The Need to Know

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Blow Up Press, 2024. Edition of 800 copies. Clothbound hardcover, 100 pp. + inserts + long leporello, 160 x 220 mm. Photographs by Michael S. Honegger. Text by Barbara Honegger, Breton Hamilton, Aline Smithson, George Reisch. Design by Aneta Kowalczyk.

Michael Honegger’s father was a spy during the Cold War. Bilingual in German and English, he worked for the U.S. Air Force and sent agents into East Germany and elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain.

The Honeggers lived in West Germany between 1959 and 1963 during the height of the Cold War. None of the family members had any idea about the father’s work life and all questions about it were answered with the same, predictable response, “Do you have the need to know?”, followed by a smile and silence. It was not until long after he retired that he finally shared a few details of his career as a counterintelligence special agent.

This project is an exploration of the meagre details that emerged from those brief conversations and Michael’s curiosity about Cold War espionage and its impact upon his family at the time. His father led two lives that rarely intersected. His family members were often the unwitting participants in indecipherable events that left them with many more questions than answers. Mysterious strangers would show up at their apartment late at night only to depart before dawn without saying a word to anyone other than his father. Peculiar encounters, curious radio transmissions, and unexplained coincidences became the norms of his childhood.

“I now have the need to know more about the secret world my father inhabited and the lives of others with whom he interacted. This project is a photographic re-creation of the intersections and divergences of his secret life and the traditional paternal role he played. Ironically, several the archival photos in the project were actually shot by me and my father on separate trips to West Berlin in the winter of 1961 but were only re-discovered recently. So, it becomes an interesting intersection of the factual and fictional based upon historical research, family archives, my memories, and my imagination."

"The project is particularly timely as the issues of the Cold War have evolved and continue to play out on the international stage. The current war in Ukraine is just one example of the evolution of the conflict. The espionage tools of the 1960's look primitive to a degree but they, too, have changed to conform to the current applications and tools used for cyber-warfare and propaganda purposes. The cycle of history continues to unwind in an ever-repetitive pattern.” Michael S. Honegger

Read more:

L'Oeil de la Photographie (English), (Enlish), Collector Daily 

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