It all started with a shoot on a small, remote island in the Atlantic, exactly fifty years ago. The pictures I took on that shoot ended up in all the travel brochures and as a result, Fuerteventura became a major travel destination. And when I took “Jumping the Dunes,” I became a car photographer.
I did my first professional car shoot when I was just 21 years old, and it was a pure stroke of good luck.
At the time, I had just completed my training as a photographer and was working in a camera store in Stuttgart called Foto Krauss, where mostly I took passport photos and sold rolls of film.
One day – this was in 1972, so exactly 50 years ago – a customer walked into the store and asked for the most expensive camera we had. “The best you’ve got, with all the bells and whistles.”
This of course meant a hefty commission for me, so I put together the most expensive package we had: a camera that was essentially way too professional and way too expensive for this store.
Foto Krauss was a good store, but more for amateurs than professionals. And we happened to have in stock a professional-grade camera that wasn’t selling. Big surprise – it cost 25,000 Deutschmarks!At the time, a Porsche cost 24,800 Deutschmarks – just to give you an idea of what kind of camera this was.
The customer asked me to bring the camera and all the accessories to his office at 2 P.M. So, at 2 P.M., I found myself waiting in his super-busy secretary’s office, people buzzing about, as if were in some movie. And I waited and I waited.
“The best you’ve got, with all the bells and whistles.”
My boss was annoyed that the customer hadn’t paid for the camera up front, and that I had to bring it to him. As I sat there in the secretary’s office, the minutes ticking by, I started to sweat. I had visions of everyone waiting for me at the photo store, with no sign of me or a check, everyone thinking that I had made off with the money!
Anyway, the customer finally stepped out of his office after about an hour and said, “Oh! You’re still sitting there. I don’t have any time right now. Come down with me to my car, quickly.”
So, I ran after him down into the garage and found myself sitting in his Opel V8 Diplomat with this big pile of cardboard packaging on my lap. And he said to me, “Please don’t try to explain the camera to me right now. I still have some calls to make.”
(He had a car phone at the time, and I can still remember the number: 58243. Back then, you had to call the government telecommunications agency to place a call. “Hello, government telecommunications agency, please connect me to so and so.”
Twenty minutes later we were at the airport. A barrier lifted and I saw this giant plane, his private jet. I asked him, “Where do you want me to put the camera?”
“Stop blathering and just bring me the camera up here,” he muttered. The next thing I know, the aircraft doors were shut, the engines roared to life, and we took off, landing some four hours later somewhere in the Atlantic on an island that no one in Germany had ever heard of.
I had time on the plane to get everything set up properly, loading film and whatnot. Two hours into the flight, the customer told me, “You know what? You know how to use this much better than me, so why don’t you take the pictures?”
This customer was actually quite a visionary, like Elon Musk today. He had set himself the task of developing tourism on this small, unknown island in the Atlantic, just off the coast of Africa.
“We’re expanding the airport, building hotels. We’re opening all this up.” That was his plan.
And in 1972, this person brought the first vacationers to Fuerteventura.
“Stop blathering and just bring me the camera up here.”
I hadn’t ever used it before. And I never went back to the photo store. I instead found a roundabout way to approach the owner of this chain of stores. I told him, “Mr. Krauss, I’ve come to confess.”
I got a meeting right away. And there I sat, my sunburned skin peeling off everywhere, because of course I hadn’t taken any sunscreen with me to Fuerteventura when I had taken off with the developer like that.
“Now I’m excited,” Mr. Krauss said.
I simply told him what had happened, and he was kind enough to release me from my employment contract. He liked my story, and it marked the beginning of a friendship that continues to this very day.
“How can we get the cool people to come here?” he asked. And I said, “By offering cool things to do!”
So, I returned several times to Fuerteventura, going around with the real estate developer, taking pictures of properties. After the first eighty apartments went up, he asked me, “How can we get the cool people to come here?” And I said, “By offering cool things to do!”
It all started one Christmas, with “the biggest Christmas tree in the world.” Of course, it wasn’t the biggest, because the plane’s cargo could only hold something 6.80 meters in length, but no worries. I flew down there on Condor Airlines with the Christmas tree, and we all celebrated Christmas in the sun, at 30 degrees C.
We needed other highlights besides Christmas itself, so I suggested that on Christmas Day we take everyone on the hotel bus to a deserted bay to eat mussels, which was a bit of an exaggeration, because all the bays on Fuerteventura were deserted back then!
“It was instantly clear to me that we needed a buggy for these dunes.”
So, we did go to a bay, and we waded knee-deep through the water, picking mussels off the rocks. We made a campfire, and we had brought baskets with plates and silverware and spices and drinking water. We used all that to make a broth to cook the muscles in. We even had chilled white wine with ice cubes to wash it all down. Everybody was just over the moon about it.
Then came windsurfing. This sport was just a few years old at the time. We brought some boards down to Fuerteventura, hired a few pros, taught the vacationers how to windsurf – and we put cool surf pictures in the next travel brochure.
I came up with some ideas by working with people on the spot, and then I was taking pictures of everything anyway. And all these pictures were then used to advertise the island.
It’s impossible to imagine now, at a time when there are pictures of everything, but back then, there were just no images of Fuerteventura at all. In the 1970s, no one knew where Fuerteventura was or even what it was. And then came the dunes.
They were just incredible, real shifting sand dunes. I had never seen anything like it. It was instantly clear to me that we needed a buggy, and that we would use it to drive over the dunes.
But it took another six months before I learned that you could also jump over the dunes.
That’s how long it took to get the Beach Buggy there.
Someone from the company went straightaway to buy this buggy in Belgium. And then we had to get it down to Fuerteventura.
There were no cell phones or faxes at the time, just telex and directional radio. It took three days to drive the buggy down to Seville or perhaps Cadiz in the south of Spain, and then it was put on the ferry to Gran Canaria. We had to wait for days for the next ferry to Fuerteventura, and then we had to wait another couple of days for a gas station to open, because the oil tanker hadn’t come… it was quite an adventure.
“It took six months to get the buggy to the island.”
My 1972 picture “Jumping the Dunes” was my very first professional car photograph.
It gave a huge boost to the island. I saw my Fuerteventura pictures in every travel brochure there was. People immediately went to Karstadt, Kaufhof, and Neckermann, all the major travel agencies, to book their next vacation there. The island was now everywhere.
It was such a tremendous experience for me. I ended up working full-time for the developer, and I had his complete trust. I had a blast. This was a very formative period of my life.
“My Fuerteventura pictures ended up in all the travel brochures, and “Jumping the Dunes” became my first professional car photograph.”
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