Mathias Prinz

My great-great-grandfather was a professional photographer in Germany around 1900. From the family archive that was handed down to me, this glass plate negative is the only photograph he took that remains and also the oldest photograph in the archive.

The boy in the picture is his son, my great-grandfather. My favorite part about the photograph is how they made him hold a cigarette and scratched the negative to make it look like it was lit. The cigarette, the suit, the haircut — they make him look like a grown-up, but to me it just underlines his boyish looks. I read the expression on his face differently every time I look at the picture.

Photography as a hobby remained a constant in my family. The archive is a pretty good historical documentation of Germany — swastikas, bombed buildings, post-war middle class households, young men with long hair on motorbikes. So much has changed since this picture was taken, yet the glass plate holds so many qualities that I still look for in photographs today. Some small contradictions in the composition, a visual interest in surfaces, a tint of inscrutable humor, a hint of an underlying sadness.

Mathias was featured in Romka 10 in 2017.