By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos submitted by Ian Spring
All Rights Reserved by www.pixpast.com
Most of the images associated with World War 2 are faded black and white photos, or colorised images by artists who want to bring the faded memories into existence once again.
One would be surprised to find out that colour images of the greatest global conflict mankind has ever faced look like they were shot just yesterday, making World War Two a contemporary affair.
Mr. Ian Spring is definitely not the average WW2 collector and his wide colour slides library, now counting well over 32,000 different shots from almost every corner of the conflict, is now available to researchers, historians and everyone interested in World War 2, via his website www.pixpast.com
www.ww2wrecks.com has contacted Mr. Ian Spring and his insights are valuable to each and everyone researching World War 2, as the war is not only depicted through images of soldiers, guns and battlefields, but also through photographs of the daily lives of ordinary citizens, civilians in the midst of the battles and many more images everyone should check via www.pixpast.com
And in Ian’s exact words, “Somehow share you treasures. Don’t lock them away in cardboard boxes under the bed. Let people see the images. That’s why people took photos.. for them to be seen”.
What was the incentive to start your photo collection and why did you focus on colour slides?
It was a combination of different things. I was born with dyslexia so my mind worked with pictures and images a lot better than numbers and words. As I grew up both my parents spent a lot of time bringing me and my younger brother on trips to castles and old ancient sites all around Ireland. I learned from a very early age, a fascination for history and what people and civilizations have done before us.
It was only by the time I started University learning Industrial Design in Ireland that I had my first access to the world wide web.. aka. Internet.
One day I still remember I sat in the back of a boiling hot class room for computer programming (yawn) The teacher was late and I decided to use the internet. Ebay was a completely new thing for me and most Irish and I decided to have a gander.
Loaning to my fascination with history I searched for old historical photos. On the front page something caught my eye. Out of all the thousands of black and white images, a old gentlemen in Germany was selling a old wooden box with 400 color photo slides from a German soldier in Russia during World War Two.
This really surprised me as I had no idea that private people had the ability to make their own color photos during the 1930s and 1940s. The first color photos in my Irish family photo album started with the late 1960s.
The old wooden box of color slides costs me 400 euros on ebay… I won and now my problem was I didn’t have 400 euros…
I sold everything of mine that was not nailed down on the ground. Did jobs. Asked for loans from my brother and my two best friends.. But within a week I had the cash.
The newly discovered piece of color history was now mine.
Well not quite. The parcel from Germany was lost in the post for over 3 months.
Every day coming back from University my father almost killed me from asking every day if the parcel had arrived.
After 3 long months it finally arrived.. WOW…
Such an amazing combination.. a private diary of color photography from a normal soldier trying to survive the war and get back to his family. The daily life of a man involved in daily madness. Captured like it was yesterday.
I was now hooked.
I came from a middle class family, so I searched for any possibility to finance more of this color history.
I ended up buying little antiques.. anything. .. from Germany or france and putting everything in a backpack once a month and taking the local bus to Dublin to sell my wears in the big city.
I was able to make every month maybe 200 or 300 euros extra from my wheeling and dealing.
And with this little money I was able to finance the start of my collection.
Now over 17 years later and 32.000 color world war two slides standing in front of me, It has been a great adventure finding these pieces of peoples history.
Colour essentially makes photos much more relevant to today, as if they were shot yesterday, not 75 years ago. What is your opinion on the historical significance researching and essentially safeguarding those photos/slides, bringing History alive?
I believe humans repeat their history a lot. A lot more than we like to think about.
And very sadly one of the most destructive and stupid solutions we humans have cooked up during our existence on this planet is to try and wipe out our enemies or those who disagree with us.
From history we can see this solution does not work.
If through my work, my research and my investment in preserving these rare historical color photographs, people can see the everyday life of people during war, see the waste of life, young and old losing their precious lives due to war. If that helps future generation’s rethink the option of war… 1 percent of people think differently than my life investment has been justified.
Do you agree that photos depicting historical moments should be preserved and showcased for the present and future? What is a “lesson” you learned from your collection?
