December 2020 Update

Dear readers:

As you’ve noticed, Leicaphilia has gone dormant the last few months – not from lack of interest on my part but because of health issues. I am currently in treatment for stage 3 stomach cancer. I’ve been dealing with fairly serious gastrointestinal issues for the past year with repeated hospitalizations, which explains the hit-and-miss nature of the blog the last year…but it’s only recently that I’ve received a cancer diagnosis. Obviously, that’s my focus going forward.

I’m hoping to continue with Leicaphilia in the future but am not sure of when or if. I’ll keep you informed.

Sucker Needed

These lenses may have been pointed at Joseph Stalin

Someone on a Canadian internet site is selling the above items – a Hecktor 3.5cm and Elmar 13.5cm 4.5 and assorted crap – for $3000 US, claiming they were owned by Stalin’s secretary. Got the written receipt and everything. Unfortunately, you can’t confirm through the seller because she killed herself some years ago. The Elmar doesn’t have a serial number.

This could all be true and completely above-board. It might not. Who knows?

— This very special lot belonged to the private collection of Major-General Alexander Poskrebyshev (1891-1965), chief of the special department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and Joseph Stalin’s “faithful dog”. —I obtained this lot from Alexandra Sergeevna Poskrebysheva, daughter of Elena Alexandrovna Poskrebysheva, who was the Major General’s daughter from his third marriage to Ekaterina Grigorevna Poskrebysheva (maiden name Zimina). In 2014, after exchanging a few back-and-forth emails, Alexandra sent me the items from Moscow via Russian Post. The tracking number (search RA212147803RU on Pochta.ru) shows her name signed on the bottom: Poskrebysheva A S

In the package, she included a handwritten signed certificate (in Russian and English) that confirmed the legitimacy of the lot’s historical heritage. The certificate reads:”This certifies that this Leica leather case obtaining two Leitz Wetzlar prime lenses with the ranges of 135mm and 5cm, as well as two manual measuring/viewfinder accessories, belonged to the private collection of the Soviet Major-General, Alexander Nikolaevich Poskrebyshev, Chief of the special department of the Central Committee of Communist Party. (signed) Alexandra Poskrebysheva, daughter of Elena Poskrebysheva”

My communication with Alexandra, a respected doctor in Moscow, was very pleasant and productive. Sadly, when randomly searching her name last year, I found out that Alexandra took her own life in December of 2017, at the age of 49 years old (article in Russian: https://www.pravda.ru/news/society/1361859-vnuchka/). Another article (https://www.mk.ru/social/2017/12/05/v-moskve-posle-otravleniya-gospitalizirovana-vnuchka-aleksandra-poskrebysheva-sekretarya-stalina.html) suggests that the woman was very lonely and likely depressed.

*** For this reason, and in order to pay it forward, I will be donating 10% of the earnings from this sale to a mental health charity of the winner’s choice, and in their name ***

WHAT YOU’RE GETTING:1) Leitz Hektor 5cm f2.5 lens – NO SERIAL NUMBER, absolutely pristine condition, clear glass, smooth aperture and focus. +++ Rear and front caps. 2) Leitz Elmar 135mm f4.5 lens – Serial Number 231 — Great condition with some external signs of use, clear glass, smooth aperture and focus ring. — No caps 3) Leitz Viewfinder – Great condition4 ) Leitz Rangefinder – Great condition 5) Leitz leather case – Great condition 6) Two signed certificates, written in Russian and English.

Photography and the Limits of Language

“Silence is the hidden content of the words that count.” A.G Sertillanges

I’m suspicious of critics who write about photography as an art form. I don’t think I’ve ever read a critical essay about a specific photograph or body of photographs that has in any sense added to, or explained, the experience given by the photograph itself. This is not to say that there isn’t good writing about photography. There is. Sontag and Barthes come to mind, but what they are doing is writing about photography as a practice and not attempting to explain or supplement the truth of specific photos. Reason, as expressed in language, can not articulate visual truths. Reason’s last step, according to Blaise Pascal, is to recognize its limitations.

For that matter, photographers who attempt to explain their work via written captions or accompanying essays seem to me to be missing the very point of visual art itself: visual art expresses that which can’t be expressed with words. To use a metaphor of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant, words are a net we strain reality through. A lot gets through the net. What the visual arts offer us is a portion of that reality that gets through the net of language.

