5 frames with...

5 Frames from Dog Green, Omaha, and a Leica M6 – By Torsten Wulff

Vierville sur Mer, June 6, 6 AM. Woken by lots of boots walking close to the car I grabbed my camera and climbed over a strip of rocks down to the beach. The tide had dragged the sea very far out, and the sun just climbed over the horizon. Against the golden light a uniformed couple was visible, hugging against the chill that clung to the sand, and the memory of what happened here 75 years ago. I knew I had to reach them, through the pools of water. Passing a soldier with an American flag on the way I took his picture, the M6 shutter at 1/250 almost inaudible in the somber mood.

After reaching the still hugging couple they turned out to be german, to my surprise. In the distance Tanks and jeeps were roaring, the beach filled with soldiers now, from all over the world. Real American Rangers mixed with re-enactors honouring the memories of the 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 29th Infantry Division that stormed this part of Omaha Beach on D-Day.

In the plans for Operation Overlord this area was called Dog Green, and it turned out to the worst sector of Omaha Beach, with some of the fiercest fighting and high casualties. It was heavily fortified, with cannons and machine guns strafing over the sand because a street leads up straight from the beach into Vierville, and then on to the Route Nationale and into Normandy. The german defenders knew it was imperative to stop the allied forces on the beach, and only the redeployment of the remaining 2nd Rangers of C Company secured victory that day.

While Robert Capa, who landed with Easy Company a bit further down to the east, had abandoned Leica years before, using with his Contax II with Kodak Super-XX Film (and his Rolleiflex) I brought my M6 (and Tri-X at 400 ASA).

As the sun was up already I worked with comfortable short exposure times and ƒ-stops between ƒ5,6 and 8. After I got the M6 earlier this year, I reacquainted myself with the analog workflow and purchased two enlargers, a 1980s Focomat V35 with Multigrade module and a gritty cool LC1. After it was clear that Nadja and me (it was her idea to go analog in the first place) would travel to Normandy the decision was quick to bring only the Leica, and one lens.

Digitally I use a lot of Nikons and Fuji, but D-Day asked for something special. After reestablishing the analog workflow and the test run in Italy I wrote about here some weeks ago, I was confident to shoot the whole trip on Film with one lens. The M6 felt much more appropriate than any digital Rangefinder or SLR.

From Bob Capa’s trip to Omaha famously only 11 pictures remained, while I had the luxury to shoot four films and chose from them. The obvious difference to shooting digital is how you follow an image. You recognize a possible picture, you get closer, and you take your shot. But sometimes after you pressed the button, the really good image happens in front of you. You crank the camera and shoot again, being aware the moment is over and at the same time hoping it could repeat itself. You end up with two images that surround the perfect shot, but hey. With digital, you snap away, hoping to get the shot, and then checking on the display if it really ended up on the card.

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Unperturbed by the idea of missed shots I let myself flow with the groups of reenacting soldiers in their perfect vintage uniforms. We stood at the waterline throwing flowers into the sea, listening to a lady from Kansas singing the Star Spangled Banner, while performing my own reenactment of Robert Capas most famous assignment.

On a technical Note, as mentioned, 400 ASA Tri-X developed in HC-100 Dilution B, printed with a Leitz Focomat V35 @Gradation 3 on Ilford Multigrade FB Warmtone 24×30 paper, developed in Harman Warmtone.


Charlotte and her boyfriend looked so 1944 that they could have arrived with the TARDIS. It was around sunset of June 5, and a piper started to play Highland Laddie on a pier on stilts. I got quite close and waited for the moment Charlotte turned around and laughed, with the piper in the background. Snap. Having just 5 frames I decided to show this later one, because it does their look more justice.


Sunrise on Omaha Beach on June 6, 2019. Dog Green was eery silent this rather beautiful morning, compared to the inferno 75 years ago.


While people formed a long row on the waterline this trooper went out into the water. The Leica clicked almost silently without being disruptive.


The 35mm lens on a Rangefinder allows you to get elegantly close to your persons of interest.

