Author Topic: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab  (Read 220 times)

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EarlJam

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My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« on: July 23, 2017, 05:50:48 PM »
Each generation of my family has had a photographer. My grandfather was a chemist by education and career and, once he determined that my dad was also interested in photography, he gave my dad his first camera, built a darkroom next to the garage, taught my dad enough chemistry so that he could mix developers, etc., and let him run. My dad was very artistic (a trait I did NOT inherit) - drawing, painting, watercolor, sculpture - and his pre-war photos reflected that tendency.

My dad was drafted into the US Army in 1942. With a couple of years of college and no immediately-discernable skill set, the Army wasn't quite sure what to do with my dad and sent him to a variety of training camps after basic training: winter warefare, jungle warfare, etc. One of the camps had a Signal Corps base and, once my dad demonstrated he could type (a rare skill for men in that era), he was pulled out of combat training. The Signal Corps had a darkroom and that's where his wartime saga begins.

One weekend, my dad asked if he could use the base darkroom and, thus he became a lab tech and spent his time in the UK at RAF Alconbury attached to a B-17 reconnaissance squadron, developing and printing recon photos with the directive, "print three of everything, put it in a pouch, and send it to DC."

For this first batch of photos, the shot of my dad photographing his younger sister was taken in 1938; he would have been about 17 at the time. That's the earliest photo of my dad with a camera. The subsequent photos depict a typical Army lab.

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2017, 05:54:45 PM »
More lab, along with a photo of the base photo unit and the logo my dad designed for them. My dad came of age in the era of Technicolor movies and Disney animation, and his drawings reflect that aesthetic.

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2017, 05:57:48 PM »
By January of 1944, the US had achieved air supremacy over Germany and had begun daylight missions. My dad went out on a few missions in March of '44 and did some aerial shots, likely with a Speed or Crown Graphic.

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2017, 05:58:59 PM »
More aerial photos. The number of aircraft sent across the Channel is staggering.

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2017, 06:06:21 PM »
The coastline shots were taken over Kingsgate, up the road from Dover. I can't remember know who told me about the significance of Dover to the aircrews, possibly my dad, that no matter how badly damaged a plane was, the white cliffs were a beacon and if you could make it to Dover, you were at least home. For me, the shots of Kingsgate evoke the greatest emotion.

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2017, 06:08:15 PM »
As hostilities wound down, there was time for more formal photography on base.

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2017, 06:15:32 PM »
After VE Day my dad, along with many other GIs, received orders for deployment to the Pacific Theater for the planned invasion of Japan. Since the logistics challenge was massive and would take several months to coordinate, my dad had a fair amount of free time and took a 6-week art and motion picture production course in Paris.

Of course, the war ended without the need for the Japan invasion and the troops came home. My dad's younger brother promised that, when my dad returned, he would buy him any camera that he wanted. For reasons that still escape me, my dad wanted a Graflex SLR. My dad used the Graflex up to 1957, at which point my twin sister and I had turned 4 and moved too quickly for him to successfully focus and compose shots.

Fast forward 70 or so years after the war, and I found box upon box of negatives that my dad shipped home from the UK. Unfortunately, my dad and the generation who could fill in the blanks have passed. At least there's a record of his time in service and the role that photography played.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2017, 06:18:09 PM by EarlJam »

MiguelCampano

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2017, 03:05:44 AM »
Beautiful post. I always enjoy old GI stories, especially after being in the Army myself (going back in, soon) and in particular about the photographers and motion picture staff for the Army/Navy.

Amazing quality, too.

Bryan

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2017, 05:21:38 AM »
Thanks for sharing this Earl, I really enjoyed it!  It's interesting to see the behind the scene photography part of the war effort that you probably wouldn't see anywhere else, especially for us film nuts.  Though I enjoyed them very much, I have seen photos of WWII aircraft before but the photos of the lab setup and your father taking photos are especially interesting to me. 

I am curious what camera that is in the first photo, it has an odd looking back to it. 

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2017, 02:28:40 PM »

I am curious what camera that is in the first photo, it has an odd looking back to it.

I think that's a small plate camera, similar to the KW Patent Etui (Kawee). The structure at the back appears to be a fold-out shroud to help darken the ground glass for focusing. There was a Kawee amongst the cameras my dad "accumulated" (not a typical "collection", as he had 100s of cameras, sometimes a dozen or more of the same model), but I can't say for sure it was the one in the photo.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2017, 07:27:26 PM by EarlJam »

EarlJam

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2017, 02:31:00 PM »
Beautiful post. I always enjoy old GI stories, especially after being in the Army myself (going back in, soon) and in particular about the photographers and motion picture staff for the Army/Navy.

Amazing quality, too.

Thanks, Miguel.

calbisu

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Re: My dad, the US Army Air Force, and life in a WW2 photo lab
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2017, 09:31:57 PM »
So cool to have so many pictures of your dad. Nice story, thanks for sharing  :)