My first full day in Berlin had begun well, after a nice breakfast I took a taxi to the photography rental shop that would be supplying my lighting for the shoot. Everything went smoothly bar a little rejigging of bags as the chap serving me struggled to put everything into manageable parcels. Struggled he may have but succeed he did not, in neither respect. The bags were not manageable nor did they have everything in, as I was later to discover.
At the museum I was shown around by the curator of fossil archosaurs, the appropriately named Dr Wings. I initially took photos of the specimens using the available light before tackling the more complex task of setting up the studio lighting. When I came to do so I discovered the stands for the flash heads were not in any of the bags. After a quick call I was informed a courier was on his way. The journey had taken me a little over 10mins by cab so I didn’t worry; I assumed I would be underway again shortly. Three quarters of an hour later my mobile rang, the courier said he had arrived and was by the security gate of the west entrance. Not having a compass to hand I had no idea which direction west was and rarely do in all honesty, which makes taking directions in America futile at best but that’s irrelevant; there could surely only be one security gate.
I should point out that I don’t speak German but English is spoken fluently by many and partially by almost all however sometimes there was just enough of a barrier to add a little hilarity. I got to the door where I thought he would be. He wasn’t. He must be outside, I thought, but just to check I enquired if this was indeed the west gate. The chap I asked was a lovely fellow but the question was not clearly understood, I used my wits to communicate where language failed me and we parted company having firmly established our corresponding terms for the four compass points but sadly I was still none the wiser about the mysterious west gate.
Several incoming phone calls later with the courier who’s mobile could not receive calls and the situation was not improving quickly enough for my liking; it was snowing and I had about $30,000 of loaned camera around my neck. I had had no luck discussing the west gate dilemma with anyone but returned to the nearest guy to clarify, on the first asking he had referred me to the chap I’d asked previously so I didn’t pursue it. On the second time of asking he seemed a little more direct “Ask ze man zere! He can help you! ”“No, he can’t” I informed him, “Vy not?!” he responded, an octave higher and sounding increasingly like a character from ‘Allo Allo’. Fortunately his English turned out to be more than a little good and, at length, once we were clear on the problem it was he who solved the riddle. The courier was at entirely the wrong museum but only 10 mins down the road; I was unable to contact him so walked with hope rather than expectation, coat-less into the blizzard, shielding the camera under my jumper as I went. I was pleased to finally meet him and although the whole thing had been dragged out so long that I was freezing, hungry and 2 hours behind schedule a coffee on the way back eased my worries and I remembered how lucky I was to be there at all. My rediscovered peace was short lived, however, as I finished my coffee to find myself in some sort of ‘Fawlty Towers’ tribute. With the flash equipment all set up and ready to go I reached for the very essential but non-existent sync cable. I had specifically mentioned the sync cable in store. I had watched him put it in the bag. But it wasn’t there. Cue frantic John Cleese moment that may have amused the audience of the CCTV but wasn’t what I’d had in mind for the day. I took my coat this time and went myself.
A share of responsibility for all this may well be mine but I feel in situations such as these it’s important to blame others wherever possible.
So after all the farcical elements of the day had passed the actual shoot went very well. It was a real treat to be trialling a Phase One IQ140 camera system and it enabled me to capture some of the most important fossils in the world in exceptional detail. The Berlin specimen Archaeopteryx is a renowned beauty and it didn’t disappoint; I was also able to capture its rarely seen counter-slab and the original isolated feather fossil. The museum itself is wonderful and being there for a day without the public to clutter it up was a fantastic experience that I’m very grateful for. Photos and a bit more on Berlin to follow in my next post.