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Where Did The Photos Come From?

Jerry Pinkowski of the 347th ODC The hundreds of exposures that make up this photo collection were discovered after the death of my grandpa in 1993. Of course, I had known that grandpa was a World War II veteran, but the details of his service were always vague. Like many war veterans Jerry Pinkowski was tight-lipped about his service and it was very difficult to get anything out of him in the way of stories or information. I might have heard him talk about the war on only one or two occasions. I learned more from talking to my Dad over the years. As his son, he was obviously more successful in gleaning information from the old veteran than I was. I found out that Grandpa was not considered fit for service. He was 4-F to hear him tell it! But more likely he was 1-Y, or available for limited service only in war time. He broke his arm as a child and it healed incorrectly, limiting his range of motion in his left arm. Personnel needs being what they were as the country geared up for war, a grateful nation accepted his service and expertise as a trained mechanic. He was also a hobbyist photographer, and this photo collection is the result of him continuing that hobby during his service to his country. He became a soldier but he also became, perhaps unintentionally, a recorder of history.

After Grandpa's death, the family had a big job in going through the various outbuildings on his property in Odin, Illinois and deciding what to do with his belongings. A large pole barn, garage, stable and shed had accumulated a lifetime of dusty odds and ends collected by a former auto salvage man. A very curious treasure was found among all those forgotten items: a tin, cylindrical hatbox about 12 inches in diameter that was chock full of exposed 35-mm film negatives from World War II.

"Why hadn't he showed this to anyone?" was the resounding question. As it turned out, they weren't exactly a secret. Some prints were found in the house, but these were only a select handful compared to the one thousand-plus raw, unprinted exposures contained in the box. Simply by holding them up to the light one could see many interesting things: cathedrals, German aircraft, war-torn villages, and images of the soldiers Grandpa served with. Evidently not interesting enough for him to make photo prints for his own purposes, but the kinds of stuff amateur WWII enthusiasts and history buffs drool over. As time went on, my curiosity and interest in what secrets were hidden in that hatbox grew and I started to get involved.

Why "Lost" Images Instead of "Found"?

35-mm film canisters This photo collection was put away and forgotten for nearly fifty years, lost to the world during Grandpa's lifetime. With Grandpa gone, it seemed there was no hope of unlocking any secrets the photos held. For the first seven years after the photos' discovery they weren't much more than a curiosity and no serious attempts were made at any research. In 2000 I decided to share some photos from the collection on a website which I titled "Lost Images of World War II". "Lost Images" was an apt title then. I invited visitors to contact me if they could provide information about the photos, but I was thinking more about just sharing the photos with interested viewers rather than seeking information. I didn't really expect much response. It seemed like a long-shot to me to get any response at all. Remember that the World Wide Web as we know it was only a few years old at that time!

Boy, did I underestimate the power of a website to reach out to the world! Learning bits of history about the photos from a few of my visitors really spurred me on to start researching on my own, and I set my sights on retracing the steps of Grandpa's journey across Europe all through the war. As I realized how much information could be gathered from these old images, and I made plans to start this new website, I started to wonder if perhaps the old title "Lost Images" wasn't appropriate any more. I opted to keep the old title because these images will always guard more than just a little mystery! I'll never hear my grandpa's version of the Battle of the Bulge or hear about the big party after V-E Day. I won't find out what he loved about the Jeep or what he hated about K rations. For these reasons and a thousand more, they will remain Lost Images.

What Type Of Cameras And Film Were Used?

Medium format negs Argus C3 Medium format negs Medium format negs Medium format negs various cameras various cameras The pictures of this collection can be divided into three categories: 35-mm negatives; medium format negatives; and photo prints I don't have the negatives for. The pictures made from the 35-mm negatives are the most numerous, numbering over 1,000 exposures. Yeah, Grandpa was a real shutterbug! I suspect that Grandpa bought his 35-mm camera in England. My friend whose father also served in Europe tells me that his dad said that cameras were an item that was not allowed on ships while transporting over to the European Theater. The evidence certainly supports this. The first 35-mm photos chronologically in Grandpa's collection are from England. And quite frankly they're really bad! It seems that Grandpa had to work out the kinks and complexities of his new 35-mm camera. His later photos, while not fodder for Life Magazine, did get gradually better with time as one would expect. I have a photo of Grandpa in Morfontaine Cité (taken with a different medium format camera) with him holding his Argus C3 "Brick" in his hand. His trusty C3 stayed with him all throughout the war and its 35-mm photos can be plotted across a map of Europe quite linearly.

