Exactly one year ago to this day, I was lucky enough to meet Guido Steenkamp who just a week ago opened an exhibition in Berlin together with other street photographers from Seconds2Real (the Leica Camera Blog reviewed the exhibition with an interview). He was selling his M9, preferring his analog Leica for his work and I was happy to take the digital one from his hands. With just about 9,085 shutter actuations back then, I considered it practically new. Until then, my trusty M8 was doing a great job and honestly for the life of me I cannot remember why I was so much craving the M9 instead.
But I did and I was saving my pennies and nickles, sold my M8, and negotiated a price of the M9 and worked for me. And I haven't looked back. I met Guido - I was lucky to have been travelling to Berlin around that time so we met personally and I immediately (and very impatiently) attached the lens I had at that time (a Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f1.4 - not a bad lens but certainly with shortcomings) and I took several pictures the next couple of days in Berlin. I could immediately see the improvement of the IR-filtering, I could see what a 35 mm lens actually does to pictures (full-frame) and I could not hear the metalic sound that the M8 made when it shutter clicked (the M9 has a softer sound). I loved the character of the black paint (the bottom plate was starting to show the brass underneath), I loved the custom-installed black Leica logo (the original is supposed to be red) and the blackened "M9" (originally supposed to be white), and I loved the tremendous resolution (18MP from the 10MP the M8 provided).
A year later, I still feel the same about the camera technicalities. But I have certainly come to understand it better. I can appreciate its colors, I can appreciate its speed, I can appreciate its solid feel and its minimalist elegance. But that's not really what it makes it special - it is a simple thing really - that it is always with me.
Before that, I didn't carry a camera with me all the time. I missed moments. I missed opportunities. And I missed memories. Now, I can rely on always having that camera, and never missing those moments. I go back, just a year with it, but more than 33,000 pictures, and I remember every one of those moments as if it was a minute ago. Because it was - it is part of me now, it is part of what defines me, the experiences I've had and the people who continue to define me.
And sure, an M8 or even a film camera, might have done the same for me (I did use to carry the M8 with me everywhere as well). And the lenses are indeed stupendous and their interaction with the rest of the system is unmatched (and I have went through a number of lenses including rare pieces of glass such as the Canon TV f0.95 50 mm lens, the temperamental Leica Summilux f1.4 75 mm, the low-maintenance Leica Summicron C f2.0 40 mm, and many others). You know that you are really thinking about the photographic process when gear becomes just the extension of what you do: jf you have only the 90 mm lens, you'd still take that street photograph; if you have only the wide-angeled 24 mm lens, you'd still take that portrait shot.
Because it is not the gear that makes me look to the world with curious eyes but the mindset, the expectation, the curiosity, and the desire to be part of that world around.
'nough about that. Berlin! Ah, Berlin! The reason why I love Berlin so much is the fact that it reminds me so much in some of its characteristics to Sofia - like the flowers being sold at the bus/tram/underground stations. This is something I remember from my childhood as the characteristic of those stations - those days that I would need to be buying flowers for a teacher or just for my mum and the comfort of always knowing that they would be available and I wouldn't need to get out of my way to actually get them.
Or there are the building: old, big, made to accommodate a lot of people. True that some of them are falling apart and some underground stations feel scarily much like a morgue. But the feeling of growing up in a similar environment makes me almost automatically feel at home (and yes, I can see the irony of this).
And the light - oh the light is different here. The sun shines the same way of course but you've got the glass buildings - tall and precise. The Sun is looking into them asking "who is the prettiest one of them?" And they all look at the sun for warmth!
And then our hearts warm up - not only because of the light, not only because of the Parisian feel to all this, not because of the French accordion music that has become a cliche (cliches are there for a reason and I love them), not only because everyone is out with a smile, not only because the rising moon was so big and beautiful between the big glass buildings, not only because of the dance moves I would make from time to time. Because when we feel so happy, we need to share it - to pick up the phone and call old friends, talk to strangers, smile to everyone, and for once play the tourist. And then there are those random meetings that are never random. Meeting an old friend out of the blue on the streets of Berlin and making new friends out of acquaintances and out of strangers.
One of the very first pictures I took with this camera.
And the same place - a week less than a year after.
Below are some of the pictures I took in Berlin when I visited the exhibition of Seconds2Real in Berlin.
And some street shots from Berlin: