Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Photographers You Should Know: An Encounter with Fritz Henle

Fritz Henle
About age 70.

Blog Note: Retired architect John Donald Walters, who was born in Canada, grew up in New Mexico, and has spent most of his life in Australia, responded to my notice on the Rangefinder Forum  of my series of blog posts about Fritz Henle with a lovely story of meeting Henle in Bermuda while a 19-year-old aspiring photographer on his first trip abroad. His narrative tells us that Henle was very much the kind of person his photographs reveal him to have been. Don has kindly given me permission to publish his account on this blog. I would love to also publish some of the pictures he took on that Bermuda trip, but unfortunately they are stored 800 kilometers away and he won't be able to get to them until at least June. If time hasn't taken too great a toll on those 54-year-old color negatives, we will revisit this again with some of his pictures.

In 1966 I was on my first overseas trip from Canada, five days in Bermuda. On day one I took my Yashica D and some color film and went walkabout, on the hunt for the usual trite tourist images every photographer made in that era. Mr. Henle had just finished a photo shoot on a nearby beach. When he had packed up his Rolleis we had a long conversation about photography, cameras, film and shooting, which led to coffee and a late breakfast at his hotel, introduction to his beautiful and charming wife, and a detailed inspection of my portfolio of distinctly inferior printed snaps.

For a photographer of his reputation and standing he was amazingly kind to this 19-year old photographer with a downmarket camera. I doubt my snapshots - in those days I always had a small portfolio album with me - greatly impressed him, but he looked at everything and made many kind and positive suggestions for me to improve my compositions, check various angles before clicking off a frame (in those days I took only one or two shots of any subject), and let me check out his Rollei kit, a 2.8F and a 3.5F. He gave me a copy of one of his books (I have it in storage so cannot check the title) which he autographed and generously refused my offer to pay for it.

That year I bought a Rollei 3.5E2 which I still have and use. As much as I would like to say Mr. Henle's good advice greatly improved my photography, it took me a few more years and much experimenting before I began to develop my own vision and find my way in the genre.

His best advice to me was not to copy others (not even him!) but to look for images of my own making of subjects I was most interested in. Until then I had shot mostly weddings, conventional studio portraits and news photos. I started exploring new subjects that interested me and found I was gravitating to old buildings and environmental work. Ultimately my career path took me out of news media and studio imagery to 'art' subjects and eventually to architecture (I qualified as an architect in interior design in 1990).

Interesting how a haphazard encounter with one person and the right words of encouragement could have such positive effects on one's life. I have always been thankful to Mr. Henle for the time he took to talk to me and give me his good advice, most of which I have tried to follow in my decades as a photographer.

(John Donald Walters text copyright 2020)

Soli Deo Gloria
For the glory of God alone

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