Leica M9

Greathead or the reinvention of 52 stories, 52 dreams and 52 moments, 52 surprises and 52 predictions

Year after year, new cameras get released to the market. Wait - what am I saying - week after week, new cameras are released on the market (whether the market needs them or not). And photographers sometimes shrug non-commitally and sometimes obsessed unjustifiably. And I am not the first to write about the pitfalls of gear addiction.

The first stage in any purification process is admitting that there is something wrong with you - well, I probably am not a typical example of a gear-acquisition-syndrom-patient compared to what others I've read about own (that Leica collection of William Eggleston?), I recently felt overwhelmed by the choice I had and needed to make each morning when going out of the door - a choice between digital and analogue, between focal length and size, between speed and contemplation.

In between the multitude of pocket cameras (I was browsing through the photo section of a local electronics store), there rarely appear to be any surprising models. Perhaps it is the simple consumer approach (commoditization) or the simple lack of R&D resources or simply the lack of focus (pun intended), but it strikes me as quite odd that putting most pocket cameras next to each other, one will hardly notice a difference in anything but their brand-name, and perhaps their external design. Granted design (i.e. ergonomics) is important but we are talking about operations which are in any case going through menus and drill-downs. Some people focus a lot on the operations aspect of a camera when they make the choice. I believe I don't put as much attention as that per se although it figures into my perception of how the camera feels. The Pro-grade cameras all feel powerful in the hand - heavy, solid, and most of them quite refined. They still may have tons of buttons and dials, of which I am not the biggest fan, but the M8 and M9 have really spoiled me in terms of expectations. The ease with which I can maneuver with the M system has become a breeze. 

Out of curiocity, I have been taking a look sideways to the M. I am familiar with the operations of the Canon Pro-level cameras, having used a 5D II, 1Ds, and 1Ds II and one easily transitions from one to the other. I imagine it is similar with the Nikon gear although I've never shot with a Nikon (now that the DF is out, I am contemplating having a run with it or perhaps with an older D700). But when one comes to the pocket cameras or the micro-four-thirds, one finds great variety of systems. Over the past 1 year, I've tried a bunch of them (Olympus E-P2, and OM-D5) and will probably be continuing with that experimentation. 

One of the cameras that grabbed my attention is the Ricoh GR Digital IV mostly because of the praise it received in the context of street photography (ironically, I didn't get to use it in the context of street photography). One of the major advantages it brings is speed in focusing (thanks to a dual-AF-focus system), small sensor (i.e. large depth of field), ruggid construction (metal housing), wide-angle without bells and whistles (28mm equivalent - oh, and fast at f1.9), and (probably not for street) macro mode (going down to a couple of cm from the front element). All of this added together, and this has been a good camera (no experience yet with the new Ricoh GR with the APS-C sensor which may have its advantages).

I spent few weeks with it trying to wrap my head around looking at a screen to compose and taking a picture with a shutter which felt decidedly different from my M9. And I couldn't. Menu functionality, again, felt much more complicated than the M9 but still not too complicated or unknowable. The image quality is what made me keep the camera for quite some time. Pocket cameras have rarely blown me away (with the exception of the iPhone camera which is miraculous being much much tinier). But it was not destined to be a long-lasting relationship and this little baby went to ebay. 

Then there was (still is) the film phase - going through old Leica Ms, exploring for the first time the nostalgia of the vintage film Nikon classics and even small point-and-shoots (like the Leica Minilux and Rollei 35). Venturing into medium-format too (Rolleiflex, Mamiya 645 and Pentax 67). 

It is not that I kept all of these options available at all times - it was not a hoarding, it was an exchange - a camera fund that gets rotated again and again (that's the beauty of buying second-hand - value doesn't depreciate that quickly). I doubt that this will stop. But I know that I want to be able to use this exercise as an opportunity to learn plasticity - to be able to shift between media and formats with the goal of retaining a signature that has nothing to do with the equipment or the tool but with the way it is being used. To this end, it doesn't matter if the camera is a fancy Leica M (typ 240) or if it is a cheap plastic point-and-shoot film camera. I am far from having accomplished this language fluency but I am glad that I ventured on this path - because every day is a more interesting day!

