Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Silver Mysteries

My Great Aunt's husband passed away last night in his sleep. My Auntie May married Lloyd, her second husband, before I was born. I haven't seen him in nearly 10 years, but I fondly remember running around their Boca apartment or shopping with them at the Miami flea market. She's a remarkably strong woman, and I am hurt for her right now.

My father always says that we don't mourn for the loss of a person's life. Humans are far too fickle. Instead, we mourn for the loss of what they mean to our existence. That is why legacy is so important to our species.

Coincidentally, last night BG and I went to the Decatur House for the opening of their new exhibit, Silver Mysteries. Black and white pictures by Volkmar Wentzel (famed National Geographic photographer and writer) from his time spent living in Lafayette Square during 1935 and 1937 are on display including several selections from his Washington at Night collection.

Although the people and cars have changed much in DC (Black neighborhoods and Ford Model T-style fire engines), we've done a wonderful job of keeping our historic National buildings preserved. Many of the pictures of Washington landmarks could have been taken last week.

A quote on the invitation reads, "I am still fascinated by the silver mystery of black and white photography. It... is the equivalent of abstraction in painting or sparse prose in literature." - Volkmar Wentzel.

Mr. Wentzel's widow was present last night as well. The guest speaker was Terrance B. Adamson, Executive Vice President of the National Geographic Society. He spoke of Mr. Wentzel's legacy... more about how he got started as a photographer and found his way into National Geographic. He came to Washington without a high school degree or trade. After meeting a photographer, Mr. Wentzel accompanied him on a shoot of the French Ambassador's wife. After one of the photos Mr. Wentzel took was selected for the Washington Star, his photographer friend loaned him a huge camera with a long lens and book of photos of Paris at night. Mr. Wentzel spent night after night out taking photos of Washington. He didn't use a flash. He always used a tripod. Walking by the National Geographic office one day, he recalled hearing that they had just expanded their photo lab. He stopped in and convinced someone to show him this lab. Then he made friends with the impossible HR Director, and soon enough, he started a lifelong career at National Geographic... including writing more than half of the stories attached to his photographs. Mr. Wentzel, apparently, was also the driving force behind National Geographic's photograph archives. Quite an important legacy.

As for Lloyd, I'm fondly thinking of myself sitting in his lap as he shuffled a deck of cards. Legacies come in all different forms.


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