Photography can be a solitary pursuit.
You know how you want the scene to look to tell your story. But it requires your single-minded attention to stay on track, while being alert for interesting side trips. Manual tools also need focused concentration to get the technically-excellent, well-composed pictures telling that story, far more than you need with auto-pilot AF DSLRs and zoom lenses.
And you may admire other people’s work online. But even if they’re in your city, busy lives may keep you from meeting them to trade ideas face-to-face. You need to schedule time for a photo workshop to make it happen.
I’d never been to an International Leica Society event before, so when I saw LHSA’s 2018 Spring Shoot was scheduled in Santa Fe just an hour north of me, I jumped on it. Santa Fe is someplace I’m usually passing through on my way to the mountains and hot springs at Ojo Caliente, Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Chaco Canyon, winter wine tasting in Taos, or Great Sand Dunes in southeastern Colorado. Aside from meeting other Leica photographers, the Spring Shoot offered a chance to reexamine Santa Fe scenes in an unhurried way, all those possibilities I’d come to ignore.
I registered at 6 pm that first evening and said hi to Leica shooters from different parts of the country, demographics, and experience. I saw everything from Leica I model D film cameras with no rangefinder or viewfinder to digital M10s and SLs. LHSA Executive Director Richard Rejino welcomed everyone and laid out the schedule, raising my appetite for the coming days.
David Spielman inspired the next morning with stories of unposed people walking into neighborhood devastation after Katrina, well-known writers respectfully captured in their homes, and musicians – famous and unknown – playing around New Orleans. And he talked about his shooting methods, including mapping and notes in a pocket notebook wherever he goes. He revalidated film with his excellent black and white work – he uses an M6 and Tri-X.
We got our assignments by group color and subject, with a reminder to shoot anything else interesting (those side-trips again). Then it was time to head out.
My Yellow group was assigned Santa Fe’s Plaza on this first cloudy morning. I had wanted a chance to try Leica’s autofocus lenses, so I borrowed a Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 for my SL, courtesy of Leica Akademie’s Tom Smith. Hazy, diffused light made it almost too easy to shoot after 10 am when our little group set out.
I captured a modern-day traveler on the old Santa Fe Trail, and the signs hanging above the covered walkway circling the plaza. I also shot fellow attendee Eric Baumgartner speaking with a local who’d been carrying a battered guitar case (we later discovered he had a Gibson Les Paul inside that he played very well). And Bob Brutsch ran interference while I photographed local Puebloans selling art and jewelry in front of the Palace of the Governors. But I wanted something less cliched, so I began walking around.
I discovered more appealing subjects in the sculpture outside the New Mexico Museum of Art and unexpected reading in the trash outside the Santa Fe Public Library. But there was also a funeral at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, whose construction was directed by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886. I kept back as purple-shirted mourners filed out and the casket made its last journey to the waiting hearse.
After another circuit past cow skulls, an on-demand poetry writer complete with mechanical typewriter, and bright colors of local weavers, I took time for lunch at La Plazuela inside the La Fonda Hotel. Food, bars, and restaurants are favorite subjects of mine. For food, the 35mm f/1.2 Nokton’s minimum 19-inch focusing distance comes in handy with the M10’s EVF, or adapted to the SL.