In 2014, I will be continuing my experimentations for sure. But I am also now a happy owner of the next M series camera - the Leica rangefinder has turned out to be the system that comes closest to home. And for 2014, I have decided to do one of those "regular interval" projects - a-photo-a-"period" and I've decided to do it on a weekly basis with a fixed kit: the Leica M (typ 240) equipped with Leica Summilux 50 ASPH. And weekly, a picture will be posted here with a short story. 52 pictures - 52 stories, 52 dreams and 52 moments, 52 surprises and 52 predictions.

VSCO cam and VSCO film (and VSCO Grid)

I find myself in a funny predicament - I had shot very little film as a young boy (I loved taking pictures when my parents and I went to Thailand which was absolutely great) and I love film now - I've been shooting more and more since April when I got my M7 and what strikes me with film is how wonderful the feeling is to know that the image is crafted - not just made but crafter: I load the film myself, I carefully choose what to shoot, I rewind the film myself, I develop the film myself, and only then do I enter the more digital world of scanning. The development of the film is a pleasure like no other - loading it in the spool blindfolded, mixing the chemicals in the magical movement of stirring every minute (as if one brews a potion), and then pulling out the negative and looking at the pictures for the first time - it is like magic indeed. And every time, the film comes out to life with a passion - with a soul.

This is what a lot of digital photography isn't about - it tends to be about quick shooting of many pictures, and the plastic-ifying of colours and textures. And this is where some digital software comes into play to create effects that mimic the dynamics, the imperfections, and the colours of film. VSCO (Visual Supply) is a company that has been creating digital tools for the photographers who want to instill soul into their work. One of their more unusual products (VSCO Keys, which I am yet to try) is quite different from other digital tools in that it enables one to get closer to the grafting of the filme with their hands - with movements and typing - it is reminiscent of writing in which the real tool are the fingers and not the keyboard on which it is written. 

But it is not about VSCO Keys that I want to talk about but about their presets. In fact, not even about that, nor about VSCO Cam (Reloaded - which is an extraordinary deprture from other camera apps). I want to talk about their ambitious goal - to create beautiful things and to share them with the world - their VSCO Grid.

Their presupposition - when we were kids crafting - is what fills me with emotions - because photography for me is indeed about celebrating both the "beautiful" and the "broken" in life. Because we can be cynical but when we were kids, we were ballerinas - pure, elegant, spontaneous, playful ... - and that's what I aim for with my photography - to campture not the cynicism but the idealism, to encapsulate movement and dance without chains and restrictions, to translate darkness into light, to bend the borders of reality through a blend of realism and imagination, and to liberate the child hidden behind the mask of adulthood. To be pure. Thank you, VSCO!

You can visit my VSCO Grid at Traveller Between Spaces.


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Dancing to the Eiffel Tower light

It is difficult to be in Paris and to be at the Eiffel Tower and to be there at night, and NOT to take a cliche picture. Especially when so many other people are around - with cameras, some with tripods, most with flash, and all with camera phones on top of that. And yet, we see the sparkle not because the others point at it but because we seek it ourselves. And I loved it! And this will hang on my wall.

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Project Silhouettes

Today, Time Magazine Light Box featured a reflection on the calendar year with a series of 357 photographs of silhouettes. I felt particularly inspired myself by some of them and reviewed my street photography gallery to identify my silhouettes. Over the years, I've shot a considerable number of them but few really managed to stick transcending the moment and the location, whether it will be a mischiveous group of 20-year olds enjoying the late September sunshine at the lake, or the treasured autumnal sunshine of Berlin or the hot summer sun of Frankfurt refreshing from the fountain water, they all come together as a sharp cutout of their everyday reality.

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