We forget things and we generalize things much too easily.
It’s a little scary because my wife is German and I’m Irish, so in the generation of our grandparents, my grandfather could have been fighting my wife’s grandad.. Different uniforms.. different nationality… using war to solve… well basically nothing and both side lie dead in a field in the middle of France.
We just always try our absolute best to remind future generations of what happened and how bad war is. World war two was a nightmare for millions. We can’t even image how bad a third world war would be… please god we never have to.
What have I learned from my collection? Lots of things actually. 17 years and my slide collection has been my biggest history teacher for half my life.
I would say it’s quite scary how many people still destroy these old slides. I would say at least 70% of old slides from the 30s and 40s are binned. People don’t want to know or put in the effort to record or keep these historical images.
Because slides are seen as an old photographic format people also are not interested.
If or when I am lucky and discover a collection of color slides taken by a german or American or british soldier during world war two, the pictures show a very different world than the famous war time propaganda photos we know so well from history books.
Not the typical storm trooping Germans through Paris France 1940. But images of a German soldier sitting in a hospital bed being visited by his wife and little son from Munich. Sitting and hugging each other. You know from the image the only thing the soldier wants is his home and family.
Future projects/publications: What are your plans for the future?
In the coming years I would like to see a lot more photo books being printed with the pixpast name. I have 32.000 color slides and I think that’s enough for a few amazing books. It just takes time and you need the right people to work with to get something good.
My first book Leipzig in Farbe was my first but hopefully not my last.
I’m also doing a lot of projects with magazines and TV in France and Germany.
Plus I’m always trying to add more new content onto the pixpast website.
Apart from the “typical” war colour photos/slides, there are many of daily life from the eyes of the average citizen. How important is it to put history in perspective?
Absolutely important. War time was not only on the battle ground. When the father was in Africa the wife and children sat down in a small apartment in London hoping that the building would not been hit my hitlers next blitz attack.
The whole normal life had to continue. And this was well photographed by civilian photographers and also soldiers on leave back home.
Whenever military photographs are shown in a book, magazine or TV… they should always be accompanied by the outer scenario. A big gun fires in the middle of a village but then show the little children hiding in a ditch behind the gun.. Scared of their lives from the sound.
(I know it is very difficult, but…) If you had to choose one specific colour photo, because of the story it tells, which one would it be and why?
A very tricky question. I guess it would actually come from my very first box of color slides.
An agfacolor german color slide showing a little brother and sister holding hands. A normal german soldier has just entered Russia 1941. Seeing a completely new world of culture custom and language. The young German man takes his Leica camera and photographs for posterity his first views into the east.
On the other side of this camera, a little Ukrainian brother and sister one minute playing with each other in the grandads garden, one minute later being asked to pose in front of a stranger in a strange uniform with helmet. They don’t understand the situation, they don’t understand the language, they do what they can only do, take each other’s hand.
That was a historical human moment captured in color. That’s what really moves me.
What would your advice be to collectors of period photos?
Somehow share you treasures. Don’t lock them away in cardboard boxes under the bed. Let people see the images. That’s why people took photos.. for them to be seen.
And of course protect them. Keep the slides or photos in a dry dark box away from moisture if possible. Also try and keep the image stored in an environment where the temperature does not go up and down too much.
Scan them with a really good scanner and keep the images digitally preserved in 2 or 3 different locations. It’s a lot work but if the originals are ever gone.. the images are not.
How important is it to have your collections online, accessible to everyone, as a tool to knowledge?
It makes the whole thing fun for me. I think it’s very boring sitting on boxes full of historical treasure and not letting the World see them.
A lot of people are now buying this rare color material simply as an investment. They buy wonderful slides and put them into a metal box for the next 50 years.
Once they are sold.. you never see them again. A lot more of this history is being locked away than being shared.
But hay, I think for my life I’ve made the right decision. In Ireland we have a little nice phrase “you can’t bring it with you” meaning when you die, you can’t bring one single penny with you. So I’m doing the great things now with my time and cash.