My first introduction to the fascinating world of Leica began with a remarkable encounter. I was comfortably seated in a window seat on a flight from Narita to New Delhi. As a certified AvGeek and licensed pilot, I am usually fixated on airport and aircraft movements outside the window. However, on this flight, I happened to be seated next to Sebastiaõ Salgado. What a stroke of luck for an amateur photog. I recognized him from his Kuwait images after the first Gulf war. His picture of the oil-covered rig worker weary from repairing destroyed oil wells might ring a bell with some of you. Anyhow, given the exalted status of my co-passenger, I promptly forgot about aircraft and aviation and slid into a conversation about photography, my other love.
Salgado was very generous with his time. We spoke about his work and career trajectory. He offered a critique on a few of my images which I had pulled up on my laptop. At one point, he stood up, pulled out a case from the overhead bin, opening it to show me four well-used, gorgeously brassed Leica M film bodies. He handed one to me and I marveled at the weight, finish and brassing. It was a reverent moment. This camera had witnessed war and its aftermath. From that day on, I was hooked, and vowed to get my hands on my own Leica some day.
Fast forward six years. Leica had just announced their revolutionary M9, and I wanted one. A dear friend convinced me that I should switch from my Canon 1Ds Mark III and collection of L lenses, and instead focus on Leica. The Salgado encounter, which inspired my desire to own a Leica, made up my mind. As a result, I was soon in possession of a lovely Leica M9 and a relatively cheap 35mm f/2.5 Leica lens. I happily took them on a trip to Montreal and proceeded to have an absolute blast. Soon there- after, in my quest for bokeh, I exchanged the f/2.5 for an f/2, and then acquired a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M, which I still own and use with joy.
I knew I could not stick to just two 35mm Leica lenses. After much research, I decided to buy Leica’s newly released 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux. Its three-dimensional bokeh always took my breath away. I had also read of the need for a neutral density filter for the lens in order to shoot wide open, and knew I had to own it and the lens. After hunting high and low and coming up dry, I learned of Ken Hansen. Emails were exchanged, and very quickly, even before my funds had reached Ken, he shipped a brand new Noctilux at a significant discount since I had made a joke about eating a ton of boxed cereal to fund my acquisition. Such a kind man, super-friendly and an absolute pleasure to do business with. Rest In Peace.
Fully committed to Leica, I bought a 90mm f/2 Summicron and a limited edition M6 Millenium (1307 of 2000). Soon thereafter I bought two M Typ 240’s and a Typ 246. This allowed me to keep lenses permanently attached to the various bodies I owned, helping me win the battle over sensor dust! Acquiring the M6 gave me the opportunity to invest in developing chemicals, equipment and a pro negative scanner. However, I do not spend as much time with film as I should, but I definitely enjoy the M6 every time I pick it up. Since then, I have used my Leica gear in many countries and love how unobtrusive they are. I recall spending nearly an entire day roaming Paris, taking in the sights. The best part of the experience was being able to walk around, M9/50 Noctilux around my neck, two lenses in my coat pockets, M (Typ 240) in a pocket, and batteries tucked away. No camera bag to weigh me down. It was extremely liberating.
My love with Leica continued, and at the 2014 Leitz-Park inaugural, my Leica friends grew. Leica is a magical brand that binds us together into one giant family anchored around our common love for photography. I have lost track of the number of times I have walked around and seen another red dot. Usually, in these situations, at a very minimum, our eyes lock, we smile at each other, and nod our heads in respect for a fellow Leicaphile. Time permitting, we have exchanged pleasantries and linked up on Facebook. I have met many photogs this way, and today, approximately half of my Facebook friends are Leica users.
I attended the 2018 Leitz-Park III inaugural, made even more special because I got to spend time with Alan Weinschel, our LHSA president, and Bill Rosauer, our LHSA editor. We shared many meals together, and Bill took us down memory lane with a fantastic walk around Wetzlar, the old Leica buildings, and other places of historical significance to Leica. Alan and Bill were the reasons I joined The International Leica Society. They invited me to come back to Wetzlar for the 50th year event that October and I am so glad I did. There is something incredibly wonderful about Leicaphiles getting together and bonding over something we love deeply.
I have spent ten years with Leica now. Every photographic moment has been special. I have had the great fortune of owning two M9’s, M6 Millenium, two M Typ 240’s, M Typ 246, X1, X2, Q, M10, SL, Q2, SL2 and M10 Monochrom. I love my Leica M and L-mount lenses, and enjoy playing with and agonizing over the immense desire to acquire new releases. I recently interacted with the M9 again, new sensor and all. I slipped it into my Luigi Leicatime case and brought it up to my eye, and the smell of well-worn leather wafted up. I felt very pleased and marveled at the romance of Leica photography. The superb optical and electro-mechanical design of Leica equipment allows us to become part of the photographic process in a deeply intrinsic manner that is incredibly sensorial and rewarding. Further, in addition to superb cameras and lenses, Leica has invested in the fantastic Leica Store network. I have spent many hours at the Wetzlar, Washington D.C., Singapore, Tokyo, Milan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas, Boston and New York stores. Leica Store employees make the time to listen and help out as best as they are able. In this day of clicks, I am super happy that Leica realizes the importance of a retail store-based experience.
