in a typical post-war house in what we call a forensic town. All the houses in such a town look the same and have the same kind of interior. This village of two thousand has grown to forty-three thousand, all commuters to jobs in distant cities. This house, and this town, no longer supports the atmosphere that my project is about.

Rosa’s did. Rosa lived all alone about 50 meters across the Austrian border. We were sent to her by a guy who used to deliver bread in that area. She was happy with our visit; since her dog died, she felt quite alone. She still had the warning sign for the dog in the garden. It served to keep intruders away. Last winter she had so much snow on her roof that it almost collapsed. You can still see some of the beams her son put in, which help the fragile structure hold together.

I keep a diary with all the places that I photographed: notes about things that I’ve seen, heard, and don't want to forget. I also put in the 4x5' Polaroid that I always make to check the angle and the equipment before taking the actual photograph.

My daughter Sophie can be seen in the top frame, next to Rosa. She learned how to recognize good places from a distance, and she looked carefully inside when we were welcomed. She also took pictures, like the one of me next to Rosa in the bottom frame (in it, I am writing down her address). I was struck by the beauty of them; the way she looked at different artifacts when she took the photographs. She has a sharp eye and she shows what drew her attention in those places.

We would talk afterwards about the homes we saw. I must say that she was in a strong way very involved in the project. As you can imagine, it made me feel very excited and proud.