A lifelong passion

It is hard to believe that a 71-year-old love affair with photography can originate from an encounter with mushrooms, but for Wilhelm Nassau it did.

As a high school student, he volunteered to photograph this species of fungus for his biology professor.

“I didn’t know much about photography, but with mushrooms, it was easy,” said Nassau.

Nassau went on to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts at the Vienna State Academy for graphic arts.

He then worked with the British army, which occupied his homeland of Austria post-Second World War, and received his first professional experience as a news photographer and cinematographer.

With a career spanning just over half a century, it is only fitting that Nassau was asked to host the Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning’s course, called “The History of Photography.”

The lessons of the course will cover the basic principles of photography.

“I cannot expect to teach anybody about photography in six weeks,” Nassau told The Cord in an interview at the Media Technology Resources Office in Bricker Academic, where his immense camera collection is on display.

Nassau would like to cover the basics of camera technology and its progression, but will leave the rest up to his students.

“I intend to go into the classroom and ask [questions], so the class will be tailored.”

When asked his opinion on the evolution of photography, Nassau offers a simple answer:“Basically, photography hasn’t changed; the technique has changed, but the artistic aspect hasn’t.”

He continued, explaining that good photography, in terms of its technique, is now easier to achieve.

In terms of what constitutes good photography beyond correct exposure and focus, Nassau offers one simple condition: “You have to be able to express yourself in the best possible way. It is really a form of expression.”

After working for the CBC and the NFL as a freelance cameraman, following a one-year stint with ABC, Nassau was more than happy to accept an invitation to join Laurier, then Waterloo Lutheran University, in 1968.

As a new faculty member he taught film and photography in the fine arts program – which has since been cut – while obtaining a master’s degree in archeology.

He is also responsible for opening the audiovisual department, but he humbly credits the achievement to John Durst, the current manager of Media Technology Resources.

Durst reciprocates his appreciation for Nassau when explaining how much he has learned from him.

“It’s pretty amazing that he’s still quite active at his age. I could never keep up with him,” Durst laughed.

Nassau’s projects include two documentaries he contributes to every year and work he does with the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery in Waterloo, as well as museums in Austria.

He is a member of various film and photography societies, and he also maintains the extensive camera collection compiled by him and Durst, which is located in the Media Technology Resources office.

This, in addition to his past work – photographing the Queen Mother, the Queen, Orson Wells and John F. Kennedy – makes for a remarkable résumé.

However, Nassau maintains he is most fond of his teaching career, explaining that the rest are “just assignments.”

“I like the teaching, I like the interaction with young people. I felt I was being paid to do what I like to do best,” he said.

The six-week course, taught by Nassau, will be offered from Feb. 3 to Mar. 10 and will focus on the history of photography. It has a capacity of 25 people.