Dear rangefinder enthusiasts and classic photographers,
Thank you for allowing us to share some news and random thoughts with you.
The Medium (Format) is the Message at Photokina 2016. (Our Apologies to Marshall McLuhan)
Gear and gadgets, weirdly wireless and Wi-Fi, megapixels and Wiener schnitzel (really), even cameras that fly, but what stole the show was the reemergence of medium-format photography. Both the Hasselblad X1D and the Fujifilm GFX attracted big crowds and bona fide interest. Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, Leica decided not to announce any significant products. “Ve doo our own events,” Herr Anonymous Hun lectured. “Ztay tuned!” By the winks and nods I saw, at very least it looks like we can expect that a new T series camera and lenses will be announced in 2016.
The most interesting part of Photokina was spending time at the image gallery which, for the third time in a row, was produced and sponsored by the good folks of Leica Camera AG. No less than twenty shows covering an area upwards of 20,000 ft2 were expertly produced, meticulously curated and beautifully lit. Featured were the likes of Kurt Hutton, an oft-overlooked early Leica master documenting life in Old Europe, and Jens Umbach, whose Afghanistan project of landscapes and portraits (reminiscent of the work of Richard Alvedon), provoked deep emotions and considerable debate about Afghanistan and how it has changed and continues to change life both within its borders and around the world.
I was happy to see that a good friend, Ara Güler, was elected to the Leica Hall of Fame. His exhibition, alongside that of Alex Webb, brought back the halcyon days of photojournalism. Others that impressed me were Jacob De Boer, a young Canadian from Toronto whose black-and-white photos on the origins of coffee were gracious and dignified, and Roger Ballen, whose portraits of society’s outcasts are certain to move even the most hardened soul.
Then there was Bruce Gilden, whose fascination with people on the margin and their appearance, seems never-ending. Highly technical, flash lit and shot with a Leica S, I felt as if I had stumbled into a clinical dermatologist’s presentation of unusual teenage and geriatric acne. He calls his show American Made, but for this person who has travelled throughout the U.S.A. for the past 40 years, I can honestly claim to have never encountered the likes of his subjects. I would like to ask this capable Magnum photographer, “Why?”, and “To what purpose?”
The Homecoming! Return to Wetzlar
As I am prone to do, after Photokina I made my way to Wetzlar. An early morning stroll through the old town and along the Lahn River provided insight into Oskar Barnack and his diminutive creation. It is not only to his genius that we owe the Leica camera, but also to the topography of Wetzlar, whose steep hills on both sides of the river must have inspired Barnack on his brisk walks to work.
This trip I took full advantage of an invitation to visit Leitz Park. Intended as a symbol of Leica’s enduring ingenuity and excellence, it is much more than that. There is a tangible sense of renewed pride and purpose in the venerable camera maker. Roland Elbert, a production process engineer with Leica both in Germany and Midland, Ontario, served as my gracious host. He possesses encyclopedic knowledge and, most impressive after 30 years with the company, passion and dedication which are contagious. He could not be happier coming back to Wetzlar from Solms, if only because it puts him within bicycling distance from home.
It is hard to grasp that this German camera manufacturer which changed the world of photography, has no more than 350 workers manufacturing and assembling gear at the facility. There are a few hundred more in administration and marketing, but it is the engineers and craftsmen who are actually responsible for the M, Q, S, SL, X and soon-to-be new T cameras, as well as over 50 different lenses with each element painstakingly ground, polished, coated and hand assembled by people who share the same commitment as Roland Elbert.
In recent times, the M8 and M9 are credited with resuscitating Leica and securing its future for a few years to come. I prefer to look to the arrival of Andreas Kaufmann in 2004, as the decisive moment that made this company what it is today. His vision and dedication to producing fine cameras and lenses while untiringly promoting photography, led directly to the company being in a much better place than it has ever been. Great photographers capture life the way they see it. Today, Leica once again plays an indispensable role in achieving this.
Dr. Andreas Kaufmann
At Leitz Park, Kaufmann’s imagination and sharp focus were instrumental in the creation of a facility that is a marvel of design, beauty and function, where the flow is as seamless and natural as New York’s Guggenheim Museum. It’s a Zen-like space with pleasing shapes and colours and, most importantly, it has soul!
To see Leica’s history and all the cameras on display is something to behold, but the jewel in the crown is the prominent, permanent space exhibiting work of old and new Leica masters as well as a beautifully lit gallery dedicated to Leica’s Hall of Fame photographers.
Oh, let’s not forget the Leica boutique, with a place to expose photographs, a library filled with photo books and a spot to enjoy a coffee. Hmmm…Where have I seen this before?
I took two days to drive up and down the Rhine Valley with the Leica Q tucked in my small bag. Filled with history, fun-loving Germans – yes, Helmut, I know an oxymoron when I see one – indulging in beer and fine Rieslings, and bathed in autumn light as intoxicating as the wine, one cannot help but be inspired to take photographs.
Always looking forward to your comments.
Jean Bardaji and Daniel Wiener