The Zagato Leica

Zagato is an independent automobile design company and total design center located northwest of Milan, Italy. Apparently they’ve been hired by Leica to create a limited edition M10, price approximately $26,000.

My question is this: what is the Zagato M10’s purpose? Who is it being made for? To do what with? I’d feel vaguely foolish carrying one about for regular use and I don’t care who designs it, or what its made of –  it’s an M10 with non-functional design cues added to appeal to people who know the Zagato name. I’m not sure what car designers, even the best, can add to a photographic device, and the filmed advertisement for it above never articulates an answer to this obvious question. So, the motive behind the camera appears to be pure, vulgar ostentation. Why, when you could easily do so much better?

In any event, regardless of who it’s designed by, it’s not half as cool as a nice, well-used IIIg with Leicavit, which isn’t merely a beautiful design, but was designed as a working camera by designers who were also photographers, functionality always being the best design principle. That’s what the current people running Leica seem not to understand: the timeless designs of the iconic Leica Film rangefinders were a result of functional decisions. Now, design decisions seem to be about bling.

This is a Beautiful Camera. It was designed by camera guys at Wetzlar

As for collector value, I wouldn’t put money on any digital device having long-term value as a collector’s piece, given it’s not a mechanical device but an electronic computer with all the inherent obsolescense problems associated therewith.

Instead of projects like this – designed by luxury car designers or inspired by rock stars – you’d think someone at Leica would think back to Leica’s history and proudly work from there. Is that too much to ask, Leica?  Instead of these pointless vanity pieces, why not play to your strengths and your history and design a new all mechanical film camera, you know, the kind that made you famous. Yes, there’s still a market for serious film photography, certainly a larger market than that of the Zagato M10, and it seems to me you’re the obvious company to exploit it. How about this: stress minimalism – a 35mm rangefinder w/o meter, simple mechanical shutter, manual focus M-mount with capability to use the full range of Leitz optics. Give it an updated body design, not something radical but an evolution of the LTM and/or M models and their timeless designs. Make sure it has an engraved top plate. Please do not put a red dot on it, or a dot of any color. Hand assemble it, just like the IIIg and M3. Price it fairly for both leicaphiles and Leica AG. Don’t do something stupid like giving every buyer a roll of Tri-X to sweeten the deal. Do not put someone’s name on it. In other words, act like the proud company you once were. I’m pretty sure a sufficient number of people would line up to buy it. Or, if that’s too ambitious, why not make a new run of M3’s, much like Nikon did with the S3 and SP in the early naughts…not a replica, but an actual M3 indistinguisable from the ones you made through 1966? I assume you’ve got the tooling to do it. Make some in black paint. Offer it with a Leicavit. Call it the M3R. Leicaphiles will go nuts.

Whichever of the two options you choose, you’ll be trading on the Leica name in a way that honors your history in a serious way and shows some basic understanding of why the Leica name means so much to so many in spite of your heretofore short-sighted vulgarization of the brand. You’d make a lot of us really proud, you’d make a huge splash in the camera world, you’d bolster your flagging reputation with serious photographers, and you’d probably sell a few cameras. And you wouldn’t have to pay some famous designer to do it.

Parerga and Paralipomena – Chapter 2

“View From the Window at Le Gras”, History’s First Photograph (J. Nicephore Niepce 1826)

I’ve been reading a lot of philosophical stuff lately, broad subjects that I’m finding myself coming back to as a mature adult. I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘big questions,’ things we often take for granted – beliefs and ideas that form the bedrock of who we are, what matters to us and how we perceive the life we’re living. The beauty of philosophical inquiry is that it can shine a critical light on settled beliefs you’ve never really thought to question, things that you’ve been taught to believe, things that might appear to you as “common sense,” beliefs you take on faith or as a member of a religious orientation or a specific national culture. In my opinion, that’s a good thing, whether we’re discussing really important things like what the good life is or more everyday things like photography – what it is, why we do it, what it means – and how it might fit into a good life.

Photography is the product of the rational secular culture originating in the West but now basically the world’s default culture, a culture whose roots lie in classical Greek thought as it’s been transmitted via the Roman conquest of Europe and Asia with an overlay of Christianity that’s driven it through the Reformation and Renaissance and into the Scientific Revolution. From all of that, everyone who has electricity and an internet connection and is able to read this, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim or secular humanist, and whether you live in the States or China or Portugal or Argentina or Norway or Iran or Nigeria, share, to a great extent, a common heritage, intellectual in nature, that allows us to understand and empathize with each other, whatever the differing idiosyncratic permutations of our local cultures. And it’s that culture that’s brought us the amazing technological advances of the last two centuries, including photography.

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If you think about it, photography is pretty amazing. It would have seemed utterly miraculous to even the profound,sophisticated classical Greek, Roman and Medieval thinkers whose brilliance has formed the foundations of our shared culture. And yet, we accept it without a second thought, as if it’s a normal and natural part of life to be able to record and make permanent accurate visual transcriptions of what we perceive, with a phone we carry about in our pocket no less. Roland Barthes touched just a bit on this in Camera Lucida, the remarkable fact that a part of his mother, dead for years, remained behind as a physical trace on a photographic emulsion, an emulsion that not only allowed him to recreate her features two-dimensionally, but that had been touched by light that had touched her body and impregnated her very form upon it. Wow! Barthes was saying, think about that, my mother dead all these years, her body, her combination of matter and form, moldering in the earth, and yet I have what’s really real about her preserved right here, eternal, something more than just a painted imitation, but a transcription of the real thing itself, stenciled off of nature. Tell me that’s not miraculous.

Barthes doesn’t move his discussion in this direction, but this is all very ‘Aristotelian’ (after the Greek philosopher Aristotle), notions of form and matter and what’s ultimately real. Aristotle broke down everything into two things – form and matter – and taught that only form itself is coherent and real and valuable, matter having no real value except as just the stuff we’re all made of, the clay as it were, something common to everything, while our form is what defines us as beings (i.e. your form is what makes you a human, as opposed to an elephant, while it’s the elephant’s form that makes him an elephant and not a human, even though we’re both made out of the same stuff or matter). So, in thinking of what photography does, Aristotle would say that it transcribes what is ultimately valuable about the subject you’re photographing, whether it be your house or your dog or your lover, the form of the thing. He would say that Barthes, in the act of capturing his mother in a photo, has given what is defining about her at that one instant – her form – a permanence transcending the flow and flux of matter. I’m pretty sure Aristotle would find that absolutely mind-blowing.

We meanwhile, immersed in post-modern reality, don’t think twice about it. We’re blind to photography’s miraculousness in a way Aristotle could never be, just as we’re blind to many other things that should fill us with wonder. We’re blind to it because it’s just one item that constitutes the banal background of our technological reality, one more thing that just seems self-evident and obvious to us, like the fact that we use a certain language, have certain parents, are born at a certain time and place. It just is. Nothing to see here, let’s move along to think of the things that really matter – are my photos good enough to show at the corner coffee-house, does my 4th generation Summicron have good bokeh, should I spend $6000 on a Leica M10 or will fellow photographers think I’m a lightweight because my cat pictures were taken with a D200? Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who many consider the greatest philosophical mind of the 20th century, would shake his head and say that when we do this we are blind to “being.”

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Heidegger remains a pretty controversial guy in philosophical circles, mainly because he was a Nazi, which is not something that tends to endear you to other people. His ties with the Nazis are disputed – some say, as the Rector of the University of Freiburg in the 1930’s and a recognized intellectual, he had no choice but to passively align himself in the manner he did; others point to writings and statements that seem to indicate certain affinities with Nazi theories – but they remain a hurdle you must get past if you are to engage with his incredibly rich Philosophy of Being. So, let’s put that aside for a second if that’s possible and discuss his ideas.

Heidegger’s entire philosophy is predicated on that sense of wonder I’m certain Aristotle and pre-modern thinkers would have if they’d been confronted with something like photography, but in a larger sense, wonder at the very fact that we are – what philosophers refer to as ‘being’ – which is itself something miraculous and weird and in need of contemplation and explanation. He argues that we’ve forgotten, or better yet, have never really even seen, how weird and miraculous it is that we even are, that anything is. How is it that you are you and I am me and the world is what it is? What’s that all about? He suggests that the real nature of philosophical inquiry is to explore this phenomenon, and criticizes Western philosophy since Socrates as being blind to this miraculousness, having instead pursued practical issues such as how to live and the correct way to think without taking into account the fact that we’re here and capable of doing or thinking or creating anything in the first place.

Gianni Gardin- a Sublime Photograph. My Reality is Better Because it Exists

Unfortunately, I’m not going to recommend you read Heidegger, as his writings are mostly incomprehensible except to those who’ve spent a lifetime studying him. But I think you can take something away from Heidegger and use it when thinking about photography. What I am advocating for is that, as photographers – and I think Heidegger would agree – before we divide ourselves up over trivial issues of practice and/or aesthetic theory, we should step back and think of the remarkable thing that photography is and understand that its miraculousness is the real hook that should keep us engaged and driven forward photographically. We as dedicated practitioners too often take for granted what we do and get caught up in its practical aspects to the exclusion of recognizing the gift it is, a gift we need to honor with our full attention as the doing of it is, in its own way, a spiritual practice. Whether you know it or not, it’s that that keeps you coming back to it and gives it meaning for you, something we all share.


This is the second in an ongoing series about philosophical issues and what they might have to say about photography. Part One can be found here.

Is There Still Room for Serious Photographers in the Clown Car That is Leica?

Mixed Signals

As of April of this year, SlimStats, a WordPress plug-in that tracks site visits, claims that I’ve topped 1 million visits by unique IP addresses, with a little less than 5 million hits, to the site. Half of that has been in the last year.

I know, in the larger scheme of things, those numbers are small potatoes, a fraction of what established sites like Steve Huff or the other guy’s, whatshisname, but then again, how many people are interested enough in Leica cameras to follow a blog like this? Frankly, I’m amazed and baffled…but also really grateful for my readers and all they’ve contributed. I’ve met wonderful people through the site, and learned a lot from readers far more knowledgeable than me. I’ve been invited places and done things I’d never have gotten to do were it not for good folks who occasionally read me.

A few thank-you’s are probably in order. First, thanks to everyone who has written a blog comment with a compliment or dropped me an encouraging email when I’ve periodically disappeared. These mean a lot to me, simple acts of kindness from one human to another, the sort of thing that seems increasingly scarce in the wired environment. Had it not been for the encouragement, I’ve probably have inactivated the site by now, which would have been a loss, at least for me, because I find the fact that the site remains open and needful of new content occasionally keeps me involved in my photography and intellectually active.

Second, thanks for bearing with the increased abstraction of the subjects; my orientation to photography has always had a philosophical turn and I suppose it’s easy enough for me to go down intellectual rabbit-holes that aren’t of interest to most readers. I’ve tried to leaven the heavier stuff with the more mundane, and will continue to do so given the Leica cult makes ridicule not merely easy but required – Leica-land being a place where great photographers/artists like Frank, HCB, Koudelka et al and those of us who love and use the iconic film rangefinders must share space with the social climbers, stuffed shirts and gas bags currently associated with the iconic brand. Frankly, I tape over my Leica logos not to keep people from stealing my cameras but rather to prevent them associating me with the typical clowns who’ve seemed to have colonized and conquered a once great brand.

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It’s Leica’s radical turn to banality that both miffs and fascinates me, and its manifestations have been an unspoken but obvious focus of the site since its inception. Given my readership stats, it looks as if other people feel the same way. Listen: I get Leica Cameras AG is a capitalist business concern owned by the Blackstone Group, whose primary purpose is to make money. I get that one makes money by giving people what they want to buy, and if that means producing tacky trinkets and overpriced crap, or cynically trading on the inherited goodwill and name recognition of a brand, well, so be it, that’s their right. That doesn’t mean that that’s the honorable way forward, or that I, someone whose allegiance to the brand was created by farsighted business decisions of previous owners using the same brand – decisions that stressed simplicity and excellence of design and timelessness of product – should remain loyal to that ownership group and what they’ve done simply because they’ve bought the name. I suspect that Ernst Leitz is rolling over in his grave seeing the shameful spectacle currently associated with the brand. Is it Leica AG’s fault that it attracts the hucksters and hangers-on that it does? Not necessarily, but it seems to me they’re at least silently complicit with it, what with their glow-in-the-dark designer Leicas and celebrity editions cynically cranked out to maximize their market –  or their at least tacit approval of self-promoting charlatans fleecing naive and unsuspecting consumers – that they at the very least encourage it by corporate bad taste.

Joseph Koudelka – an iconic image with an iconic Leica M….errr Exacta**

How does one square all this nonsense – what I refer to as the ‘Overgaardization’ of the brand, with its remarkable history? What does any of this have to do with Ernst Leitz, the functionally brilliant 35mm Leicas, HCB, Robert Frank, the M3, the incredible history of Leica within photo-journalism, the precise mechanical jewels which built Leica’s reputation – the Leica I,I, III, the M2, M3, M4? It seems to me that we have an obligation to the excellence that’s come before, that’s been created and sustained by the brilliance of the past, to honor and protect it and see that it’s transferred to new generations of photographers. We as traditional photographers – film users – learned in traditional forms of the practice, forms that have been in use for the past 120 years, are tasked with passing that information on to the next generation of image makers, a digital generation largely unfamiliar with photographic history who wouldn’t know of the exceptional tradition embodied by Leica without our input. We are the stewards, the trustees, of that tradition, and it’s our obligation to see that it gets properly transmitted to posterity.

Robert Frank, Self-Portrait, Paris 1999

Likewise, Leica AG are the stewards of Leica’s history. Their decisions, either cynical or far-sited, will have immense significance for the Leica brand going forward. The question is: What do they owe us, traditional Leica lovers and users, the base that got them where they are, today? I’m not sure I can answer that question, except to say that they can do a hell of a lot better than some of the tacky things they’re currently doing or encouraging by default. Certainly, they can do better than this. Frankly, I think that some of them should be ashamed of themselves.


**As noted to me by astute readers, Koudelka’s Gypsy series was not shot with a Leica but rather with an Exacta. He used 2 Exakta cameras with 25 mm Flektogon lenses and ORWO 400 film. Koudelka switched to a Leica after he left Czechoslovakia and became member of Magnum. I assume Leicas were expensive and rare in communist Czechoslovakia. I prefer to leave my mistake up, however, because it’s humbling and should remind you that you shouldn’t believe everything I say without confirming it for yourself, which is good as a general rule of life.

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Guy

Inverness, Scotland, 2016.  Leica M5. Hot Wife. Skinny Jeans. Firm Abs. Doesn’t Negate the Facts…I’m Old.

All of the sudden, I’ve realized I’m old. ‘Old’ in a bad way, like the 50-something twice-divorced, beer-bellied guy with the comb-over who drives the Porsche, sun-glassed with ball cap backwards thinking all the young women secretly dig him. You know the guy. That’s me…except I’m 10 years older than him.

I’ve been slow to see it coming. Even now, at 60 (Really?), I pride myself on being intellectually curious and physically active, unconventional socially, culturally and creatively – all the things I associate with youth. Amelia, the smart, sophisticated, French speaking 17 y/o next door, considers me “the coolest guy in the universe” (this from her mother), even after spending a month in Europe with me, a week of which we spent on our own, just a 59 y/o guy and a 17 y/o girl sharing trains, buses and cheap hotels. You try to pull that off and maintain even a shred of your dignity. As for physical condition, all the metrics say I’m young. (I recently took an online test where you plug in your health metrics and physical performance abilities and it tells you your “health age;” I’m 18). I’ve still got hair. I wear skinny jeans without looking completely ridiculous (or so I’m told). And I’ve got a hot wife, so I assume I’m doing something right. Yet…

From a photographic perspective, however, I’m trapped in amber, my photographic world frozen circa 2004, which was when I moved from Paris, and a life filled with photography, back to my pedestrian existence in America, sort of like moving from the 30th floor office suite with an unobstructed view of the Eifel to a 6×8 cubicle with a view onto a McDonalds parking lot. In Paris I had been daily immersed in photography via SPEOS Paris and a circle of friends I knew there. I spent hours in museums and galleries and the library at the Maison Europeene de la Photographie, soaking in all I could, and better still, acquainting myself, via photographic monographs, with 20th Century photographers and photography writers of note. Were I in Paris today, there’s a good chance you’d find me in the Maison’s basement library, catching up on the 14 years of photography I’ve missed since my last visit. I can’t think of a better way of educating oneself in the practice of photography than looking at, and reading about, good photography.

By 2004, digital had mostly won the day. In the studio, we used a 4 meg Canon 1D and marveled at the ability to instantly review and address what we’d just done.  But some of us still used the darkroom and prefered film.  For photos that mattered, I used an M4  bought at an obscenely low price from a camera store on rue Beaumarche just north of the Bastille, it being a time when film cameras, even Leicas, were selling cheap. Then I moved home to the States, placed the M4 on the shelf and got on with life, which in my case meant settling in and paying the bills.

