In August 1988, a legal aid from what was then West Germany was taken hostage by two bank robbers. Dieter Degowski and Hans-Jürgen Rösner had attempted to rob a Deutsche Bank, but were thwarted after the authorities were called. However, instead of giving up at the bank, they managed to negotiate for 300,000 DM (153,388 euro) and an escape car filled with hostages. From there, they went on a three day road trip, with the media in full pursuit.
It was on the following day the hijacked a public-transit bus with 32 passengers, eventually shooting one of the hostages, a 15-year-old Italian boy, in the head. On the third day, the drove the bus into the Netherlands, where they eventually picked up a BMW 735i as new escape car for themselves and their two remaining hostages, Silke Bischoff and Ines Voitle. All live, via TV, radio and newspapers.
Eventually, after stopping to shop at a pharmacy, the whole thing wound down to a hail of bullets and crashed cars, leaving one hostage, Silke Bischoff, dead, and the other injured.
I know about this because I read about it in LIFE Magazine. Specifically, I saw a picture of the ordeal in the 1988 Year In Pictures. That’s how I know about Silke Bischoff.
God, I miss LIFE Magazine. I would put OMNI Magazine as my personal favorite magazine of all time, but if we are talking about influences, about what had driven me, especially as a photographer, there is no question I would never be doing what I do if it hadn’t been for Life Magazine.
Only just recently, I discovered a copy of that 1988 Year In Pictures that my father had kept. I was blown away. Not only by the content (LIFE = How big, how broad, how deep can you cover? Everything is fair game for LIFE!), or by the truly great quality of the photography, though that is part of it. No, what really has blown me away, what had been totally lost in the mists of time, for me at least, was the size of the thing. LIFE was a huge magazine. And I sat down and have viewed it for hours.
And that was has blown me away. A powerful image from that hostage standoff was featured in that 1988 issue, a picture of one of the bank robbers holding a gun right up to the chin of Silke Bischoff while casually puffing a cigarette.
It’s a haunting image; death, desperation and evil write large. That’s what it looked like in LIFE Magazine, anyway.
Now, if you’ll notice, I also included the same image as it would have been seen on one of today’s average portable device.
And there it is.
The problem with photography isn’t the pictures we are taking, it is how we are viewing the pictures we are taking.
Every day we are documenting our lives, and our world around us. Photographers record the human condition, in all its comedy and pathos, we celebrate our world with glorious landscape pictures, we preserve memories of our loved ones, and introduce strangers on the street to the world. And we are doing it in ways that are extraordinary. Friends, we are in a golden age, the cameras that are being produced are almost magical in their capabilities, with even more exciting advances on their way.
We take pictures filled with wonder, with instruments born of incredible technical achievement, just to see them on a screen a couple of inches wide.
But, you say, I have a 26″ inch monitor at home, fully calibrated and state-of-the-art, isn’t that a good way to view photographs?
In a word, no. I’m not only talking about the small screens of our mobile devices, I’m talking about actually sitting down and contemplating what you are seeing. You have a 26″ monitor? Brilliant. Tell me you don’t also access facebook, your e-mails, Pinterest, Tumbler, Twitter, the Daily Kos and TMZ while choosing songs from your Spotify playlist all while viewing those impeccably rendered photos?
I’m talking about really seeing. Observing. Analyzing. Taking in, like you would in a museum. The photographs we take, we put in so much effort into making them great. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t we also be respecting that effort, and try to put in an equal effort to view them as they are meant to be seen?