Ernst Leitz II: Interview With Dr. Knut Kühn-Leitz

Feb 8, 2016  By Dr. Ralf Christofori


“My decision is final we’ll take the risk.” This sentence of Ernst Leitz II in June 1924 ended a long debate with his closest associates about launching the 35 mm tcamera designed by Oskar Barnack. The decision was to revolutionize photography. A new book now illuminates the background. We talked to the editor.

Above: Book edited by Dr. Knut Kühn-Leitz II: “Ich entscheide hiermit: Es wird riskiert.” …und die Leica revolutionierte die Fotografie.

Preface: We meet Dr. Knut Kühn-Leitz in his office. The new book about his grandfa-ther Ernst Leitz II is on the table, next to many sources and documents that the editor and seven other authors have compiled and worked through.

Q:  Dr. Kühn-Leitz, it’s ninety years since Ernst Leitz II made this pioneering decision. What made you decide to publish a new biography about your grandfather?

A:  A lot has been written about the Leica, but what has been missing so far is a detailed look at the immense economic risks Ernst Leitz II saw himself exposed to in entering a new market in the photography sector in 1924. The new biography closes this gap. It is excellently illustrated and contains expert descriptions of how the Leica conquered more and more areas for 35 mm photography and how it became an icon of photography in the 20th century.

Q:  What was special about the Leica?

A:  Although Ernst Leitz II had recognized the trend toward a small, light-weight and easily manageable camera early on, he knew that it was not only a matter of producing the camera itself. The microscope manufacturer was aware that a still camera needed more than ultra-precise mechanisms and outstanding optics for the perforated cine film. A totally new system had to be developed for the 24 x 36 mm format: high-quality instruments for enlarging the postage stamp-sized negatives onto photo paper and also projectors for film strips and later on slides.

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