Jul 25, 2018  By Alfred Wehner

Alfred Wehner is one of the founders of Leica Historica (the German Leica society), and editor of its VIDOM journal from its founding in 1975 to 2006. Alfred Wehner explains his piece “Schätzen” for us. “This text is from what I wrote in VIDOM Nr. 88 (2005). It is a dialogue between Leica No. 354 and her second owner on occasion of her 80th birthday and his 70th. I allowed myself two pages of satire as a reward for my endeavors with the rest of the magazine. ‘Schätzchen’ means ‘dearie’ and at that time there was a cult-movie titled ‘Zur Sache Schätzchen’ (‘Let’s come to the point, dearie’).

“LEICA No. 354 was delivered in 1925 to a Mannheim photo dealer who sold it to a Heidelberg professional photographer; he used it for outdoor photography. Tourists were assembled to be photographed in front of the famous ruins of Heidelberg castle (the stage where they assembled exists still). After his death, the descendants sold everything from the photo studio, but they missed Leica No. 354, which lay in the drawer of a bedside cabinet. Later on, they discovered the camera but they were unable to use it. The owner wanted an automatic Japanese mirror-reflex camera. I paid him enough money to buy one, so everyone was happy.

“As a professional photographer, No. 354’s first owner seemed not quite satisfied with the early product. He sent it back to Wetzlar a few times where it was gradually upgraded, the ELMAX and the camera body being converted to screw mounts.”

“I have translated the “Schätzchen” into English; I added the depth-of-field table which was mentioned in the text as a proof how I found out what the first owner was doing with the camera.”

Happy Birthday, Sweetie! Now you will be 80!

This is unheard of! Who would trumpet the age of a lady? And by the way, you aren’t so young either; don’t pride yourself on the ten years you are running behind me, my grey-bearded lover. Your age can be seen more clearly than mine. Am I not the lithe and lissome one, whereas you have must visit the fitness studio just so that you will be able to walk upright?

Excuse me, my dearest, I was thinking that you liked flirting with your years. You are so slim and quick, everybody takes you for a young girl, and when one looks into your bright eye…

You old charmer! I forgive you, you impolite companion. You may take me in your hand, put your fingers fondly around me and whisper something lovingly into my ear. What are you saying now? You want me to tell you about my first lover? Aren’t you content to own me now? Do you want to possess even my juvenile years? Finally, would you like to know how I was born? Well now, I tell you all.

I was born on April 20, 1925. My name: LEICA three-five-four. Birthplace: Wetzlar. Grandfathers: Oskar Barnack & Max Berek. Father: August Bauer.  Birth Assistants: the Leitz mechanics of the first hour.  Immediately after birth, I was allowed to travel, to Mannheim, destination: Breunigs Photo Centrale. And then? Then came he, my first. He saw me and he knew what I could do. He was a professional, a master of light and shade, he owned a studio in Heidelberg with large cameras. But he also liked to work outside, preferably in front of the beautiful renaissance facade of the Old Heidelberg castle. Whoever visited Germany from far away needed to go to Old Heidelberg and to bring a photograph back home showing him in front of the castle. That was the rule at that time. If you will take me to Heidelberg I show you the stage where busloads of tourists are assembled for a group photo in front of the castle still nowadays.

Didn’t you see the little table that my first had handwritten and had slipped in the little rear compartment of my ever-ready case? There he wrote down all the combinations of distance and diaphragm settings that would lead to his desired result: how close can I go to a person and at which lens stop and meter distance setting so that the foreground and background (at infinity) remain sharp? The infinite background – that was the castle. Depending on the light he adjusted only the lens stop and meter distance setting, shutter time always remaining the same. He knew the settings by heart, as you will see. His little table has remained pristine. It sat in the case until you took it out. As I told you, my first was a professional, he did not leave a shot to chance. With me, he was always fast, much faster than his colleagues with their old-fashioned plate cameras. But he was also a critical person, and I would like to know what he had written to Oskar Barnack and August Bauer when he sent me to Wetzlar in 1928 and 1931 for repair and improvement. Each time I returned to him rejuvenated and upgraded. He even ordered a new mount for the lens and a 0-standardized lens mount for my body, because he had foreseen that I should be the center of a complete system.

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