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What’s brought on my realization I’m old is that I’ve bought another Nikon D800, just for the hell of it. At the price they’re going these days,  why not? I previously owned a D800E but found it overkill for my needs, its 36 mpx files slowing my computer to a crawl, so, two years ago I sold it. The D800 I’ve just bought has been used less and cost half what I pocketed on the sale of the D800E. (This is one of the upsides of the digital era – you can buy great cameras super cheap as they are updated so frequently and past iterations quickly fall out of favor).

So now, in spite of my recent attempt at de-cluttering, I now own 6 digital cameras (!) – 3 Ricoh GXR’s, a Fuji S5 Pro, a Sigma SD Quattro and a Nikon D800. Ironic for a guy who writes a blog unfailingly critical of digital photography. Actually, I do like digital. More precisely, I love film photography and find it a richer experience than digital for any number of reasons. Film is more tactile, it slows you down and makes you think – but not in a neurotic, obtrusive way digital too often does – and you get a negative – a thing – when you’re done. Plus, mechanical film cameras are cool because they’re timeless, something digital cameras are decidedly not. My Leica IIIg, circa 1958, gives as much pleasure today as it did 60 years ago. It’s like a beautiful suit made by Battistoni, outside the parameters of fashion, timeless and elegant. My Nikon D100, circa 2002, is, in all probability, moldering in a junk heap somewhere in a third world country.

But, back to the point…Buying the D800 has reminded me once again that I’m relatively clueless about the amazing things DSLR’s can do when in competent hands, which might explain some of my antipathy to them. So, this time, in the interests of objectivity, I’m going to learn as much as I can about the camera and its capabilities with an eye to actually using more than just the basics. In short, I’m finally willing to be won over, if won over I can be.

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Paris, 2004. Leica M4, HP5. Scale Focused, Exposure Guessed.

Being old has its upsides. I’ve been around long enough to remember arguments about built-in meters, and then arguments about AF and AE, each successively dismissed by purists when introduced as unnecessary complications useless for real photographers. That was my opinion too, being young and stupid and full of opinions. Now, trapped as I am in amber, I’ve transferred those prejudices to my use of DSLR’s. I use mine much like my film cameras – ISO 400 and keep it there, either manual or aperture priority exposure, spot metering (assuming I pay any attention to the metering at all), and whatever AF mode the dial happens to be on. The rest, all those options nested in menus? Not interested. My shooting style, developed in an era of non-metered film cameras, has always been pretty rudimentary. I’ve never understood why photographers obsessed about exposure and developing, or things like the zone system (with a 35mm? Seriously?) or “metering for the highlights and developing for the shadows” (or is it the other way round?). Those were superfluous issues for techies. I’ve never given much thought to metering. You metered in your head. I’m convinced that learning to calculate proper exposure by eye is preferable to any sophisticated matrix metering system. My matrix metering system is me. I’ll often play a game with myself: guess the exposure. I’ll look at a scene, calculate correct exposure in my head, and then point a meter to see how accurate I am. Invariably I’m spot on, low light, sunlight, shadow. It’s almost automatic, the result of long years of estimating til it’s become second nature.

As such, when I do attempt to use the sophisticated features DSLR’s offer me, my choices have been more a function of my ignorance than a considered decision. I’ll shoot manual, refer to the meter (whatever its set on) occasionally. Focus? Set it to center-spot, point it at something and shoot. Most of the time, it’ll be in focus, just like film, irrespective of the mode it’s set on. In other words, I usually don’t know what I’m doing…and I don’t care, as my idea of photography isn’t about obsessing over procedural aspects or technical virtuosity, which I think is a healthy way to approach what is, and should be, about embodying one individual’s vision of the world around him. For that, the instrument you choose to use should be transparent, your attention on what’s around you. The less your camera gets in your way – requires it be in your way – the more attention you’ll have for what’s in front of you.

Woo Hoo! Site is Up and Running Normally Again

As many of you know, Leicaphilia has been operating at reduced capacity for a few months. Part of the reduced capacity was me, for reasons I’ve noted elsewhere, the other was some sort of hack that corrupted file links. As of today, all links should be back up and the comments section working.

I should be back to posting on a semi-regular basis in the next few days. In the interim, while you’re breathlessly waiting for my discussion of Martin Heidegger and his concept of “being” and how it relates to photography, take a look at http://blog.insolublepancake.org/, Henry Joy McCracken’s excellent blog where there’s a wealth of good things to read and view. Henry is a loyal Leicaphilia reader and I’ve published some of his thoughts before. He’s also an Astrophysicist in Paris, so he’s smarter than me or you, although meeting him you’d never know he’s so important – just a nice, average guy who loves film Leicas. Lot’s of good stuff there.

Parerga and Paralipomena – Chapter One

Parerga and Paralipomena is Greek for “Appendices” and “Omissions”. Arthur Schopenhauer, an influential 19th century German philosopher, published a book by that title. Given the title, you’d expect a staggeringly obtuse, unreadable scholastic tome…which it’s not. It’s actually a fascinating book, containing Schopenhauer’s thoughts on any number of things, from his mommy-issues and professional jealousies to the ultimate nature of reality ( which for him is “Will,” that striving urge we all have and which he claims every living and even inanimate thing has). In any event, the work is mostly a series of short thoughts – philosophical odds and ends – thrown together without much connection between subjects.