While writing this article I went back through my digital photography archive over the last two decades. I have close to 100,000 images as of January 2, 2020 (I don’t leave my shutter on rapidfire). Of those, about 44,000 images were captured with Leica gear over the last ten years. My Noctiluxes and Summiluxes are equally used (approximately 12,000 images each) and the rest are shot with the other lenses. I leave my fellow readers with a fraction of the thousands of images captured with my Leicas over the last ten years.
Sofie’s portrait is a favorite of mine. During my trip to Wetzlar for the 2014 Leitz Park inaugural, I ended up at the Steinfurth Rosenmuseum café enjoying a late lunch when up walked an old, elegant lady, stooped over her cane. She was having trouble getting up the cobblestoned incline so I got up, walked over to her, held her hand and escorted her in. As we got to the entrance, the owner walked up, greeted Das Großmutter and sat her at a table. She proceeded to enjoy a coffee and “rosentorte”. Meanwhile, I nibbled at my lunch but kept glancing over my shoulder to look at this elegant woman, sitting by herself, enjoying her snack. Given how she was attired, this may have been the highlight of her day, and she was giving it the respect it deserved. On my way out, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to pick up her check. When the Café proprietress mentioned this, Sofie was delighted, called me over to her table and gave me a big hug. We proceeded to have the most wonderful conversation, aided in large part by Google Translate because my command of German is limited to “urlaub Deutsch”. During our dialogue I learned her name and the fact that she was born in Hess in 1920, with a family full of engineers and three children who had been lost to the wars. I marveled at her strength while we chatted, but soon our time together came to an end. Sofie thanked me profusely and then asked for my help in navigating said cobblestones out of the Rosenmuseum. She took my arm, and we walked out to the street and bid our goodbyes. She gave me another hug. I bid her farewell with tears in my eyes for this dear old lady who has seen so much. I hope she stays safe.
The Yurakucho restaurant patron is another favorite image, and goes to prove that it pays to wait. I was out and about with my Leicas, and ended up in Yurakucho, Tokyo. There are many small restaurants around the subway station and I love walking through the alleyways, taking in the sights. I chanced upon a small restaurant tucked under a flyover. “Noren” flags blew in the breeze. The menu is displayed on the dispensing machine to the left of the frame. You choose what you want, insert the requisite payment (yen coins mostly) and press the corresponding button and out pops a little meal ticket that you hand over to the chef. I had a delicious and tasty meal – grilled fish, miso soup, rice and a small cup of green tea. Satisfied, I stepped out and started taking pictures again, but something was missing. I decided to wait for a few minutes when a patron came out, lighting a cigarette and ducking out in one swift movement. I am glad I was able to freeze this moment in time. That’s what Leica is all about. Leica equips us with the tools to freeze time and capture moments for posterity.
On this same trip to Tokyo, I lost my camera bag twice! On the first occasion, I stopped at a McDonald’s for coffee. I found a table, absentmindedly placed my bag on the floor next to me, and intently studied my phone to determine what to do next. I finished my coffee, got up and left without the camera bag. Approximately twenty minutes later, while wanting to take a picture, I reached for my camera bag, but it was not on my shoulder. A moment of panic froze my entire being, but then I quickly retraced my steps and found my camera bag where I had left it, under the table in that McDonald’s. On the second occasion, I was at Narita Airport, flying back to the US. I’d cleared Immigration and was waiting for my flight. I love perusing Narita’s dining options and ended up at my favorite udon noodle shop. A steaming bowl of tempura udon later, I stumbled out of the restaurant and walked around the airport terminal, taking in the sights. I came upon a new 787 Dreamliner glistening in the morning sun and decided to take a picture. No camera bag. Again, similar brain freeze and a mad rush to retrace my steps to recover my Leica gear and PASSPORT! When I got to the restaurant, the hostess greeted me with a smile, reached down behind her and held up my camera bag. It was a relief because the bag had my M9, M240, 50 Noctilux, 35 Summilux and 90 Summicron in addition to my passport. Nowadays I keep a very close watch on all my camera gear. I do not want repeat incidents like these ever again!
My Leica journey has only begun. My Leica family has grown over the years, and in particular, many of you may also know Andreas, Bill, Jono, Hari and Evris. My #10yearswithLeica project is live on Instagram (www.instagram.com/chatsphotog). I look forward to welcoming you there and hopefully connecting. I will share my workflow with you in a subsequent LHSA article. Until then, luxuriate in the presence of your Leica gear! I look forward to seeing your unique perspective.