Jesse W. Wing made sure that his wife-to-be knew what her home in Northwest Washington looked like as he prepared it for her arrival from communist Germany in the mid-1950s. During the two years they were apart, he regularly sent her love letters and pictures of the inside of the house, even the cellar, and outside at Ninth and Kennedy streets NW, where the cars and buses whizzed by.
In 1955, after he married Eveline Guckelsberger, he took a picture of the two of them standing proudly in front of their home. He also took pictures of himself in the early years raking leaves along Kennedy Street, digging out the yard for a garage and renovating the kitchen.
Wing spent much of his time documenting his life through self-portraits, capturing the ordinary activities of a man driven by hard work and satisfied by simple pleasures. Photography became his livelihood when he was in the Army and an avocation after he left. His black, boxy Linhof 4x5 camera or his later Rollei was always with him, sealing memories in gelatin transparencies for posterity.
In the late 1970s, Wing began taking photographs of plays at Gonzaga College High School, which his two sons attended. "He would just bring his camera and take them. Mom would get them developed and give the photos" to the school, recalled his son Reinhardt Wing.
From a front-row seat and other prime perches in the stylish theater, Wing captured the school's well-received, elaborately designed productions of "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," "Li'l Abner" and many others.
Over the years, a family tradition developed that continues today. Reinhardt Wing now takes pictures of the theatrical productions at Gonzaga, which has the oldest consecutively used stage theater in the District. The theater is housed in Dooley Hall, currently under renovation, where a plaque was dedicated to Jesse Wing and his family in 1996. The school thanked them "for beautifully preserving so many theatre memories." Once renovations are complete, about 100 framed photographs taken by the Wings and the plaque will grace the theater's walls.
Wing, who died June 2 of organic brain syndrome at 81, was a military man who loved order. He also argued passionately about life in communist China and enjoyed listening to German composers.
He was born Gong Wing Fook in Guangzhou, China. At 13, he left behind years of misery and hardship and came to the United States to work in the laundry business. His father was living in San Francisco, having fathered Wing on one of his trips back to China.
Wing came to Washington in 1935, took Americanization classes at Daniel Webster School at 10th and H streets NW and attended Langley Junior High School in Northeast. After junior high school, he went to New York to do laundry work, which he hated, and later waited tables in restaurants, said his sons.
At the end of 1942, Wing was drafted into the Army. He made a career of the military, serving in France as a machine gunner during World War II, finding a measure of peace in U.S.-controlled Germany during the Korean War and enduring internal struggles fighting in the Vietnam War. The gunfire damaged his ears, his sons said.
"I remember him saying that photography should be safer than working with guns," said Reinhardt Wing.
Jesse Wing went to the National Academy of Photography in Silver Spring after his 1946 Army discharge. Upon reenlisting, he became a photographer for the Army, and some of his photos appeared in Stars and Stripes. He retired from the Army in 1972 and worked as a photo lab specialist at the National Defense University, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology before retiring in 1995.
Andreas Wing said his father took lots of pictures of awards ceremonies, generals and military brass in his Army days. He always used his hand-held light meter and eschewed flash photography and automated cameras. He like staged settings. "He took pictures of things that did not move," recalled Andreas Wing, who prefers candid and action shots. Both sons now share their father's love for photography.
Wing lived in his Northwest Washington home until 1995, when he fell and injured his head while running to catch a bus to work. His wife, Eveline Wing, died in 2002. He left behind boxes of memories of a well-documented life.