This, I think, is the power of photography and why many of us are drawn to it in a very profound way. It’s a means of expressing things that can’t be expressed verbally. The photograph above is an example. I found it on a roll of film I recently developed. I don’t now remember its specifics – why the took it, what I saw in it, if anything at the time – but now, as a finished product standing by itself, it denotes something to me. It presents something visible to me, something that resonates with me. Whatever it is, it’s not capable of being put into words. It represents that portion of reality Kant would say has slipped through the net of language.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked on the human urge to “run up against the limits of language.” We instinctively understand that words somehow deaden the fullness of our experiences. According to Isaiah Berlin, this is the paradox of language when faced with profundity: “the more I say the more remains to be said … as soon as I speak it becomes quite clear that, no matter how long I speak, new chasms open. No matter what I say I always have to leave three dots at the end. Whatever description I give always opens the doors to something further, something even darker, perhaps, but certainly something which is in principle incapable of being reduced to precise, clear, verifiable, objective prose.”

German philosopher Martin Heidegger agrees with Wittgenstein and Berlin…up to a point. Much of Heidegger’s philosophy is about limits, of knowledge, of words, of expression. For Heidegger, logical thought -i.e. that which can be expressed – is not sufficient when we’re trying to talk about certain things. “The very idea of “logic” disintegrates in the vortex of a more original questioning,” wrote Heidegger. Wittgenstein, Berlin and Heidegger all agree there is more of life than can be articulated. Heidegger, however, makes the further claim that what happens in the interstices between words is what’s really important. This is where we find the most profound truths. For Heidegger, this is a qualitative advance on what Kant was saying. Kant (and Wittgenstein and Berlin) was saying that some reality slips past the net of language. Heidegger is claiming that the most important part of reality slips through the net.

So, how do we communicate this most important portion of the real? Heidegger attempted to do so via language. This is the paradox of Heidegger and the reason he’s so hard to understand. He is attempting, with words, to express the truth that words miss the larger truth. This is purposeful. Heidegger holds that we should try to say something about the interstices – that the fact that we recognize an interstice means that there’s something to be said about it, however vague and preliminary that might be. Not directly, perhaps, and not even particularly clearly, but we shouldn’t abandon all efforts to use words to speak about things that lie beyond language. Unfortunately, Heidegger never took the next logical step of analyzing the visual arts and what role they might play in the process of expressing what’s true. I believe he might have found a way out of his expressive paradox had he done so.

Third Man Cameras Apparently Diversifying

A Genuine Special Order black paint Leica M Owned by Busby Cattanach. Offered for Sale by Third Man Cameras in Stuart Florida.

Many of you may remember Henry Obert (aka Henry Obertiii) and Erica Obert, the hapless “Leica Experts” pawning off repainted Leicas with all sorts of faked provenances on Ebay a few years ago. ( http://leicaphilia.com/caveat-emptor-again/ ). It was a fairly transparent scam, although a number of folks with more money than sense ended up buying “genuine” black paint lenses and/or bodies for stupid money from these morons. My sense: if you’re stupid enough to fall for the con, you deserve it.

It took only a few internet searches from the comfort of my home and I discovered that Mr. and Ms. Obert were garden-variety crackheads who had bought a large stock of excess Leica parts and went into business faking black paint items and then selling them on Ebay under the moniker of “Third Man Cameras.” Some quick correspondence with Ms. Obert – Third Man’s “Office Manager” – easily uncovered the whole scam. It didn’t hurt that a few Google queries uncovered mugshots for both from a crack cocaine arrest.

Henry Joseph Obert, Leica Specialist

Just for the hell of it, having nothing better to do, today I did an updated Google search for these two and found a 2018 arrest for Henry – a felony charge of, apparently, selling counterfeit concert tickets. That’s his mugshot for that arrest over on the right. Apparently, the internet notoriety drove him out of the Fake Leica business and into fake concert tickets. Erica, meanwhile, having apparently moved on from both Henry and her job as “Office Manager” of Third Man Cameras, is currently waitressing in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

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UPDATE JULY 10, 2020

And then, one final search found this, which is sad for the poor bicyclist Mr. Obert recently hit and injured while driving impaired:

JENSEN BEACH — A Port St. Lucie man was accused of hitting a bicyclist while he was driving under the influence in Martin County.