I always wanted to title a blog post “Parerga and Paralipomena” since it sounds cool and intellectual but really means nothing more than “odds and ends.” So bear with me as I process a few thoughts that have come to me recently, thoughts that arise out of philosophical concerns that have obvious implications for us as photographers. I expect I’ll have a number of chapters – this on Schopenhauer being merely the first of a series – so I’ll label them all the same thing – Parerga and Paralipomena – and you can ignore them if they aren’t of interest to you. Suffice it to say that you’re not going to find this on Ken Rockwell’s site. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you.

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If you’ve never read Schopenhauer I recommend him highly. In addition to being a fascinating guy with all sorts of human foibles, some of them quite entertaining, [e.g he and his mother engaged in a vicious lifetime battle about who was smarter, his mother being an early 19th century German novelist; he taught at the same university as GW Hegel, who at the time was considered the most profound intellectual on the continent – Schopenhauer considered Hegel a complete moron – while everyone considered Schopenhauer a nobody] he has much to teach artists and people with creative aspirations, given he is generally considered to have articulated a pretty impressive theory of Art and the origin and meaning behind the creative impulse.

For Schopenhauer, the reason people paint or sculpt or photograph is because it helps us distance ourselves from desiring – “willing” –  which invariably causes pain and dissatisfaction. This is something that Leicaphiles, if they’re honest with themselves, should recognize. Think of how bad you wanted that Leica M9 or MM, and think about how inevitably disappointed you are once you’d gotten it used it for a bit and then started dreaming of trading up to the M11. That’s the nature of human reality, always willing things, striving for more in an endless search for something we can never reach. For Schopenhauer, it’s that striving that powers reality and the ceaseless change that defines it. Everything from humans down to one-celled organisms exhibit it. It’s also what keeps Nikon and Leica in business, because we are constitutionally incapable of being satisfied with the status quo. Gotta have more, better. That AF on the top of the line camera from 2 years ago is now hopelessly outdated, not sufficient for rank amateurs. The 12 mpx Ricoh you bought ten years ago, junk; your photographic purposes require the 50 mpx full-frame Canon. And so it goes. We’ve all been there whether we admit it to ourselves or not. We’ve all been there because Schopenhauer says that’s the nature of human reality, we can’t avoid it.

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Or maybe we can, at least temporarily. For Schopenhauer, a temporary way to escape the pain brought about by our ceaseless striving is through aesthetic contemplation. Planning and envisioning that photograph, or acting pursuant to that envisioning, or engaging with the finished product hanging on a wall – stops you perceiving the world as separated from you, something we are constantly grasping for; rather in the simple aesthetic act, every time you find yourself lost in the willlessness of the beauty around you “one can thus no longer separate the perceiver from the perception” i.e. you stop being an unhappy, willing being and just are. From this immersion with the world you aren’t an individual who suffers in the world due to one’s individual will but, rather, you’re a “subject of cognition” to a perception that is “pure, will-less, timeless” where the essence of the world is found. You’ve just found the closest thing to nirvana human reality allows.

Think about the consequences of this and what it means for the issues we’ve been discussing on this blog for years – the simple miraculousness of photography, the joy in its doing, in contrast to the stupid and blinkered idea that the pleasure and validation you can find in photography will be found in owning and using certain equipment, or that the artistic impulse is about your tools in any significant sense. For me, my lifetime interest in photography has been about that will-less, timeless enjoyment. It’s my argument that, at base, to be a photographer has no real connection to being a camera fondler, although the enjoyment of fine photographic tools has it own aesthetic character and is legitimate in itself. Just don’t confuse it with photography, and don’t consider yourself a photographer because you’re using a Leica. That’s for shallow meatballs like Mr. Overgaard, lost souls and con men who’ve conflated the worth of the camera they use – or the bag they throw it in – with their worth as photographers. If you learn anything from a great mind like Schopenhauer, it’s don’t fall for the con.

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NEXT UP: Chapter Two – What Martin Heidegger, the Nazi Rector of the University of Freiburg, can teach you about photography

ADDENDUM: Yes I know the site is screwed up. Yes, I know the links are broken. Yes, I know the comments section doesn’t work. Yes, I’m going to fix it. And yes, I’ve really enjoyed all the supportive emails I’ve received since my last post. Keep em coming to leicaphilia@gmail.com, because its nice to know people actually read this.

A Long Overdue Update

James Joyce, 1922. My favorite pic of Joyce. Maybe Because Sometimes I feel the Same Way.

It’s been some time since my last post. Since then, a lot of things have happened, and I thought it would be appropriate to update readers, if any still exist, about what’s going on and my plans moving forward.

First, I am aware that there are problems with the site – the links to past posts don’t work, so you’re not able to access the site’s history except by sequentially scrolling back from the main page. I’ve had recurring problems with attacks on the site – why anybody would want to screw with an inconsequential blog about photography escapes me – and just haven’t had the time or energy to deal with it. As well, I realized in hindsight that I needed a break. As such, the tech problems gave me a good excuse to step back and give myself a rest.

I turned 60 yesterday. Sobering, even though I’m content and in good health. I’ve found myself wanting to step back from a lifetime interest in photography and just let it be for awhile. A precipitating reason for doing so has been my realization that traditional ‘photography’ as I know and practice it is dead. My photographic tastes and interests are relics of an outdated mindset, the functional equivalent of the old guy still driving his 66 Mustang. In reality, you can’t go back; technology and aesthetics and practice move on, and reflexively criticizing the current state of things – which in proper measure serves as a necessary counter-balance to some of the obvious problems associated with digitization – can become tiresome.

As for the blog, I intend to continue it for so long as I’ve got something to say. Whether anyone listens is not really my concern. I assume there are a few discriminating people out there – both old and new photographers – who my ideas might resonate with. So, expect the blog to be ongoing, and expect that at some point I’ll have the tech issues resolved and the site will be functioning properly and I’ll be adding content on a semi-regular basis.

