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Karl Spiess was a German photographer and studio owner who took a bullet in the First World War and who died in an internment camp after the Second World War.

Karl Spiess

It is no easy task to get a book published, but some go through a more arduous process than others. Take Karl Spiess: 1891-1945, by Dietmar Riemann, for example. The book is dedicated to “the women and men who lost their lives without legal advice in Soviet-Russian internment camps in the east of Germany.” It chronicles the life and work of Spiess, a German photographer and studio owner who took a bullet in the First World War and who died in an internment camp after the Second World War. Years later, in 1986, photo designer Riemann saved 220 of Spiess’ glass negatives and eventually had them smuggled into West Germany by Americans. Many of the photos, which include commissioned portraits, workplace shots and scenes of merriment in the 1930s, grace the pages of a book published in Germany in 2017. It is now available in Canada, home to Spiess’s grandson, the banker Carl Spiess. The subjects in Spiess’s photography were often happy or celebrating, which caused Ryerson Image Centre director Paul Roth to determine that Spiess was a pleasant man. “I can tell by the relaxed expressions on his subjects’ faces,” Roth said. One self-portrait shows the photographer himself with a drink in hand, looking very relaxed indeed. Some 80 years after the photos were taken, it is time again to raise a glass to toast the archivist-author Riemann, whose effort to preserve art and legacy is worth celebration. (On May 6, Riemann signs copies of his book at Stephen Bulger Gallery).

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