Is it the end of Leica (…for me)?

I have been using various Leica M cameras for the last 7 or so years, and until recently it has been a system that I have really enjoyed.

However, limited time to process and scan film has led me to shoot digital more and more. I still ultimately prefer the look of film, but mostly so when it is either in medium of large format sizes.

When it comes to 35mm, I have found that since I picked up an old Nikon F3, I have actually preferred it to using a Leica. It is much easier to focus and I actually prefer the look of the images with the Nikon 50mm 1.4 Ai lens attached. Yes, it’s massively flawed compared to a 50mm Summilux-M ASPH. However, those flaws give the lens a lot of character. It’s also really sharp once you stop it down to F2.8 – F4. The Bokeh with the Nikon lens is also incredible.

Then there is the case of mirrorless, specifically Fuji and Sony. I have picked up a mirrorless system in the last 6 months or so. I resisted it for a long time, as I thought (!) I preferred optical systems. However, the ability to see a scene through an EVF in black and white was a total game changer for me. My main interest in photography is shooting in black and white. I also love to shoot in colour, but’s that easy in some respects. I find having to ‘convert’ a scene into black and white in my mind a pain – actually seeing it in monochrome to start with makes the whole process much more enjoyable and rapid. With street photography seeing and shooting quickly is the name of the game a lot of the time, as once a moment has gone, well it has gone!

Then, at least with the Fujifilm cameras, there is the user experience. They are fantastic and fun cameras to use. The Sony is not quite in the same league in user experience, but the incredible AF system combined with a wide angle lens for street photography, is another game changer for me.

With a Leica, I find that my photos are more distant and ‘classic’ in a Cartier-Bresson sense. With the Sony in particular the silent shutter and rapid AF with reliable face / eye detection, it means that I can get a lot closer. The images are more dynamic and ‘modern’. It’s also a lot more fun to shoot in this way, as the whole process feels more emotive and engaging. I know that I can put a wide angle on a Leica and get a similar experience, but on so many levels for me now, it just isn’t working for me anymore.

I also feel that my photography is changing, in the next couple of years I should see more time on the horizon to do things that have been very difficult now – more family time, more travel, less work! My interest in street photography remains strong, but I needed to mix up my approach and make it more dynamic to keep my interest. I feel that this has started to happen. I am going to keep that area now to digital. I will be keeping film ticking along, but this will mainly sit within medium and large formats for either specific projects or family portraiture.

I also want to do more video work. I am terrible at it at the moment. With having a young family, it makes me wants to capture their experiences on video. One of the things that I never had in my childhood was video or audio-recordings of me, just a few photographs (my parents weren’t big on creating imagery!). I am looking to buy a gimbal to stabilise the camera and create some nice smooth images. I would also like to shoot more videos, incorporating time-lapse, astro-photography, drones, hand held, etc. These would be similar to the sort of videos made by others I have been periodically posting up on this blog over the last couple of years.

So, I feel that it’s time to part ways with what’s left of my Leica equipment (much of it has gone to fund my mirrorless revolution). In some ways, I will be sad to let it go. However, I don’t like having cameras sitting around in storage not being used. I like to have cameras that I use at least on a semi-regular basis. The only exception to this is my Ebony 5×4, as the man who made them has retired and you can’t get them new anymore. Change is good, particularly when you feel that it is in a new and exciting direction! 🙂

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Shaking things up

Getting out of a photographic rut is quite difficult. When I shot Cinestill film back in February for a project, I was hoping to stretch my style out so that it involved more elements in the frame. My main approach was to position people predominantly in a ‘rule of thirds’ framework. My inspiration for this idea was the work of Alex Webb. I didn’t quite work.

However, I think the idea of freshening things up is a good one. When I look back at my work, I always notice that certain types of shots are dominant in my repertoire. I usually call them ‘environmental portraits’ as they often set the people in the context of their environment backdrop. This is often a reflection of how I think.

1g1a1976However, I do really like those (relatively) rare occasions in which I get up close and personal in my photography. The shots are much more intimate, involved, dynamic and intense. In the next few months, I might stick a wide angle lens on a camera and shoot specifically with this idea in mind as a ‘one project’.

img077One of the reasons I have started to set myself challenges in the form of the ‘one project’ each month, is that I want to stretch myself more creatively. This month, my interest is in trying to shoot objects that mark the presence of people in some way. I am getting more interested in vernacular photography, but I think there is a fine line between “that’s a great shot” and “who cares, that’s boring” responses to the images for me. I suspect my work this month will be the latter!

Ultimately, I would like to find ways to get out of my current creative rut to develop new ways of expressing myself photographically.

What I see depends on what I bring

At one level, a photograph is a simple thing – it’s just an image. But, at another level it’s a whole different ball game. What I see in a photograph depends on what bring – in terms of my previous experiences and how I probably am feeling at that point in time. Some photographs by their raw emotional content have the power to seemingly transcend the immediate context – they almost forcibly grab you and shake you up. Those photographs, as far as I am concerned, are rare. I can think of a lot of good photographs, but not many that have that powerful emotional pull.

Often, a photograph creates a strong emotional response in me due to the story that goes with it. This is one of the reasons that I like reading documentary work, as it provides a contextual backdrop to more fully understand the image. However, some stories just bore me as I am not interested in them. Whilst others, due to my experiences, beliefs and interests are much more stimulating. Darcy Padilla’s The Julie Project (Now called Family Love) is a very powerful story which gripped me.

This got me thinking recently about my own work. Like most people (I presume), I shoot with a particular idea in mind of how I would like the audience to respond to my work – do they ‘get’ the message that I am seeking to communicate? I have no idea really, unless I talk to people or provide an explanatory text. But, when I do that I have already sought to shape their views and opinions about the work. What might be a more interesting angle to explore is that of not providing an explanatory context, etc. to the work – just putting the images out there and let the viewer make their own minds up about the work. What expectations do they bring and does the work match it in any way?

I like the idea of using the ambiguity in the ‘space’ between my intention for the work and the audience’s expectations as a possible point of exploration. I can try to influence what people think. However, because I don’t know, nor can I know, their previous histories or immediate context, I can’t actually control what they think.

I guess the next thing to do is to explore this idea in a little more depth, and shoot some work or look at the work I have done to build something that reflects this concept.

Salisbury