23 Dec 2023
In 1929 my grandfather bought an early Leica while on a trip to Germany, and he used it throughout the 1930’s and then after the war until it was stolen in the late 1940’s.
The following photographs are all from one roll of Agfa Isopan F (40 ISO) taken on the Leica 1 and document a road trip taken by my grandparents through the French Alps, most likely in the spring of 1938, although there are no notes with the film on when or where they went.
It says something of my grandfathers ability, and the quality of the Leica that of the 39 frames there is only one complete dud, this where he has forgotten to extend the collapsible lens. With one or two focus is a bit out, and there is camera shake in a few of the images. Exposure is good though in all the frames. Only one image is repeated, why I can’t really see as the first is the best and it is one of the least interesting on the film. I present 37 of them here with only the worst scratches removed and with only minor contrast and exposure tweaking.
They were travelling in my grandfather's 1935 Ford Model C 10 with another couple, who appear in a number of frames. They are familiar faces from other negatives of around the same time mostly of walking trips, including to the Austrian Alps in 1937, but nowhere are their names recorded and I have so far been unable to identify them. My grandfather clearly thought they would not be forgotten, but then again he has some negatives with labels such as ‘Mary and Sylvia at…’, when Mary was my grandmother and Sylvia his sister, so there is no telling. Some of the images Grandpa printed as post cards (Ilford Bromide postcards, normal white, velvet finish) a few with information written on them, but they were apparently printed in 1954 by which time some of the locations had clearly become muddled.
The first 12 frames are of the medieval walled town of Entrevaux in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, with scenes that won’t have changed much in centuries yet alone in the 85 years since these were taken. The photo of the ladies loading a donkey is blurred and the one of the lady in the archway does have camera shake. Possibly my favourite from the whole film is the two women outside the hairdressers, my grandmother on the left with the mystery woman.
From Entrevaux they travelled north on the D2202 as 3 photos
from the Gorges de Daluis show. Probably all three were taken from near
the same spot, the last shows the Pont de la Mariée, a tourist
attraction then as now. Question: would an accident have been so readily
assumed had it been the bridegroom that fell?
Then over the Col
de la Cayolle and onto the D902. The next stop is 30 miles further
images from spots on the descent into Bayasse.
long time I had a problem after Bayasse, I couldn’t locate the next 5
photos at all. Logically they would show the descent into the Ubaye
Valley and perhaps ending in an over-night stay in Barcelonnette. But
the descent appears to be heading south, not north, and the steep street
is not Barcelonnette. So where they went was a mystery, but the photos
that follow these are from the Col du Galibier 90 miles further north,
with two or more possible routes and several towns on the way including
Briançon. At this point I realised that maybe the photos only show part
of the story of their journey. Possibly several days have elapsed since
the camera was last used, if the weather was dull or wet and with 40 ISO
film Grandpa may have kept his camera in his pocket. It looks bright
enough in 19, 20 and 21, but 22 which seems to be another location, (and
23 which is the same as 22 but with camera shake) shows threatening
clouds. The car parked on the hairpin bend in frame 21 has large rocks
chocking the front wheels. Not for the first time I wondered about
driving a small car laden with 4 adults and luggage on narrow, un-made
mountain passes with 30h.p., 3 gears and, just possibly, brakes of some
Eventually I thought I had found where the first three were taken, but after publishing the story on 35mmc somebody recognised the view as not where I had thought, but on a descent into Guillestre from the Col de Vars on a road that has been by-passed and no longer exists. It is likely then that they did stop in Barcelonnette before moving on another day over the Col de Vars on the way to Briançon. The final image with the steep street is indeed Briançon, where sadly the ‘Kodaks’ sign is no longer visible on Streetview.
however much time as passed since Bayasse the next five images are
looking south and north from the Col du Galibier, the north entrance to
the tunnel and the descent the other side. The man on the left in the
last photo is from the mystery couple pictured here as he is often is,
carrying what appears to be a large black camera, a reflex plate-camera?
Then there is a another jump in location and maybe time as well as the next three photos are of Annecy 130 miles further north. The first two are from the same location, the last looking back towards the first, you can find the scenes easily enough on Streetview though the women doing the washing are long gone.
Now a warning, the next photos show some very irresponsible behaviour, these are adults in their late 30’s with young children in the care of family back home.
That is a lot of water going through what I assume to be one of the hydro-electric barrages near Annecy, which perhaps explains the lack of photographs since Galibier. I have not managed to place which barrage exactly, probably they have been much re-built over time, though the Chavaroche power plant at the entrance to the Gorges du Fier seems most likely. My grandmother in frame 35 looks terrified in close-up, the male half of the other couple looks to be re-assuring her while holding one camera and with another at his feet. Of his wife there is no sign, though that could be her looking down from the bridge in frame 37.
Finally a shaky photo of an alley, back in Annecy probably. My grandfather surprised perhaps that he managed to squeeze that many images from a cartridge.
Adapted and corrected version of an article that originally appeared on the 35mmc website.