Who was Pearl and who was the man fighting at Gallipoli in World War I who must have had a moment's warmth when her postcard arrived from Hataitai?
Heinz Sobiecki needed to know. That faded, foxed, old-fashioned card festooned in kisses, dashed off in fondness or passion or perhaps hope, forms part of Sobiecki's exhibition at Wellington's Photospace Gallery.
It is one of seven old postcards he pondered on and accompanied with 22 relevant contemporary photographs for the exhibition.
The postcards come from a small, nostalgic collection made by his wife, Sonja, and she was instrumental in researching them, often with just an address and a couple of Christian names, and those not always legible, to go on.
Pearl's address, written with a fountain pen and a flourish, was 3 Moxham Ave, Hataitai.
She wrote: "Just a PC to let you know that I haven't forgotten you. Hope you are having a merry time with the Turks. Best love from Pearl."
Round the edges of the card Pearl dashed off rows of kisses and planted, in the middle of them, the words: "I hope you don't mind a few of these. They aren't like the real ones though."
The Sobieckis presume the soldier was Pearl's lover, but don't rule out him being her brother. That remains a mystery, but they did find out much about Pearl. She was a twin who had seven brothers and sisters and her dad, Heinz says, was a butcher and the shop was at 3 Moxham Ave where the Bellagio Cafe now operates.
"She did marry a soldier who didn't go to Gallipoli. It's a mystery who he was."
Somehow the postcard made it back to Wellington, which could have happened if the soldier had died or returned. Sonja found it at a stamp sale years ago.
Sobieckis accompanying war- related photographs include the Massey Memorial, and the Ataturk Memorial above Tarakena Bay.
Another century-old postcard in the exhibition was posted in Petone on February 21, 1911.
It was sent to missionary Florence Heron in Kaikohe by her sister, Lil, and tells about their brother falling off his bike and "straining" his stomach. Lil tells Florence he was confined to bed for three days. She is afraid he is in a pretty bad way and Dr Livesay has been called. She asks Florence not to pass the news on to their mother.
Most of the postcards throw more mystery than light on either their long-gone senders or recipients, or both.
In 1912 a writer who signed off only with the initials A C, sent a postcard from Karaka Bay to the postmistress at the Tirau post office.
AC writes: "We are in the batch for a few weeks and have a jolly good dip every morning, practically, the sea is only about 10 years from the front door."
Postcards, says Sobiecki, were used 100 years ago in the way texting is used now, "a very quick message for those people. How things have changed. What would they have thought if they were here now."
Most had halfpenny or penny stamps and, coincidentally, were made in Germany, the country of Sobiecki's birth. "It must have been the only place to have them printed."
Expanded in a photograph they become, he says, like paintings, with the dual marks of fountain pen nibs visible.
Sobiecki, 75, has been a photographer since the 1960s, an era he believes was photography's greatest.
He has a darkroom at home and favours black and white photographs hand-printed on fibre-based paper using traditional silver-based materials. The process and the nuanced final result appeal to him infinitely more than digital photography.
"With the computer you never see 95 per cent of them on paper, you forever see them on the computer. With the way I do it, it's 99 per cent printed. With reading I like a book rather than the screen and with photography I like to see the image on paper. A laptop is not like a book of photographs."
He appreciates that analogue black and white photos are restricted to the size of the paper where digital coloured pictures can be blown up immensely and retain their sharpness.
"Sharpness doesn't make a good photograph - that's something you keep looking at and you come back to."
He has had several solo exhibitions and been part of a number of group exhibitions.
Photography was first a hobby and then a career for him. He arrived with his family from Germany when he was 15 and immediately went to work in his uncle's tyre-retreading business, then joined the forestry service where he was required to take technical photographs.
His interest in photography burgeoned and he submitted a portfolio, with his own take on fashion shots, to advertising agency Carlton Carruthers and scored a job in the agency's Christchurch branch, "against big competition".
Later in his career he taught photography part time at the Rudolf Steiner school in Wellington.
Sobiecki retired two years ago and concentrates on photography for exhibition. Some of his work involves giving new life to photographs he took in the 1960s and 1970s.
"I can go back 50 years and re- use an image and know it's good because I still like it and I'm still happy for people to see it."
- Just a PC with love and kisses is at Photospace Gallery, Wellington, until September 6.
- The Dominion Post
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