Sunday 3 December 2023

FalkeEins blog at the ECPA -D photo archive in Paris, Nov 14-22, 2023


.. arriving at the ECPA -D  ( Etablissement de communication et de production audio-visuelle de la defense) in the Paris suburb of Ivry.

As a Luftwaffe enthusiast are you always on the look out for 'new', rare and unpublished Luftwaffe photos? If the answer to that question is a resounding 'Yes!' then a visit to the 'Médiathèque' (multi-media 'room') of the ECPA-D is a 'must'. Just reserve a morning/afternoon/day on-line and turn up with your passport. The ECPA produces images, films  and publications for the French military and general public and is one of the world's biggest photographic archives. Their 'German collection' ('fonds allemand') alone is around 400,000 pictures. While there is some 'over-lap' with the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, much ECPA-D material is unseen and unpublished. They also have the negatives, which the Germans don't. The great thing is that anyone can visit, just make a booking next time you are in Paris and take along your passport. (taken off you in exchange for a visitor's pass). There is no requirement whatsoever to be a 'serious' researcher, whatever that may be. Modellers and even photo collectors get a great welcome too.

So what is 'special' about the ECPA-D and why come to Paris? I put this question to John M, who was spending several days in the 'Médiathèque' when I was there;

" ..For many years my friend Del has raved about the quality and range of photos stored at the ECPA D and the friendliness of the staff there and the service provided. When he suggested that we go together -meeting up with Neil P who I had been in contact with for many years but never met- it was an opportunity too great to miss. I am a Ju 88 fanatic and modeller and to see so many crystal clear, small detail photos was a life changing event from a modelling point of view. The staff were patient and kind and hospitable and enthusiastic - the family of both workers and visitors was tangible, each helping and supporting the other making the whole investigative mission enjoyable and 100% more rewarding and productive. I would love to go again and recommend it to anyone interested in Luftwaffe research..."

Once inside the facility - this is a government military institution, “inside a fort” - the 'Médiathèque' or 'multi-media library', is quite a small place with desks/PCs for 10-12 people which makes a reservation system necessary. It is not a library in the usual sense of the word - unfortunately there are no books available to consult. Just a huge archive of photos. You are usually advised to bring a thumb drive, since you can order photos on-line once you have identified the file number/photo number that is of interest. 90% of the photos are ‘digitised’ and can be saved into a Word document via the computers in the ‘media room’. You can consult the very large original albums from which the collection is built up – around 410,000 images. Very useful if you happen to want a look at a photo series that has not been scanned. The images are mostly exceptional and mostly extremely clear –  with their Agfa film and Leicas, the PK Berichter (reporters) were after all professional photographers. However, there is no inventory. Luftwaffe images can be found in all sorts of files including German Army, Afrika Korps, even the Kriegsmarine files. There is a block of files (the LWEK files, around 15,000 images) which are not available in albums or on the main ECPA-D computer system but can be viewed on request on another PC system. That is, if some-one has told you about them..

Fortunately there is a 'Search' facility which is easy to use. Searches by unit, aircraft type, location are possible. Any photos can be ordered for personal use, hard copies cost around 2 euros, digital photos are around 9 euros – but have many more conditions attached. Publication fees can be eye-wateringly high but can be discussed with ECPA management - if you speak French.  While the staff in the media room can speak English and in some instances German, their management does not apparently..

One row of the five or six rows of photo albums at the ECPA-D. The blue folders are the DAA files (Documents Allemands Air). The green folders are the DAT files (Documents Allemands Terre). The DAK files (Afrika Korps) are beyond them..

Photos are organised into 'reportages' of around 30-40 thumbnails. Individual pictures can then be viewed large. Much work has been done on captioning each 'report' series. Although a colleague did run across a set of images captioned as "Fw 189 recce pilot" which turned out to be rare and unseen images of leading Eastern front ace Gustav Francsi of NJG 100. 

Below; 'thumbnail' screen for a photo report series on SG 3 and one of the images enlarged on the screen.

This 'reportage' photo report was entitled " JG 1 pilot briefing" and a view of one image on the screen.

A typical photo album page  - this 'reportage' (file DAA 2548) shows US POWs loading a Ju 52 in Tunisia.

- Most of the images available to look at are unpublished. If your interests extend to Normandie Niemen, post-war French conflicts etc then the numbers of images in the archive are in the millions. Heer and Kriegsmarine as well as Luftwaffe. Note French Air Force 1939-1940 is stored at the SHD - Service Historique de la Defense at Vincennes.

Note that the archive features many many hundreds of films, other moving images and radio recordings. I was given the chance of listening to some recordings made by Luftwaffe fighter aces. Even staying here for the best part of a week I did not get around to viewing any of the films!

Why don’t more enthusiasts, writers, publishers, modellers and photo collectors go to the ECPA-D?

- possibly don't know that it exists, how easy it is to access and or are unaware of the huge collection of photos available to view.
- Possibly intimidated by potential bureaucracy. Hard to deal with as a government agency. (Neither of which is the case)
- You need to speak the language (you really don’t)
- Travel hassles. From London, Eurostar trains from St. Pancras through the Channel tunnel go into Gare du Nord at least 10 times/day. Traffic is apparently still down on pre-Covid levels, although the trains I was on were very full. Services to and from Amsterdam are being halted for six months next year. The much-touted EU Entry/Exit system (EES) is currently not set to be introduced until after the Paris Olympics. (summer 2024)

I spent the best part of a week here - I even ran into the infamous 'Denys Boudard'. (..nice guy! Very good English, ex special-forces, a man-mountain, not somebody to get on the wrong side of!)

Needless to say I'm looking forward to going again next year! Thanks to the staff - Nicolas, Justine, Philippe and Christine - for helping us make the most of our week!  Apologies, I forgot to sign the visitors book..and to Del, John and Christophe, thanks for a great week!

Below; typical ECPA-D (thumbnail) photo-file 'reportage', depicting the Ju 188s of  Aufklärungsgruppe 11. An 'LWEK' file, not available in hard copy, nor on the main computer system..

Also on this blog;

More Aufklärungsgruppe Junkers Ju 88s - Ju 88 H with Aufkl.Gr. 123

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