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Interview with Ian S.

by Torsten Daerr

Today we are talking to Ian S., one of a few collectors of World War II color photos worldwide.

Ian, can you please tell us what exactly World War II photos are?

WW2 color photos are the private and professional encapsulation of history. Through the eyes of the professional photographer and of the normal "John so and so" we have with WW2 photos, an amazing opportunity to see the World as we have never seen it.
In a time where politics, power, greed and emotion went crazy, these images are the only true reminder of... what mistakes we humans can really make!

So when and how did you become interested in collecting WWII photos?

To be fully honest, I technically didn't start with photos. When I was 7 years old my mother was a very passionate sports women. She traveled to Texas in the USA to compete in a racing competition. During her stay, she had a fantastic friendship with the American owner of her little rented house. The owner asked her about her children and she explained that little Ian liked history.

After hearing that, the gentleman quietly went into his private office and came back with a small box in his hands. The box had a silver ring in it. The man explained to my mother that back in 1941, he was working as a Navy medic in Pear Harbour. After the attack on Pear Harbour by the Japanese air force and navy, he was tasked to recover the dog-tags and remains of the dead. The man explained that when he was performing his search, he entered the captain's rooms of the USS Arizona and found the captain's Navy silver ring lying on the ground. He kept this ring hidden away for over 60 years. That was my first true exposure to WWII history. After that my imagination and interest was truly awoken.

Combining this fascination and passion with a natural and inherent love for all things graphic and visual. I found myself naturally pulled towards the world of photography. Photography not only allowed me to simply see the world as it was but also have a feeling for and understanding of the way people were thinking at that time.

Do you still remember the name of the American who gave your mother that silver ring and do you still have the ring?

Yes I think I will always remember this man's name. His name was John O'Donovan. Sadly he passed away 6 years ago. And about the ring. I still have that of course. There are some things that I would sell in my life but there is a small group of prized objects that I would never sell or give away. All I have to do now is have a child of my own and the little lucky bandit, will strike gold. ;-)

I'm sure your children will benefit from your collection too. So let's talk a little more about the WWII photos. I remember you telling me that they actually aren't photos but rather slides. Could you please elaborate on that?

During the Second World War there wasn't such a thing as colour photos as we know it today. The technology required to print a colour paper photo came after the end of the Second World War. During the war years the only possibility of colour still photography was with 35mm positive colour film.

That meant that photographers would take their photos with colour emulsion film and then have them developed as positive colour film slides. The user or photographer would have to buy a slide projector to view his or her photo slides.

Therefore before 1945, if someone wanted to enjoy the new technology of home colour photography, they had to be ready to sit down in front of a white wall and hot projector for this pleasure!

Why did you start collecting World War photos rather than tangible items such as WWII weapons or uniforms?

Because I always found that original photos taken from a private person, showing their perspective on the life and times of this history absolutely fascinating.
If a person has a old sword or helmet on their coffee table, That's all they have, An original old piece of steel and leather. But a photo opens a persons eyes to what the real World was!

Do you still remember how and when you got your very first photo?

Technically my first photo wasn't just one photo. My first color photography came in the form of a old wooden pine box with over 430 individual 35mm color photo slides. The box was the private photographic record of a German mountain troop officer during the Second World War. I think that all happened in the Autumn of 2002.

Do you still remember how much you paid for it?

Yes I do. I paid 431 Euros for this first box of color photo slides. This was a massive amount of money for me and it did force me on the bread and water ration diet for almost a month.

I will always remember using my little student money and looking for loose euro coins under the sofa to pay for this. But it was worth it and if I hadn't made the effort, I was sure this precious historical collection would have gone to some other unscrupulous dealer and broken up in the wind.

Once you had aquired your initial set of color photo slides, how did you then continue to get more items?

It was very simply. People came to me. There was a whole underworld of collectors looking for this material and when I bought these. My email inbox just started to flood with emails. Every possible email came in. Varying from "can I buy these for 10 euros more than you paid for them" to "I live in that town and can I have a copy".

That was the start. I was eventually offered more from some of those gentlemen that contacted me on the first day. After that, it was the snowball effect. More and more contacts and even more original color photo slides...

How many slides do you own now and many would you like to own?

That question has two parts. Firstly at the moment I have just a little more than 22,000 private color slides from 1935 to 1946. The second part of the question is more interesting. How much is enough? That's a very dangerous question for any passionate collector. I think I don't really know. All I can do is keep searching and building on my network of connections and see how big it can get?

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