An old 35-mm Argus camera that had once belonged to my grandpa was handed down to me. For years I had assumed that it was the camera that was with him all throughout the war. After doing just a little research, I was a very disappointed to find out that the camera I have is an Argus C3 Matchmatic and was made from 1958 to 1966, so was not the camera that took these photos. A closer inspection of the photo of grandpa holding his camera would have revealed the absence of the accessory shoe. At any rate, it would seem that Grandpa liked his old Argus C3 so much that he bought the newer C3 Matchmatic model when it became available long after the war. The orginal Argus C3 that Grandpa used was mass produced from 1939 until 1966 and was virtually the same as the newer C3 Matchmatic. The main differences are the two-tone Leatherette facelift of the Matchmatic, the addition of an accessory shoe and a selenium light meter. The C3 is affectionately called "The Brick" by camera enthusiasts and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand why when you hold the blocky C3 in your hands. It's heavy and a little uncomfortable to hold with it's sharp corners. One feature that takes some getting used to is the lever on the front of the camera with which you manually cock the shutter before taking each picture. The lever is right in the way of where a person would normally hold the non-shutter fingers of their right hand while naturally grasping a camera. You just have to make sure your fingers are clear before you snap your picture or you'll foul up the lever and ruin your exposure. The only other quirk which wasn't apparent to me at first was the system used for labeling the exposure speeds. One simply has to know that 8 = 1/300; 7 = 1/100; 6 = 1/50; and so on. This is unique to the C3 Matchmatic and Grandpa apparently had a more intuitive system on his original C3: 300 = 1/300; 100 = 1/100; and so on. The aperture settings were fairly straightforward, and once I got the hang of the little oddities of this camera, I found it fairly easy to use, even if a little clumsy. These rugged and inexpensive cameras were made in the millions and they are credited by some as being responsible for the rise in popularity of the 35-mm film format in North America. It's said that they are easy to repair, even for non-camera experts. They are still plentiful today and can be found online and in second hand stores very inexpensively.

The next type of photo in the collection is the medium format photos that I have the negatives for. These mostly seem to be stateside photos taken before the company shipped out to Europe. If indeed he was not allowed to take the camera with him, I wonder what he did with it -- if he sold it or gave it away. Most of these photos show Grandpa and his comrades at the Louisiana Maneuvers. The exact type of camera used is a mystery to me. I don't know if a TLR (twin lens reflex), a folding camera, or a simple box camera was used. It's not clear if the camera was really his or if he was borrowing it, but either way, I don't think he was able to take it with him to the European Theater.

The 'Polizei Photo Collection' (see the Related Photos section) are of this type, although they were obviously left behind by the Germans and either found by Grandpa or given to him. They show German polizei (police) at their barracks, and also many photos of traffic accident scenes. I suspect the photos were official police property and used as a record of traffic mishaps and maybe used as evidence. These are 6-cm x 6-cm negatives, unlike the 6-cm x 9-cm ones taken by Grandpa and friends. Very little is known about these photos. It's not known how the negatives came to be in Grandpa's possession, or what locations are pictured.

Lastly, there are a few medium format photo prints that I don't have the negatives for. These, I believe, are photos from his other shutterbug buddies. Many of grandpa's friends holding cameras appear in his various 35-mm frames. The fact that Grandpa has an extensive collection of negatives but not these, suggests that maybe his hobbyist photographer friends swapped and shared their photo prints with him. It's very likely that some of grandpa's photos are in these other guys' photo collections and their grandchildren are making websites just like this one. Well, let's hope so! Concerning photo credits, I've labeled all photos in the collection as part of Grandpa's collection even though it's obvious he didn't take all of them, especially the photos he appears in. It's impossible to keep track of whether Grandpa pushed the shutter or not since cameras tend to get passed around so much when making group pictures.

