The Photographer (The Photographer’s Saga)

Written by Edwin Miles (trans.) Petra Durst-Benning
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Mimi Reventlow rejects a marriage proposal in 1905 Esslingen, Germany, because she has no desire to become a housewife. She wants to follow in her Uncle Josef’s footsteps and become a photographer. Her mother reluctantly lets Mimi use her trousseau money to buy equipment and pursue her dream. Mimi has an ambition to break the usual mold of stiff, formal portraits, using retouching and interesting props to liven them up. An opportunity to photograph Queen Charlotte interacting with children rather than in a formal studio brings Mimi success as a traveling photographer.

By 1911 Mimi’s photos are in demand. But when her mother asks her to check on her Uncle Josef in Laichingen, Mimi discovers that he is ill and needs help, which will require her to settle there for a time. The townspeople are hereditary weavers in the local linen industry, rather provincial and resistant to change. Mimi opens Josef’s studio and persuades families to let her take their children’s confirmation pictures. She attempts to help young, artistically talented Alexander to get an art school scholarship, but his father insists he must become a weaver. Alex’s friend Anton, an innkeeper’s son, intends to use Mimi as his way out of the provinces once she moves on. The story ends on a cliffhanger.

An image gallery of period photos in the afterword helps the reader see what Mimi was trying to achieve. I enjoyed Durst-Benning’s secondary characters as much as Mimi: Alex’s mother was formerly wealthy but married poor, the unionist Hannes shows interest in Mimi, and weaving factory owner Gehringer is a bit of a bully, yet he has a humane side in not laying off workers during a downturn. Rounded characters and an unusual setting held my interest, though the cliffhanger ending was abruptly disappointing.