Posts Tagged ‘leica’

Being both a photographer (documentary/street) and a writer (stand-up comedy/screenplays), I came to the realization that there is a correlation between the two. Because both require something of me. See, I carry a Leica and notebook everywhere I go.

When my parents took photographs when I was growing up, they took them out at Christmas, at the Jersey Shore, at backyard birthday parties. Maybe they pulled out a Kodak Hawkeye or Retina IIIc, then they put the camera away until the next big occasion.

The photofinishers famously said, “Many rolls were snow, sand, snow!”

That’s one way to use a camera–bring it out when you expect to see something “photo-worthy”, though in this phone-crazed world, that’s everything and all the time. I don’t mean shooting your lunch. So, disregarding how most people use phone cameras–more as diaries like where they parked their car, or a pic of a receipt–typically folks use cameras for special occasions.

But I have one in my pocket (IIIf fits nicely with its collapsible lens in my front jeans pocket), or over my shoulder (typically an M2, M6 or M9) all the time. Friends and family wouldn’t recognize me without one.

The difference is I’m not looking for a special occasion. I’m not taking it out to photograph.

My friends might bring a DSLR to a backyard party, but would not usually bother to take photos at Tuesday night dinner. I have my camera at Tuesday’s dinner and every dinner every evening.

Same with my notebook. For when an idea strikes, I can write it down before I forget it. That’s so important. But I think something else is happening when I carry these items. kennethwajda2-1-44Almost like luring the muse, asking for inspiration to find me.

The Leica and the notebook are attractors. Like magnets to metal. They bring the photographs and writing ideas to me.

If I were to leave without a notebook, my subconscious doesn’t have to be on the lookout for ideas. It knows I have no way to record them. But if the notebook is in my pocket, the ideas come. I don’t know how they do, but they do.

If I were to go out without a camera, I don’t have to look for possible photographs. Even peripherally. At the most, all I’ll see are the ones I would have missed, so better to discount everything before really taking a good look, not to get disappointed in not being ready to take the shot.

So, for me, the object, the camera and the notebook are much more than devices for photography and writing. They’re an agreement for my creative, my subconscious, to be watching and listening, because I’m ready and open to their input, their awareness.

I don’t go out to take photographs. Or to write.

But I do. Both.

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A zucchini race at the Boulder Creek Fest, Leica M3, Ilford HP5.

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The obvious winners of the zucchini race at the Boulder Creek Fest, Leica M3, Ilford HP5.

I am both a Nikon and Leica shooter.  I shoot film and digital with both brands and the other day I sat down at my Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter–that’s where I do my best thinking on paper–and I wrote out what each camera type is good for.

For shooting street photography, Leica may be classic, but my Nikon with a 20mm, auto-focus and aperture priority beats it every time.

Every. Single. Time.

Because there’s no fuss, I have the Nikons–F100 for film, D610 for digital–set for back-button focus and -0.7 dialed for exposure compensation on the digital, so I make sure I don’t blow any highlights, or +0.7 set for film, to make sure I get a dense negative, and I can shoot out my car window and guarantee a shot.

I can’t do that with my Leicas.  I’m using an M9 for digital, which does have aperture-priority, and an M2 for film. They need attention, finessing.  It’s great for contemplative work.  But not for lightning quick.  At least not for me.

Yes, I use hyperfocal/zone focusing with the Leicas.

These three photographs were all made out my car window with the Nikon as I was passing these scenes at some rate of speed.  I can’t get these with the Leica.

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Businessmen waiting on a corner in Rochester NY.

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A vintage car driving at dusk on I-70W.

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The real people of Las Vegas on a street corner just off the strip on a Sunday morning.

The first two were shot with a 20mm f2.8, the first AF 20mm Nikon made.   The last with a 50mm f1.2 AIS manual focus lens.  They show what I saw, real life, captured in split second.

Even this one, while I was attending an Italian festival in Denver, I stopped to talk to another photographer after I noticed his Sony camera and some behemoth of a lens.  But while I was talking to him, the sausage man appeared and with the Nikon and 20mm, I could turn, focus and shoot in one fluid motion, nail the shot, then it was back to my conversation.

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A man carries his sausage, his winnings, at an Italian festival in Denver.

At the end of the day, story comes first, and it’s all about the photo.  I do love the way the Leica looks and feels, and its small size, it’s just not a street shooter for me.  That’s the conclusion I came to when I was typing out my thoughts.

As a further test, I went out to downtown Denver this past weekend to shoot street photographs with another photographer.  The shoot went so well, I came back with several photos that I’ve included in my updated street photography gallery, ColoradoFaces.com.   Photos #4-13 all came from that Saturday afternoon, all shot with the Nikon and the 20mm.

So enthralled with the results, I went back down the next day with the Leica M9 and M2 and a 21mm Elmarit.  I thought, wow, if I could do that with a Leica and a 21mm, it’s so small and light, it would make a great kit for daily use.  Guess I hadn’t used the M9 recently enough, as I ended up putting battery after battery in it, four in total, and they all quit within a few shots.  I still had the film Leica, so I could keep shooting, but I certainly shoot more conservatively with film.

