Yes. By 1999 they had all died — my German father, my American stepfather and my mother. I wish I had started the project much sooner, because it would have been wonderful to be able to ask them questions that I didn’t think of until I began sorting through the images and papers. About five years before he died I had encouraged my stepfather, who had turned to writing in his retirement, to write about his war experiences, which he did with great enthusiasm. The autobiographical sketches were never published, but I was able to use some of his descriptions in my photos.
It’s hard to answer this question. I began this project in 1997. I re-photographed snapshots, ephemera and documents and attempted to layer them into the sort of images that had been floating in my imagination for some time. But I was trying to do these things with film and in the darkroom, and after several months, I knew I couldn’t realize my vision in that way. Time passed — ten years, in fact. I had slowly been acquiring basic proficiency with Photoshop through workshops and manuals. But there was always too much else to do, and I felt I had to clear the decks and focus on this project alone. That opportunity came when I had shoulder surgery in 2007, which limited the movement of my right arm for about six months. I couldn’t use a camera, but I could scan images and work on the computer. Work on the project became all-consuming. Things fell together. I dreamed images and made sketches in the middle of the night. I read histories of the war and autobiographies and novels about personal journeys — psychological and real — that the war enforced. This project is a journey back to those years, so I can go forward.