The M6 turned out to be the right tool to recapture a historic moment that shaped the outcome of the war, and the future of two continents.
Maybe I‘ll try the Contax next time. Thank you!

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12 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Steven Bleistein
    August 20, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Thorsten, these are really beautiful shots.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      thorsten wulff
      August 20, 2019 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks Steven ;))
      A couple of weeks ago I went back to France, and at the rencontres in Arles I stumbled into Shadows, the new gallery of Bertrand Fevre. He had among other things Chet Baker on the wall, we talked about that because I shot Baker shortly before his death without knowing who he was. It turned out that Fevres father was the master printer at Picto in Paris, who did all the work for HCB. I had the D-Day prints in a box with me, but a lot of them were rushed. Five films with 36 images on a roll, and not the Ansel Adams treatment, so Fevre was dressing me down for printing all of them without correction on the 24×30 Warmtone Fibre Ilford paper ;)) So I thought, ah no, why didn’t I use an Xpro2 and Lightroom instead of the Focomat in my bathroom. But where would the fun be in having perfect pictures from Omaha ;))

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Steven Bleistein
        August 21, 2019 at 1:17 am

        Thorsten, I completely agree. Photography is as much about enjoying the experience as it is about the result—at least in my opinion. I think the prints are akin to your style in the photos on your web site, which are also excellent and at least some of which I assume are digital. Those are no mistake, and your prints are not either.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    eric
    August 21, 2019 at 5:36 am

    No more comments than : exceptionally great ! Love them.
    Leica Focomat : simply a gem !
    Thanks very very much.
    Tri-X and, a great M6, a great Voigt and with a great humble combo : great results, with art, and with a real story like last sharing from Hamish with his great M3.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      thorsten
      August 21, 2019 at 3:18 pm

      Thank you, Eric. Five years ago I wanted to go, but ended up in England drinking Gin&Tonics with Stanley Kubricks daughter all night long. Amazingly I managed to meet some Veterans and shake their hands, 75 years later. When you thank them for their service they wave it off, embarrassed for being alive while a lot of their mates died. All of this asked for slowing down, using film and a camera without display was part of that process.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Calum Davey
    August 21, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Wow. These are amazing photographs. Combination of many things, our eye of course, the look you got, your positioning, the analog processing, the quiet little camera… gave me shivers. Really amazing work. Would love to see these in print!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      thorsten
      August 21, 2019 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks Calum… I will go back to the darkroom and start printing them in a slower, high quality mode, with dodging and burning. 20 years of digital work really made me lazy, using presets and the local adjustment tools in lightroom without thinking about it any more. On D-Day I met a french Lady by the name of Zofia R., she is about one hundred years young and sat on the step of the Monument Signal in Les Moulins. She lives in a house on the shore all her life, and mistook me for a friend of her sons. Recognizing the camera she asked me for apicture, which I took. Some weeks ago I went back and delivered the print, which was quite cool and worth the analog effort, compared to the usual emailing of pixels ;))

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Calum
        August 28, 2019 at 11:46 am

        Wow. That is a lovely story. Yes, a printed image is a lovely gift and perhaps increasingly so as they become rarer and we get numb to images on a screen. I like the idea that the camera shouldn’t be a barrier between people but a way of bringing people together, sharing the way of seeing, and creating something unique that connects you. Sounds like you’re acing that!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Eric Manten
    August 21, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Beautifully written and great images!
    No more to say!!!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      thorsten
      August 21, 2019 at 10:33 pm

      Dear Eric, thank you. It’s very rewarding to get such responses from you guys, a good reminder of why I do this in the first place.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Steve Karsten
    August 26, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    Beautiful. Thanks for the share. I’m impressed with the way you captured the shots in such a timeless way. Gotta love that M6 and that solid but quiet “click” of the shutter. Keep up the good work!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      thorsten wulff
      August 27, 2019 at 10:24 am

      Thank you Steve! It was a humbling experience, and the people were really into it. The whole beach appeared to be transported back in time. Yesterday I shot in an exhibition, noiselessly with the Fuji X100s because TV crews were around, and it never came to my mind to dial the ISO up from 400. That’s how much the Leica influenced me already.

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