A young William Boeckl left America for the very first time in 1946.
He was 18 years old when he was drafted into the U.S. army on Feb. 4, 1946. After completing his schooling in Fort Belvoir, Va., Boeckl was shipped off to the Korean Peninsula on Oct. 30, 1946.
It was his 19th birthday.
He never saw action. Instead, he drafted maps later used in the Korean War. During his time in Korea and Japan, with a camera he tucked into his shirt sleeve, Boeckl photographed scenic views aboard vast vessels, locals he met during patrols and, most interestingly, himself. He was honourably discharged from the army on March 29, 1947.
Sixty-six years later, in a laboratory at Ryerson University’s Image Arts Building, his 21-year-old granddaughter maps out his first journey away from home, painting a portrait of “Grandpa Bill” and his adventures as a young man.
For her minor thesis project, fourth-year photography student Lindsay Boeckl has scanned and edited 200 Kodachrome photographs her grandfather took while serving as a draftsman in the 657th Engineers Survey Battalion.
Boeckl has married around 175 of her grandfather’s photos with oral captions and descriptions of his experiences abroad, cut from phone calls with her brother Brian and father Marc. The 11-minute projection, which she’s dubbed William’s War, went on display at the Image Arts Building on Monday.
“It’s about this kid who had never left Milwaukee who was all of a sudden going around the U.S. and then to Asia,” says Boeckl, who moved from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to Toronto in 2010 to study at Ryerson.
“It was this really crazy time for him … (the projection) is showing you his transformation and his discovery of all these new places, and I guess I want people to walk away knowing a little bit about who he was.”
Figuring out how to describe her grandfather to complete strangers proved to be a challenge, Boeckl says, since the photographs and their descriptions weren’t directly relatable.
“It can be really meaningful and interesting to you, but as a work if it’s not accessible it doesn’t matter how great the person in the story was,” she says.
That’s where the phone calls come in. Boeckl insisted on recording her interviews with her brother and father through the phone, despite the less-than-stellar audio quality and her professor’s criticism. This is to make the audience feel as if they’re sitting down with the Boeckl family, hearing about Grandpa Bill from his descendants.
“It’s not him telling the story. It’s us doing a second telling,” she says. “In a way it feels like you’re listening in on a more intimate thing.”
Boeckl’s project was never just an assignment. After her grandfather died of heart complications in August this year, she says the many hours spent scanning and editing morphed into a daily ritual of remembrance.
“In a weird way it’s been me being able to spend time with him, and I’ve kind of been postponing saying goodbye,” Boeckl says.
“I definitely think that, when all is said and done, that this is my way of getting closure.”
The photos Boeckl used are only the tip of the iceberg. She says her family found five huge, heavy metal boxes in her grandfather’s home, all filled with photo negatives. She plans on going through them all.
William’s War runs at the Image Arts Building from noon to 5 p.m. until Friday.