For the time being, other interests will be taking much of my time. I am about to embark on a new phase of my life. I’m easing my way into self-imposed semi-retirement in my profession, and will be enrolling in a graduate program at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass this Fall. Why? 30 years ago I quit graduate school to go to work. I was recently married and had bills to pay. In the back of my mind, I told myself I could always go back someday, if for no other reason to finish what I had started. Now’s the time to do it, and the opportunity to do it at Harvard fulfills a lifetime dream. The degree, were I to achieve it, wouldn’t be for anything other than the doing of it itself, but that seems to me to be the best reason to do anything.

Waldo Emerson, the 19th century American writer and philosopher, said that the one maxim he lived by was that one should always do the thing that scares you the most. Good advice, I think, getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve tried to follow that rule in my life, sometimes to better effect than at others, but I see no reason why it’s not still applicable as I’ve gotten older and more settled.

So bear with me. I intend to be here for awhile. Check back here occasionally. And feel free to email me at leicaphilia@gmail.com if you’d like to say hi.

Become a PROFESSIONAL LEICA PHOTOGRAPHER!

A Professional Leica Photographer. Now YOU Can Be One Too!


The Professional Leica Photographers here at Leicaphilia are pleased to announce the Leicaphilia Professional Leica Photographer’s Website.***


Welcome to your future in the exciting world of Professional Leica Photography. We here at Leicaphilia have created a new, exclusive website to help you to learn to be a Professional Leica Photographer! At our exclusive website you’ll find some of the most talented photographers in the world, experts you won’t find even in the most expensive subscription magazines. That’s because they only post on our site; you won’t find this information anywhere else! Some of them, famous enough that they must post under an alias, while others disclose their studio name, it’s up to them. In either case you’ll get to read and discover photography techniques from the Pros, highly prized and vigorously protected Leica trade secrets that will make you an expert at taking pictures with a Leica. We have one goal: to turn you into a Professional Leica Photographer.

Unlike other websites, we don’t try to pitch DSLRs, lenses, and other gear while collecting sales commissions. We don’t sell photography tutorials, books, videos and courses while promising that your photography will improve only if you buy what’s being promoted. We promise that your photography will get better. We promise because we are Professional Leica Photographers. We are professional photographers (or serious amateurs), some with decades of experience, who use Leica cameras and will share with you what we’ve learned – what Leica gear we use, which Leica products really work, which techniques work and which don’t (e.g. how to get great bokeh etc).

It’s all completely unbiased. We simply have no reason to lie to you. We have travelled the world, living out of suitcases, taking photos of beautiful and glamorous people who live in villas and/or own yachts, or we are on the front lines of conflict around the globe, risking our lives for the money shot. Many of us have photographed ‘Royalty.’ The one thing we have in common is this: we use Leicas, and we know everything about them.

You’ll discover this information straight from the source, from famous Professional Leica Photographers, not from grumpy self-appointed “experts” in some amateur magazine or rich rock stars who think they know everything because they use a Leica. It’s what makes us different from other photography websites out there – we’re the real deal. We’re Professional Leica Photographers. 

A Woman Professional Leica Photographer. Yep. Believe it or Not – They Exist (and Most of Them are Hot, too!!)

Discovering what famous Professional Leica Photographers have to share will help you figure out which Leica gear to use and how to use your existing Leica gear to its fullest potential. So it doesn’t matter if you are only thinking of which Leica to buy or if you already have all your Leica equipment — you’ll still find plenty of solid advice for any situation.

We cater to beginners, intermediate, advanced, and professional photographers. As long as you use a Leica or want to use a Leica. It doesn’t matter whether you are just getting into photography or you have decades of experience — you’ll still find plenty on our secret professional website that will interest you because we cover all bases. We make it simple for the newbies, yet interesting for Professional Leica Photographers who’ve shot hundreds of gigs and would gladly be reminded of things they once knew but forgot. So no matter what your expertise level is — keep reading below.

  • We cover both film and digital Leica photography because film photography, along with digital, is a preferred medium for Professional Leica Photographers.
  •  We talk about Professional Leica Cameras. Professionals agree – the best camera is a Leica. You’ll be one of a select group of Professional Leica Photographers like Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, Amelia Earhart, and Lenny Kravitz who’ve all used the famous Leica Camera.
  • You’ll learn the one reason why Leicas take the best photos (hint: It’s because of a device first discovered by mariners to help chart their course – that’s why Amelia Earhart used a Leica!). You’ll learn that, unlike other cameras, every Leica ever made contains this amazing device…and you’ll learn to use it to make amazing photos.
  • It doesn’t matter if you shoot with an M1 or with the new M10. You need to know how to take great pictures with the Leica you have on you right now, while the shot is still there, not later when you get your Leica out, yet the opportunity to take the the picture is long gone.
  • You’ll learn to take photographs as amazing as Carter Bresson, a Frenchman who used a Leica and invented a type of photography called the Decisive Moment. We’ll teach you the Decisive Moment technique used by Bresson, Eric Kim, Thorsten von Overgaard and other legendary greats – which moments are decisive and which are not and how to use your Leica when you’re presented with a Decisive Moment. It’s all there!

Famous Professional Leica Photographer Eric Kim – Ready For the Decisive Moment!

