drawing of Ilka Hartmann by Vanessa Waring
A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.
Ilka Hartmann is a photographer who has lived in Bolinas since 1969. Originally from Hamburg, Germany, she emigrated to the Bay Area in 1964 at the age of 22 to join her mother, also named Ilka, who was teaching German and history at the University of the Pacific, opens a new window in Stockton and researching a book on Stockton pioneer Charles Weber, opens a new window. After studying at the University of the Pacific and later at UC Berkeley, opens a new window, she moved to Bolinas in 1969 from Berkeley with her former partner, Orville Schell, opens a new window.
She used photography to chronicle the lives of the downtrodden, turning her camera first on the streets of south Stockton and then to the strikes and demonstrations for social change in Berkeley.
While living in Berkeley she started photographing the Black Panthers, opens a new window. Eventually she became deeply interested in the fate of the Native Americans and photographed the Indian occupation of Alcatraz, opens a new window from 1969-1971.
She is the co-author of The Town That Fought to Save Itself, opens a new window with Orville Schell. The book is a history of the start of the counterculture movement in Bolinas. In addition, her photos are in many publications, books and films in the United States and elsewhere. Some of her favorite publications with her photographs that can be found in the library are: Pearson, A Harbor Seal Pup , opens a new window(Susan Meyers), Alcatraz! Alcatraz!,, opens a new window Heart of the Rock, opens a new window (Adam Fortunate Eagle) and The Pomo, opens a new window (Edward Castillo). In the California Room, opens a new window, there is an Oral History of Frank Cerda, opens a new window (interview by Ilka Hartmann and Marilyn Geary).
She currently has a large exhibition at Alcatraz about the Native American Occupation in 1969: https://www.nps.gov/goga/red-power-on-alcatraz.htm, opens a new window
Her exhibit of the Black Panthers has been up at the Alameda Law Library for the past 15 years. There is currently an exhibit of her Black Panther photographs and other portraits of African Americans from that era in the Bolinas Library.
Additional photos and information can be found on her website: http://ilkahartmann.com/, opens a new window
What are you reading now?
Since I studied German literature at UC Berkeley, I’ve continued to be drawn to it.
Right now, I’m reading, Rilke's Worpswede: Monograph of a Landscape and its Painters, opens a new window. Worpswede, opens a new window was a Lower- Saxony, opens a new window artists’ colony where Rilke lived with other artists. I found this book on my shelf recently and had never read it. Of course, my edition is in German.
Throughout my life, lines from the Sonnets to Orpheus, opens a new window (Rilke) have been accompanying me almost daily throughout my California life. I’m also re-reading a play written in 1779 by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan the Wise, opens a new window. Although written so long ago it is a plea for religious tolerance in Jerusalem among the Muslims, Jews and Christians which has deeply influenced me.
Two books that I checked out from the Bolinas Library recently are about native American history and the original inhabitants of our local area, the Miwok and the Pomo: Interviews with Tom Smith and Maria Copa (Isabel T. Kelly) and Chief Marin: leader, rebel and legend , opens a new window(Betty Goerke).
I’m also reading The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine , opens a new windowby Ben Ehrenreich and Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery , opens a new window(Federal Writer’s project, opens a new window), anecdotes by former enslaved people.
How do you find books to read?
I like to listen to KQED, opens a new window and KPFA, opens a new window on the radio and read the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle, opens a new window and I also find books featured in the monthly displays in the Bolinas library.
Sometimes I find books by chance, The other day someone left a book outside my door that they thought I might like. It was The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz: A True Story of Family & Survival , opens a new window(Jeremy Dronfield). Ironically, I had just finished a book about another teenager, a Hitler youth who was brainwashed by the Nazis, Hitler’s Last Courier, opens a new window (Armin D. Lehmann).
What books do you have by your bedside?
I always keep Lloyd Kahn’s books by my beside. I find them very uplifting and hopeful and when I am sad I like to look at them. Shelter, opens a new window, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, opens a new window, Builders of the Pacific Coast, opens a new window, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter: Scaling back in the 21st Century. , opens a new window
What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Do you have a favorite genre?
I like to re-read my favorite books. I love older German literature and Poetry. I really don’t read mysteries, science fiction or other fictional genres. I recently rediscovered the Nobel Laureate, Elias Cannetti,, opens a new window I was fascinated by his two biographies of his early life.
Do you re-read?
Yes, a lot of my reading is re-reading. It may sound like a stereotype of a German, but I always do go back to Goethe: Faust I and II, opens a new window. Faust is my favorite.
Many years ago, I discovered an East German writer, Christa Wolf and her deeply wise book, Cassandra, opens a new window, about the Trojan War and war in general. I told many of my friends about it.
How do you use the library?
Through the years, I have relied on the library for computer use and really appreciated the help of the librarians too. When the library was closed during the COVID shutdown, I realized that my time spent there in the past was pure happiness.
Are there any books that made a big impression on you at a younger age?
As a young child I survived the bombing of Hamburg during WWII and learned about the Holocaust at the age of 15. In my 20s I read The Man Outside, opens a new window by Wolfgang Borchert. A vision against war. “If you do not say No” is from an essay of his and is a life changing quote for me. It is a warning to not make weapons of war. This made a big impression on me, and I have spent most of my life working for peace and equal rights for all.
What are some of your earliest reading memories?
There was only one shelf of books in my childhood home because we were starting over after the war. My mother read fairy tales to us, mostly Grimm's, opens a new window and Greek Myths, opens a new window, too. There were also puppet plays in the town, and a library where we would go to borrow books. In Germany there were little pocket-books available that I read around 11-12 years of age and Shakespeare’s plays translated into German which were easier to read than the original English. My friends and I would see Goethe’, opens a new windows and Shakespeare, opens a new window’s plays in the famous Hamburg theater (Deutsches SchauSpielHaus, opens a new window) and we would often talk to each other in quotes from the plays.
When we came to California my mother filled every room with books.
Do you have a favorite book?
My biggest treasure is Delta West: The Land and People of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, opens a new window, a collection of photographs and text about the Delta. (Photos by Roger Minick. Historical essay by Dave Bohn.)
Where do you like to read?
In the kitchen which is the warmest coziest room in the winter.
To connect with the wider world; to learn how other people handle difficult life situations and suffering. To try to understand why there is still war.