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Michael Friedel's camera was pointed at one of the most important players of German photography at the time: L. Fritz Gruber (1908-2005). In the fifties, it was Gruber who ensured that photokina in Cologne, in addition to being a trade fair dedicated to the latest photo technical developments and innovations, also offered a side programme that he initiated and created, with picture presentations that would serve to draw the general public to the fair. The exhibitions, that he remained responsible for up until 1980, also opened up a link to the international photo scene. Gruber not only presented the classics of photography, but also offered an opportunity to new talent, thanks to the “Jugend photographiert” (Youths take photographs) competition managed by Hans Geifes. In its initial edition in 1954, it was Michael Friedel who won first prize. Two years later he was once again among the winners; but this time “only” coming in second.

It was during a meeting in the still empty halls of photokina, that this memorable duel took place: both sides with a Leica M; though L. Fritz Gruber’s M3 was also equipped with an attached light meter, the Leicameter. The perspective takes in the whole breadth of the space, yet the viewer is always drawn back to the centre of the image, Gruber’s fixating left eye. A picture full of tension. It is even easy to overlook the second figure to the right of the picture; yet the man seen there was also of importance to Michael Friedel’s career early on: the legendary designer Willy Fleckhaus (1925-1983). In addition to designing the square-format, photokina catalogue as of 1956, he already became a juror for the youth photography competition in 1954. This resulted in the connection to Friedel. Fleckhaus paid close attention to German photography’s talented newcomers: many of the young photographers presented at photokina, including Horst H. Baumann, Roger Fritz, Thomas Höpker, Wolfgang Roth and Christa Peters, were booked for magazines he was responsible for. In particular, there was the magazine twen, that made West German media history as of 1959. Later on, some of Friedel’s photo series were also presented in that publication.

Without a doubt, this seemingly fleetingly-snapped portrait captured a significant moment in time. It would of course be exciting to know if L. Fritz Gruber, who rarely took photographs, actually did hit the release button; whether the counter shot was taken or whether it was just an elegant pose. One thing is sure, however: Michael Friedel certainly profited from this photographic encounter. (Ulrich Rüter)

Further motifs by the Leica Classic, Michael Friedel, can be seen in the latest issue of LFI magazine.
The exhibition Michael Friedel: Westdeutsche Augenblicke 1955-1976 is on display at the Leica Gallery in Nuremberg until September 26, 2020.
Michael Friedel with Leica in Braszil, 1958

Michael Friedel

...was born in Berlin on June 5, 1935. He discovered photography while still at school in Munich. Following a laboratory technician internship in Munich and a business apprenticeship at Agfa, he became a professional photographer as of the mid fifties. He was soon successful as a photo journalist. From 1956 to 1961 he worked freelance for the magazine Quick, and later for Stern. He returned to Munich in 1968. As a travel photographer, Friedel’s colour pictures repeatedly set new standards. In 1978, together with his wife Marion, he established MM-Photodrucke to self-publish over twenty publications in a number of languages. Friedel lives in Dietramszell near Munich.

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