  • We cover all types of Leica photography from portraits to landscapes to weddings and events to action shots to macro photography. (Which one interests you the most? Stop and ask yourself right now. No matter what you shoot, you’ll get better at just that. Just be decisive. Our Professional Leica Photographers will show you how!)
  • We cover all aspects of Leica photography –  from picking Leica gear to composition to working with models to handling strangers asking you about your Leica, and everything in between. If you are lacking in some aspect, you’ll improve. If you are a total newbie, you’ll learn it all. And through all of it, you’ll be sporting a cool Leica camera which will impress your friends…and the ladies. You’ll gain the confidence to become a Professional Leica Photographer.
  • You’ll be receiving new tips and techniques on how to take the kind of pictures that will make your friends, relatives and peers just stare in amazement, speechless, when they see your work. Yep! That’s how good your photography will become when you own a Leica and take our exclusive Professional Leica Photographer course.
  • If you ever have a question or need help, you can always ask, and a Professional Leica Photographer will cover your question in an Email direct to you.

Famous People Like Eric Clapton (guitarist for Vivian Stanshall Sean Head Showband) use a Leica! Find Out Why!

Trust me, I know the feeling. And you’ll know it too. People telling you “oh wow, it’s like in the magazines! And you took it with a Leica!” when seeing your pictures. (Surprisingly, the most common response you’ll hear from people after you’ve taken our course is “it’s like in the magazines”. Not Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat feed or whatever, but quality magazine. That’s the first association that comes to their mind. The mark of a true Professional Leica Photographer, even if you are an amateur – a dentist or a doctor, even if you work in a saw mill! – and do this just for fun. I love it when people say that while looking at my pictures, even when they are looking at my pictures on a screen. Oh, the irony! Just imagine that feeling. Pretty soon, they will be saying that to you.

You’ll be receiving all original content – tips, tricks, reviews and discussions that you won’t see anywhere else. Not at La Vida Leica, or Thorsten von Overgaard’s, or Ken Rockwell’s. You’ll only see this Professional Leica Photographer information on our website, – not the same old and tired copied and re-copied “tutorials” of fake people who claim to be “professionals” who seem to be flooding all the Leica sites out there.

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A lifetime subscription to our Professional Leica Photographer website is only $2399. Yes, that’s right. Only $2399* for a lifetime of professional photography education with continuing online support**. ( Sign up today and we’ll send you, at no extra cost our supplementary course “Bokeh: What It Is and How To Get It“). That’s less than a 50mm Summarit 2.5. Enroll now. Space is very limited and demand has been high. Act today to assure your participation in this once in a lifetime opportunity.


And while you’re at it….help us maintain this free site by contributing $25 to us here at Leicaphilia. It costs money to bring you the professional content we’re known for, and your $25 [monthly] contribution will help us defray those costs. So, if you’ve been enjoying the content of Leicaphilia, please Paypal your $25 [monthly]**** payment to leicaphilia@gmail.com, the one site you can trust to give you unbiased Leica information.

Seriously: Who do you trust? Professional Leica Photographers….or some guy named Boudewijn Klop?


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The Plain Sense of Things

Rungis, Paris, 2004. Sometimes you’ve got to look hard to see what’s in front of you

If I were to describe, as best I’m able, what I’ve spent a lifetime of photography doing, it would be this: I’ve tried to document “the plain sense” of the things that constitute my life. Putting words to something which is intuitive and ineffable, it’s the intellectual equivalent of trying to squeeze an elephant into a mason jar – it doesn’t capture all of the buried motivations, but it gets as close as words allow, so it’ll have to do. I’ve always respected Garry Winogrand’s explanation for why he photographed things, “to see how they look when photographed,” which is as good a no bullshit, anti-Artspeak explanation as I’ve yet heard.

All of this assumes my photography has any purpose. I can’t articulate any overarching explanation for why I photograph or why I photograph what I photograph. Attempts feel like ex post facto justifications for something that can’t put into words, the logic behind it being ineffable. My photography just is; the subject creates itself. I point the camera at things that make sense to me to photograph. Any needed rationalizations come later, at the point of editing, selecting, sequencing, articulating. What I’m left with defines what I’ve seen and how I’ve seen it.

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Portland. I love this Photo. Why? Hard to Say

There’s nothing more pretentious than an artist explaining his work. Invariably, the explanation sounds silly, forced, as if he has no real understanding of what he’s been doing. Some of my most awkward moments have been those times when a gallery visitor has asked me what a painting “means.” Anything you say will sound pretentious and foolish.*** The best response I’ve been able to come up with is “I don’t know, you tell me,” except that’s not really correct either. The honest response would be “I can’t articulate its meaning…but I know what it is. As for you, interpret it as you will.”

Our creative motivations are often opaque to us, but always larger than the restrictions imposed on them by words. Putting words to them often circumscribes rather than illustrates the work and, as such, weakens the work itself, boxing it in with artificial constraints. Dragan Novakovic, the subject of a recent post, described the impetus behind his early 70’s British photos, a coherent body of photographs if there ever was one: “I wish I could tell you that these photos are the fruit of a well-thought-out project and expatiate upon it (projects and concepts seem to be all the rage these days), but the truth is, they are all completely random shots.” I admire him for saying that.  It takes courage to admit your conceptual naivete; in Mr. Novakovic’s defense, his photographs are so good they need no explanation. Whatever ‘naivety’ Novakovic possesses isn’t born of ignorance but rather his intuitive understanding that whatever he’s done – inspirationally and procedurally – can’t be reduced to an explanation. The explanation is the work itself.

One of my favorite recent photo books is Dive Dark Dream Slow by Melissa Catanese. No words, just a sequence of vernacular photos from the photography collection of a guy who collected anonymous 20th century “found” photography, the kind of photographs we paste into albums or stash in boxes stored in the attic along with other detritus of our lives. Ms. Catanese is the curator of the book in the sense larger than simply “editing” it. The work is really her’s, in that through her selection, sequencing and presentation of the photos she’s created something unique to her, something apart from the intentions of the various photographers or of the collector himself. What it “means”? Clearly, it “means” something to Ms. Catanese given the constraints she imposed on the materials. As to what that meaning is, she’s not saying, or, more precisely, she seems to be saying “It means what you make it mean.”  And that’s the fascination of it. We as viewer get to give it a meaning.

