OUR FIRST PHOTO ASSIGNMENT IN EUROPE
Summer, 1967. It's been 19 months since we started our very own studio in New York City, and both my business partner, Jim Houghton, and I really needed a little vacation after all the trials and tribulations of beginning a new venture. Luck was with us. Our sales rep, Art Aaron, brought in a nice little job to do in Germany, Italy, and Austria. It wouldn't pay much more than the cost of doing it, but business was — as always — slow at this time of year, and we needed the break. So we said yes.
The job was for Opera News Magazine, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild of New York. They wanted us to capture in photos the very essence of three operas that were soon to be performed at the Met. These were: Hänsel und Gretel by Humperdinck, Roméo et Juliette by Gounod, and Luisa Miller by Verdi. What was wanted were atmospheric renderings of the appropriate settings, namely the Black Forest of Germany, Verona in Italy, and the Tyrol in Austria.
We began by flying Lufthansa to Stuttgart, where we rented a smallish Mercedes from Hertz and headed south into the heart of the Black Forest, Germany's renowned Schwarzwald. As soon as we encountered really dense woods we pulled over and took photos while daylight was still with us. After that we found an inn for the night, had dinner, and braved the forest spirits by taking scary pictures by flash in the dark. No evil witch appeared, and not a gingerbread house was in sight, but all-in-all it was full of the primeval realm of nature that so permeates this fantasy tale of little Hänsel and his sister Gretel lost in the woods.
The small text insert on the left is from the first page of the photo essay as it appeared in the December 23, 1967 issue, just in time for Christmas.
Above is another page of the four-page essay. After getting enough pictures we headed south to Baden-Baden for lunch, then a long drive to Interlaken in Switzerland, where we stayed the night. What do you do in Switzerland besides climb mountains? Why, look for watches. I bought a huge diving watch, which looked cool even though I don't dive.
The next day we drove to Luzern, where we again stayed the night before taking off for Italy. That route took us south to a point near Göschenen, where the car had to be put on a train to pass through the St. Gotthard Tunnel under the Alps. Emerging at Airola, we rejoined the E-9 highway past Lugano, Como, and into Milan. By this time it was quite late at night, so we took the first hotel we saw.
From Milan we took the Autostrada to Verona to capture scenes from Roméo et Juliette, which the town is full of even though the story is pure fiction. The photo above was a grab shot — we were seated at this café having a pizza as the lovers strolled by. Moral: Always keep your camera at the ready. Jim shot this one with his Leica M2 — small, silent, unobtrusive. Tri-X B&W film.
Even though Romeo and Juliette never actually existed, you can see the famous balcony, his house, and even her tomb. These shots are part of a four-page spread that appeared in the April 13, 1968 issue.
Next stop was Austria's Tyrol, the setting of Verdi's seldom-performed opera Luisa Miller. On the way we made a lunch stop in Venice, right on the Grand Canal, and then headed north to Cortina d'Ampezzo, high in the Italian Alps. After a good night's sleep at this ski resort, we continued into Austria around Lienz.
Rural scenes abounded as we headed towards the Grossglockner Pass, which climbs some 8,370 feet on its 29-mile sky-high crossing of the Alps. So we got our photos of alpine bliss, complete with cows. Unhappily, I can't find any of these and so can't post any here. Lunch was taken outdoors at the impossibly picturesque village of Heiligenblut, where we finished the assignment before continuing north for a little vacation.
Pressing on past Salzburg, we turned west on the Autobahn to Munich, where we got a room for the night and visited the Hofbräuhaus for some tasty beer. The next morning it was off to Stuttgart to return the car and get a flight to Paris. After a few days we met up with friends who were going to London, so we joined them and spent nearly a week in South Kensington and Chelsea. After that it was back to New York to develop the film and get back to work.
Ah, that was a nice assignment, if not a very profitable one.
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