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A life with many chapters: Will McBride (1931-2015) came to Germany as a GI at the beginning of the fifties, and decided to stay. He became a successful magazine and commercial photographer, with a studio in Munich and later in Frankfurt. He travelled the world for his work, lived for a while in Italy, and finally made his home in Berlin, till the end of his life. His estate has now found a home in a small village in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania: the photographer's eldest son, Shawn McBride, has been living with his family at Bristow Manor in the community of Schorssow, since 2016. In addition to extensive renovation work to be done on the property, Shawn’s aim is to examine the whole of his father's archive and, ultimately, to display the work in future exhibitions. It is an enormous challenge: there are around 350,000 negatives and the same number of slides to look through; there are many prints to be preserved; and the correspondence and writings from six decades need to be archived. We spoke with Shawn McBride about this work and his plans.

LFI: What state was the archive in when you and your brothers took it over? What are the most important tasks you face?
Shawn McBride: The very day he passed away, January 29, 2015, the whole archive was loaded onto a small truck and taken to a safe place. By three years later, we had gained an overview of all relevant issues; and we made ourselves a contractual agreement – as far as that's possible between three brothers. Collaborations and contracts from the past needed to be screened, and the material sifted through. At the same time, new collaborations were established, exhibitions took place, books were published, and questions of picture usage and rights were clarified. Over time, all this has continued to evolve.

Will McBride always considered himself a visual artist; he drew, painted and sculpted. His greatest success, however, came with photography. Are you taking care of your father's entire artistic oeuvre?
“The whole person” - is how he always described his oeuvre. I focus on the photography part of it. Shortly before his passing, at the opening of his big exhibition at C/O Berlin, he asked me in front of the cameras: “What do you think about my painting?” I answered, “I shall not be its advocate.” But you just never know.

Has your impression of your father changed, after working on his legacy? Did you make any discoveries?
Our conversations were rarely deep and complex – he consistently tried to avoid them. This made me all the more surprised to discover the highly intellectual thought processes in his diaries, letters and, above all, the marginal notes he made in books. I understand his legacy to represent those long-delayed conversations. He made sure of that.

Do you also take photographs?
I have rarely picked up a camera with the aim of using it to convey my own musings, convictions or feelings. This is certainly due to the family experience; one where all other participants were subordinated to the creative urge of a complex personality who thought in pictures.

What would your greatest wish be for the future of the archive?
To put it briefly: that it may serve posterity; and that it also may be to the advantage of his descendants.
(Interview: Ulrich Rüter)

LFI 2/2021 presented a selection of Will McBride's work in the Leica Classic segment.

Further information at: Will McBride Archive
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