Endearing. Friend to all. Dedicated. Gentleman. Honest as the day is long. These are just some of the descriptions that come to mind at the contemplation of the passing of Henry Froehlich, the retired Chairman of the MAC Group (formerly Mamiya America Corporation). To borrow a phrase from Tom Brokaw, we like to think of Henry as an influential member of the Greatest Generation of the photo industry.
The Henry that we didn’t know came to America out of the ravages of WWII and the Holocaust. The last time we saw him was at a photo show last October. He had just returned from visiting his native Germany to be present at the placing of a commemorative plaque at the address of his parents’ house. “They are called stolpersteine—stumble stones. They are meant to trip memory. Each is a brass plaque hand-engraved by artist Gunter Demnig with the name and a few terse details of someone lost to the Holocaust, set permanently into the sidewalk outside the place where the individual lived, laughed, and loved. It’s a work in progress, certainly, and a work seemingly without end.” (International Herald Tribune)
Henry hadn’t expected to be interviewed on German TV and was deeply moved by the whole experience. In the retelling, he vacillated between the controlled narrative of one who has long since put the hurt behind him and uncontrollable spasms of weeping as from a broken heart, reliving the tragedies of his past like they were yesterday. It was as though two different people were telling the story. It broke our hearts.
During Kristallnacht, Henry’s father was taken away to a concentration camp. He writes, “I rode my Yellow Bicycle to travel all over and warn Jewish men to get away from their homes as fast as possible.” His family was separated and never completely reunited again. In 1940, he was allowed to leave Germany for the United States with 10 DM ($4). Although he planned to become a writer, and even brought his Adler typewriter and “my little Agfa camera,” he quickly realized it would take him some time to learn to speak, read and write English.
The Henry with whom we’re more familiar became a pioneer of the American photo market. He was among the first to recognize the potential in photographic products made in Japan. As part of the Greatest Generation in the photo industry, he joined others in the process of broadening the appeal and accessibility of photography, taking it from the hands of the few and the professional to the vast population of photographers who exist today. He concentrated his efforts on Japanese companies that had good, quality products, but lacked U.S. representation, founding Konica Camera Company in 1951, then merging it with Berkey Photo in 1962, which then also marketed other Japanese photographic products. In 1987, when the exclusive distribution rights for Mamiya medium-format cameras and Toyo large-format cameras became available, he formed a partnership with Paul Klingenstein and Jan Lederman to establish a new company called Mamiya America Corporation (MAC). As the years went by, more lines were added to their product offering, such as Profoto, Leaf, Sekonic, PocketWizard, X-Rite, Eizo, Pantone, Multicart, Tenba and Induro. In each case, Henry assisted these brands in improving their market position.
Henry’s interest in photography was not only business, but was on a deeply personal level as well. He formed many long-term relationships with retailers, photographers and other industry members, some of who became close personal friends. From its inception, he was an advocate of The International Center of Photography because he believed in its principles. He became involved in their activities and was a member of its President’s Council.
For us, Digital Photo Pro and Outdoor Photographer are titles that reference the person, as it’s the heart of the photographer that puts the emotion in the picture. But Henry reminds us that it’s also the heart that’s put into the creation of the cameras and products that make the taking of such pictures possible. With Henry’s products, many of the best photographers in the world have taken some of the most memorable photos in the world. It’s in this way that his legacy will be remembered by the broader scope of photographic appreciators and photographers.
He died peacefully on January 24th at the age of 85.