I wished I had brought the Nikon.

By the way, my Nikon has five bars on its battery readout, and it can be down to two bars, and I can still get a whole afternoon of shooting with it.  Nikon batteries rock for lasting and not petering out.

So, what’s my point.  For me, it’s Nikon film and digital for shooting documentary photographs, they’re quicker and I feel more confident I’ll get the shot with them.  And I do.

Leica is a great camera for portraits and documentary coverage where you’re going to be working the scene.  The build quality is incredible, as you know.  I love documenting my friends with it.  Posing them and creating photographs.  And it’s a treat to use.

But just like a Rolleiflex and a Hasselblad are both portrait cameras in my hands, a Leica is a special camera for portraits or a day of deliberate shooting.  Not grabbing life on the street.

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A portrait with the Leica, HP5, a beautiful negative and the magic of film.

When it’s speed I need, I go with the Nikon with the 20mm.  Or the 50mm.   The viewer feels like they’re in the shot.

And I get it every time.   That’s my story.   And story is king.

Not only do I enjoy walking this antique flea market when I visit my folks in PA, but I love photographing some of the people and getting into conversations about photography because of my Leica IIIf that I’m shooting with.

I carry that camera everywhere I go, because it’s small enough to fit in my front jeans pocket with the lens collapsed into the body.  (I take the case off.)
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And these are the wonderful photos it makes.  The camera is from the 1950s.  The lens from the 1930s! (Click the photograph to enlarge it.)

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Portrait of a neighbor, at 100 years old.  Leica M2, Summarit f1.5 Lens, Kodak Tri-X Film.  The Wise Photo Project

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Portrait of the Players.  Leica M2, 50mm f1.5 Summarit, Kodak Tri-X Film

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Leica M2, 50mm Summarit f1.5, Kodak Tri-X Film

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Ohmigod, is that a Saturn?  And look, remember when you had to pedal your bike!

The year is 2066.

We’re teleporting to different parts of the earth, holding meetings on virtual beaches while sitting at home, and having robots do all the chores.

And we’re using the latest camera technology, which means no camera at all–just look at something and it’s captured.

We’re lamenting not having any photos from the first quarter of the century, since we didn’t bother to print any of our pictures, and they all got lost in dead computers and outdated phones and hard drives that last booted up decades ago.  And some old program, Facehead, or something, that was supposed to save them all.  Yeah right!

Plus, we don’t have any computers that use USB anymore!   How ancient that technology!

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My Leica M2, still going strong in 2066.

As we sit looking out the window, our Leica M2s and M3s and Rolleiflexes still just as functional as they ever were, we load a roll of film and take a walk to go capture some street photos of the day.

The sky is full of PTDs–personal travel devices.  Everywhere, our brains connect with each other through telepathic waves.  Cars have long ago ceased to exist.

And we find ourselves thinking about the good old days.  Like 50 years ago, when things were simpler.  Sure there was that terrible fiasco with President Trump, but thankfully he was quickly arrested and tried for his crimes.  And then President Sanders’ brought all nations together.  War ended and America prospered, which is why we have such a great economy, plentiful jobs and USA-made robots and devices today.

But still, taking photos of present day just doesn’t seem as cool as the old days.  Back then, there were those cool Nissan Rogues, BMW sedans and those crazy Mini Coopers.  God, haven’t seen one of those in years!

What I wouldn’t do to be able to go back in time to 2016 and photograph them.  What a treat that would be.  But that’s crazy talk.

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Look at that old BMW, when they still had wheels!  And drivers!

That’s just what we did in 2016, fifty years ago, when we were enamored by photos of old cars from the 1960s and 1970s.  So busy looking at the old cars, we missed the shots of those cool 2016 cars then.

All I know is I’m glad my Leicas lasted.  And my Rolleiflex.  Because when film made its resurgence in 2022, we were the only ones who knew how to make real photographs.  The rest make memory records, but we make photographs.

Which is why we’re the wealthiest photographers because of our forethought.  Way to go!

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“Ah, look, the good old days.”  (Overheard circa 2016)

Time traveling.  That’s what people will be doing 50 years from today in 2116–looking back on life in 2066 (“Ah, the good old days,” they’ll say.).

That photo of the PTD fuel station that looks like nothing now, just a bunch of hovering vehicles powering up?  Add 50 years.  It needs time to become valuable.  Once time passes, familiar elements fade away.  Buildings change.  The cars, the shops, the cities.  Then the photos take on meaning.

I’m no math whiz, but here’s the equation: [P+T-GP!]   (Photograph + Time = Great Photograph!)  The photo needs to be good, too.  Let’s not forget that.

Ask Stephen Shore.  Or William Eggleston. They both knew the equation.

If I were back in 2016, I’d go out and shoot ordinary things, with an eye to the future.  Because maybe I’m not shooting them for me.  Maybe they’re historical photos for the Shorpy galleries of tomorrow.  (So glad that company is still going strong, with galleries around the world.)

But alas, I can’t time travel.  They say that technology will be ready in another twenty years but they’ve been saying that forever.

I better get shooting!