My LHSA & Leica Journey

Apr 11, 2019  By Alejandro Blaquier

Since I was young, I’ve been interested in visual arts and in the 80s I started painting. It was not until the early 90s that I discovered photography to express myself, but I wasn’t very serious in the beginning. As usually happens when one starts a hobby, enthusiasm is much higher than results, so I decided to take photography more seriously and entered the Diego Ortiz Mugica Photography School. The results started matching my expectations once I began understanding the technical limitations of the medium and learning the essentials of B&W photography. From there, I became engaged more and more, especially with B&W fine art photography.

I attended several workshops. Some of them were on general photography aspects, like the ones dictated by Diego Ortiz Mugica and Guillermo Napoli, Francisco Provedo, Bruce Barnbaum or Peter Turnley; others were more Leica photography related, like the ones guided by Carl Merkin or by Thorsten von Overgaard.

I am not a professional photographer because I don’t make a living on photography; but I am a passionate photographer. If I were to define my photographic style, I would say its casual photography. I don’t produce my subjects; I use no photography studio. To some extent I’m a shy person, so casual photography matches perfectly with my personality. My personal challenge is trying to achieve interesting images within the different situations I encounter and, in my opinion, the Leica rangefinder system best suits that purpose.

My workflow varies. When I shoot film, I like Tri-X 400 (rated at 320), which I personally develop and print in my darkroom. Digital: I work most of my images (97%) with Lightroom, and the remaining 3% with Photoshop. Though I like to enhance my photos in post-production, my final images don’t differ a lot from the original negatives. The more I photograph, the less I tend to alter the original negative.

I am convinced that the best way to increase our photographic skills is to watch another photographer’s and visual artist’s work. Nowadays, the internet gives us possibility of studying many other artists works without leaving home, a great advantage, especially for those who live far away from international photography centers.

Leica Collecting

My first Leica camera was a black chrome R5 with a normal and a short telephoto lens; later I bought a second body and other lenses with different focal distances. I not only had my photographic gear, but I had my own darkroom too (and still use it).

After a few years of being a reflex-photographer, I had the opportunity to try a Leica M6 with a Summicron 50mm. It was love at first sight and I decided to give it a try. I didn’t sell my reflex gear because I didn’t know if I was going to get used to a rangefinder camera. Unknowingly, I was starting my Leica collection.

During WWII and the following years, Argentina had an important European migration (most notably Germans) who brought their photographic gear with them or bought it later. That enabled me to buy most of the used Leica cameras and lenses I own in Buenos Aires where I live.

With patience and passion, I started collecting and nowadays I own some 370 Leica cameras and the same amount of Leica lenses. My camera collection is limited to screw-mount cameras, M-mount cameras and R-mount cameras, which are exhibited in glass showcases in chronological order, starting with a Leica I (Anastigmat) up to the Leica M10-D, including most all the reflex models (from the Leicaflex to the R9).

The collection also includes several special edition cameras, some of which were commissioned by LHSA for commemorative dates such as their 20th Anniversary (1968-1988) Leica M6 in its three viewfinders versions (0.58, 0.72 and 0.85); the LHSA 25th Anniversary (1968-1993) box consisting of a Chrome Leica M6 and three Summicron-M lenses (35mm, 50mm and 90mm); the LHSA 35th Anniversary (1968-2003) box consisting of a Hammertone Leica MP with its matching Summicron-M 35mm and Leicavit-M; or the black paint Leica MP-3 with its matching Summilux-M 50mm and Leicavit-M.

Collecting Leica cameras and lenses is an endless passion. Not only do I look for prototypes, past used models (some of which are rare like the Leica IIId) and special editions that are being sold worldwide, also there are new models that are released every now and then (for example, the recently announced Leica M10-P and the Summicron 50mm, both in olive green “Safari” finish). Collecting Leica cameras and lenses could be described, paraphrasing American songwriter Bob Dylan, as a “Never Ending Collection.”

My Leica Favorites

There is no camera that is the best for all situations, but one of the reasons I use a Leica is because no other camera feels like a rangefinder. The quality of Leica M cameras and lenses is superb. They are very simple to use and are not bulky, and the negatives they deliver, film or digital, are gorgeous.

For the last ten years, I’ve been using almost exclusively Leica M cameras, and my favorites are: the Leica MP for film shooting. For digital shooting I like the M Monochrom (typ 246) and the M (typ 240), in that order.

The lenses I usually carry are a Summicron 28mm asph., a Summilux-M 50mm asph., and an Elmarit-M 90mm. If needed, I would add a Super-Elmar 21mm or a Summilux M 35mm asph. FLE or a Tele-Elmar 135mm. The reason for selecting those focal distances, 28mm, 50mm and 90mm, is that each one is almost the double of the previous and that enables me to cover almost every situation: street, landscape, portrait, architectural, indoors, low light, etc.

I prefer to use lenses with the same filter thread (all the mentioned lenses admit E46 filters) because it simplifies this aspect of photography. I normally carry the three basic filters for B&W (yellow, orange and dark red) and some ND filters for long time exposures.

If I were to choose only one camera and only one lens, my option would be the Leica M Monochrom (typ 246) and the Summilux-M 50mm/f 1.4 Aspherical.

My LHSA Experience

I can’t remember the first time I heard of the LHSA; it was probably through a brochure. Once I became a member, I ordered the LHSA quarterly Viewfinder and read everything in it.

Over time, I started to get familiar with the names of some historic people related to Leica, and I was able to meet some of them through the years. My most exciting experience related with Leica and the LHSA was, with no doubt, the annual meeting held in Wetzlar in October 2018. Not only did I meet several historic LHSA members, but I also met the most qualified Leica executive managers and visited the Leica headquarters.

Having the possibility of speaking to Dr. Andreas Kaufmann or to Peter Karbe, or visiting the Leica archives, or wandering around Leitz Park and the city of Wetzlar with its historical locations, the Alter Friedhof Cementery where you can find Oskar Barnak’s and Max Berek’s graves as well as the one of the Ernst Leitz family, was inspiring.

One special mention to the Wetzlar Photo Contest that was announced by Alan Weinschel during his opening exposition. It was a wonderful idea, that kept everybody focused in trying to obtain original images. Congratulations!

I would like to thank all the Leica managers and the people of The International Leica Society because the organization and coordination of this annual meeting was unbeatable.

Frankly, the 2018 LHSA annual meeting was an experience in which everybody could breathe Leica!

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