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Loch Ness, Scotland 2016. There’s a monster down there somewhere…or so I’m told.

Photography, for me, is an activity in service to an internal, idiosyncratic dynamic. I’ve never made photographs for someone else’s consumption or delectation; I’ve made them to give exterior form to something interior. Hence the doing of it itself has been the payoff, sort of like going to therapy. Certainly there’s a sense of wanting to do it well, but ‘doing it well’ has little to do with what other people think of it, which to me is largely irrelevant. Doing it well means feeling as if what I’ve created expresses some logic internal to me. It’s got to resonate with me. If it does, I consider it done well; if it doesn’t, it isn’t, even if other people like it.

The reason why photography has interested me for so long is because it’s not been ‘about’ anything. I’ve never viewed it as a means to anything, and when I’ve put myself in a position to view it as a means to make a living I’ve quickly, and radically, lost interest.  Whatever it is, it isn’t about that.

So, with all that said….I’ll try to articulate what I’ve been trying to do in a lifetime of photography. If it is anything, its been my attempt to locate my self, to give it contours by locating it in a specific time and place [see how pretentious that sounds?]. It’s been my attempt, to document what was (is) me. At heart I’m a documentarian. Anything said beyond that will just muddy the waters, so don’t ask me to explain.

 


*** My Artist Statement, generated after a few bourbons:

 Ever since I was a student I’ve been fascinated by the ontology of mind. My work – scattered across various media yet forming a coherent whole – explores the relationship between subjective profundities and banal, prolifigate experience. Influences as diverse as Homer, Pynchon, Schopenhauer, van Gogh, Joyce, Aristotle, Coltrane, Pollock, and Pound inform my creative narratives. What started out as naive childish hope is now corroded by the hegemony of time, yet it has been leavened by the rich fund of common experience and memory. My work is the synthesis of these things, a re-imagining of what time sweeps into the past, the flux of phenomena screened through the bounded conceptual schema that is me, leaving the receptive clues to solipsistic meaning, assuming, of course, that we, in radical subjectivity, may ‘share’ a solipsism in any meaningful way.


 

More Flim-Flam From Thorsten von Overgaard

Thorsten Overgaard and his Elephant Skin Camera Bag with Cashmere Lining. Perfect for your Sultan of Brunei Leica While Photographing Danish Royalty.

Luxury Camera Bags and Luxury Bespoke Suitcases for World Travelers
by Thorsten von Overgaard

You want the ideal product that fulfills all of your needs, made to make you happy every time you touch it, and made to last forever

Thorsten von Overgaard travel [sic] to more than 25 countires a year and live [sic] his life in a suitcase. Every bag is put to maximum use.

Thorsten von Overgaard and Matteo Perin joined forces to design luxury travel bags for people who appreciate the best and demands durability for a lifetime.


Thorsten von Overgaard [he’s added the “von” recently – “von” traditionally denoting aristocracy***] has transitioned into the luxury camera bag business. Apparently, when Goyard in Paris wouldn’t fix Thorsten’s Goyard Aplin backpack, damaged while travelling to his Royal Mongolian yurt, Overgaard decided to make his own bags. To do so, he sought “the best artisans […] using best possible materials, based on many years of experience, resulting in a product that could last for generations.” The end result is him “joining forces” with some fellow Scientologist meatball named Matteo Perin to produce crocodile and elephant skin bags. Who he’s partnered with to shoot the elephants to skin for the bespoke bags is not clear. Perin claims he “makes trunks, blankets and all the luxury items you can think of, for private airplanes, villas, cars and yachts.” Right.

It’s always been obvious to me that “von Overgaard” is a transparent huckster, a confidence man preying on  gullible low-hanging fruit, spinning some bullshit narrative about luxury and beautiful people and world travels and Leica, this just being further proof that a sucker is born every minute and some of those suckers will end up buying a Leica and taking a street shooter’s seminar with  “von Overgaard.”


*** Overgaard, who for some reason started referring to himself as “von Overgaard” a year or so ago, took up photography in 2005. Before that he worked in a lumber mill [true]. He seems to have no real gallery or publishing or photographic industry presence other than self-promoted fluff pieces hyped by a marketing agency and some self-published books. A deep dive into the footnotes of his scantily sourced Wiki is hilarious. Here’s some more interesting info on Mr. Overgaard.
Overgaard is married to fellow Scientologist “Princess Joy Villa.” The Princess was born in Orange, California, to the Rev. Joseph Villa, of Italian descent, and Mildred Angela Pierce Villa, of Afro-American and Native American blood. She attended Lompoc Public High School, no University education noted.  According to her Wikipedia page she is an “actress and producer,” “her acting career mostly consists of minor, un-credited appearances on television. These roles include an umbrella-wielding carny in a “Heroes” Season 4 episode.”  As for her claim to be a “producer,” no production experience is referenced. On October 27, 2017, apparently unfamiliar with the residency requirements for elected office, Villa announced that she was considering running for US Congress as a Republican in either Florida, California, or New York.   Her Wikipedia page contains no further update on her political ambitions since that time, nor any further “minor, un-credited” acting gigs, with or without umbrella.

Matteo Perin has been doing bespoke luxury for millionaires and celebrities for years.” [Sure he has.] Apparently, in between hobnobbing with all those aristocrats nobody bothered to teach Monsieur Perin to keep his feet off the Florentine ebony table. Obviously “New Money.” 

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Perin, presumably, modelling a croc duffle bag which apparently has no room for the M4. Someone needs to tell this guy to tie his shoes.