Book Review: BARNACK’S FIRST LEICA by HANS-GÜNTER KISSELBACH

Apr 13, 2018  By Ed Schwartzreich
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In 2008 Dr. Kisselbach’s important book “Barnacks Erste Leica” was published, but only in a German-language edition. The next year, I wrote a review of that book for Viewfinder (Vol. 42, No. 3, 2009, pp 8-10), owing to the fact that no one else in the English-speaking Leica community had done so for this notable Leica title. At the time, while I thoroughly enjoyed the profusely illustrated, oversized coffee-table book both for its subject matter and its appearance, my weak comprehension of the German language certainly limited both my own appreciation of it, and likely what I had to say for our readers.

In preparation for LHSA’s 50th Anniversary, Doug Drumheller had wished to offer our members an English translation of one of the several important Leica books from the prior decade which were on the German market. While we chose Ulf Richter’s book on Barnack for this project, Dr. Kisselbach’s book was a close runner up. It therefore pleases me greatly to announce that there is now an English translation of both books to be had: Richter’s book as sold through the LHSA itself, and Kisselbach’s book in electronic form.

Dr. Kisselbach’s book on this early Leica prototype, known as Barnack’s Handmuster, is a very readable, enjoyable history of what is, for all intents and purposes, the progenitor of the Null-Series Leicas. It differs from them only in that it was ostensibly hand constructed by Barnack, and because of its early date (ca. 1920) lacked some of the niceties of even that experimental series. What Dr. Kisselbach has done, and illustrated in this book, is unprecedented for any of the other early Leica prototypes, which are venerated almost as sacred objects by their owners: he has had it CLA’d, fitted with a special clutch mechanism to offset some shutter issues, and taken a prodigious number of photos with it, much as Barnack himself would have done. These photos are on color print film, are used to illustrate much of the book, and indicate how this prototype can make images almost indistinguishable from those of a modern Leica.

Dr. Kisselbach has also had Ottmar Michaely take apart the prototype, and discuss how it works, and illustrate its innards in large close-up images; and in a further chapter, Kisselbach looks at the characteristics of negatives from it versus those from the Ur-Leica and later Leicas, to see if there are any old images extant from Barnack himself with this camera. One should recall that the Leica was among the first 35mm still cameras, and the positioning and size of the negatives in such cameras give the sort of forensic information comparable to what ballistic experts use to identify particular guns from their fired bullets.

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