It appears that Grandpa had to grab whatever film he could get his hands on. As he made his way across Europe one can watch the film brands used change from Kodak to Agfa-Gevaert to Voigtländer. There is evidence that some photos were actually developed and printed in Europe. I don't know if Grandpa knew someone in the Signal Corps or if they were able to utilize French or German film shops, but there are several photo prints that are stamped "passed" by censors and that bear what are obviously handwritten notes to Grandma on the back, meaning they were mailed home to Grandma. It's interesting to imagine how Grandpa must have had to lug an ever-growing rucksack full of little tin film canisters everywhere he went across the European continent. It's even more interesting to imagine that he probably had not the slightest clue that so many people around the world would take such an interest in the contents of that sack more than half a century later.

How Are Places In Photos Identified?

Argus C3 Argus C3 Photos in this collection have been identified with the help of many very generous people, with my own hard work and study, and sometimes good old-fashioned luck. Visitors of my old website sometimes would recognize a building or a landmark right in their own neighborhoods and drop me a helpful note with an identification. My work with this project over the years has also led to several long-distance friendships with people living in Europe who are very enthusiastic about helping me with identifications and in some cases, photographing the sites Grandpa did from the same perspective. Photos like this can be seen in the "Past And Present" section of this site. Sometimes their identifications would lead to other discoveries. For example if a visitor identifies a church in Le Mans, then it's reasonably likely that other photos on that roll are also in Le Mans (or at least nearby), and searches for other unidentified things on that roll can be narrowed. When the rolls are whole there is a unmistakable chronology to the photos.

This is why separating the whole rolls into five exposure segments to fit into plastic sleeves was such a horrible mistake! I thought that the film would be better preserved and stored in the plastic sleeves but after being rolled up in their cans for fifty years the rolls simply did not want to uncurl, even after various attempts to flatten them. For fear of damaging the brittle rolls, I stopped this practice partway through the collection and returned the cut rolls to their canisters for storage, where they remain today. With handling over the years, they inevitably got mixed up. This has caused me to undertake the project of trying to reconstruct each roll's segements to its own can, using a combination of examining film brand, exposure number, content and the edges of the separated film to put segments back in chronological order. It's a big frustrating puzzle when you consider that there are hundreds of exposures to go through. To this day, I regret the folly of cutting those whole rolls, but in 1994 and 1995 when I started making the first prints I never dreamed that chronology of the photos would be an issue. I didn't think that I'd be able to identify one photo, let alone a large part of the collection.

My own discoveries have primarily been achieved with the aid of the internet and tools like Google Earth. The unit history of the 347th Ordnance Depot Company mentions several cities by name and a list of these cities was the starting point of serious research in finding out what places were captured on film. General searches, tourism websites and historical websites were good places to start in learning about the cities in the photos. Later, I discovered Google Earth and it's been an unbelievably valuable tool helping me realize the world that Grandpa took his photos in. Features of Google Earth like its 3-D buildings helped me visualize Grandpa's routes through the streets of old German town centers, and the street view feature even provided photographic views surprisingly close to Grandpa's own. It would seem that the Googlemobile's camera eye is about on the same level as a G.I. on the back of a 6x6 truck! After some of the main stops of Grandpa's unit were pinned on a map, I could sometimes connect the dots and some lesser known places in between and not mentioned in the unit history started to show up in the photos.

Sometimes the photos themselves hold clues not evident at first glance. A First Army shoulder patch not noticed at first on the uniform of soldier could place a photo in a very definite time-frame. An overlooked engraving on the front of a town hall building could reveal the name of the town! Not all clues were that obvious to find, but there's a surprising amount of data there on the celluloid, if one has a sharp eye. I have looked at the images so many times over the years that they have a way of getting burned into my memory. There's been a few times where I've been searching for something totally unrelated and stumbled across something that "just looked familiar" and it led to a discovery.

I sure have had fun over the years trying to identify things and trace Grandpa's footsteps across the world during a time of great struggle. But it was also a time of great suffering and I try to always remember this as I look back. The story, according to the family, was that Grandpa didn't have to serve but he did. He was willing to make sacrifices and I really do admire that quality about him. In the big scheme of things he was just one automobile mechanic who had but one job to carry out for his country, but he also took his spare time to became that unwitting recorder of history, and I'm glad he did. He captured some amazing images through his camera lens and I'm lucky to have found them. I didn't think these pictures would do much good sitting around in that dusty tin hatbox. I've always felt somewhat duty-bound to bring them to the world. I think they're too important and valuable to never be seen.

Thanks for visiting.
Sincerely, Scott Pinkowski