Henry Obert, 44, of the 3300 block of Southwest Vendome Street in Port St. Lucie was arrested on one charge of driving under the influence causing serious bodily harm to others.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said around 7:35 p.m. Thursday they were called about a bicyclist hurt after being hit by Obert. When troopers arrived, they said they found the bicyclist seriously injured. It is unclear what hospital the bicyclist was taken to and what his condition is Friday. Despite multiple attempts, a spokesman for FHP was unable to be reached. Troopers said the crash happened at Jensen Beach Boulevard and Northeast Sunview Terrace in Jensen Beach.

The Last M3 Ever Made….

…is currently for sale on Ebay for $395,000. Payable by Paypal.

“The last Leica M3 and “Newest” Leica M3 made. Production serial No. 1164865. UNIQUE, RARE, OUTSTANDING and SPECTACULAR in every respect!From the last and smallest batch of 20 cameras made in 1966, this being the FINAL and LAST camera of the production line and the final termination of THE GREATEST RANGEFINDER camera EVER MADE if not THE GREATEST CAMERA ever made.A true historical find and in NEW condition, NEVER USED, IN NEW condition as it left the factory more than 60 YEARS ago!
With the original matching serial No. service card and (red + white ) rope that came with the camera, box, foam fittings, caps and allNEW! condition with the original untouhed “L” seal.Along with letters of authenticity from Leica, special order request, original matching order # from the original owner in 1968, receipt and additional letter from Leica to reiterate the authenticity of this camera. “

Seriously. Would you pay $400k for a Leica M3? And if you would, would you think of buying it on Ebay?

Henry Wessel’s Western Light

In “Santa Barbara, Calif., 1977,” Wessel took a picture of a man standing on a lawn staring at a flock of birds in flight. Wessel had been standing at a bus stop at the time. “As I approached this scene, the birds were feeding in the grass,” he said. “Startled for some reason, they took flight. I instinctually shot, exposing three frames before they were gone. When I look at it now, I marvel at how much of the world is hidden in the flux of time.”

Henry Wessel Jr. (1942-2018) grew up in Ridgefield, New Jersey. He studied psychology at Penn State University, graduating in 1966. After he came upon Mr. Szarkowski’s book “The Photographer’s Eye” and through it discovered the work of Eugene Atget, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Wright Morris and Garry Winogrand, he abandoned psychology and pursued photography. Wessel’s photographs are deceptively simple, yet there’s ‘something’ contained within them that, while inarticulable, is noticeably present. Like all good visual art, there’s a tension contained within it, something that requires the viewer’s imagination to complete.

Wessel moved to southern California in 1969. He was fascinated by the western light from the moment he arrived in Los Angeles. “I walked out of the airport into one of those clear, sharp-edged January days,” he said. “The light had such physical presence; it looked as though you could lean against it.” That physicality of light is a feature of so many of his photographs.“The high Western light that fills his pictures seems almost hallucinatory,” Tod Papageorge, former director of the graduate program in photography at Yale, wrote in an email to The Times in 2006. The Curator Emerita of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sandra Phillips, described his work as “witty, evocative, and inventive… distinctive and at the same time a component part of the great development of photography which flourished in the 1970s.” 

Wessel headed the photography program at the San Francisco Art Institute, joining its faculty in 1973. He advised his students that after they took their pictures, developed the film, and printed the contact sheets, they should put them away for a year. “If you let some time go by before considering work that you have done, you move toward a more objective position in judging it,” he said. “The pleasure of the subjective, physical experience in the world is a more distant memory and less influential.”

According to Wessel, the most important photographic choices were “where to stand and when to shoot,” followed by keeping technological choices to a minimum. Learn to use one camera and one lens. By limiting your tools to a single camera – a Leica M with 28mm – your sense of how light translates to film, and then to paper, would become instinctive. Mr. Wessel was never without his Leica and always alert to what was going on around him.“Most musicians I know don’t just play music on Saturday night,” he told The New York Times in 2006. “They play music every day. They are always fiddling around, letting the notes lead them from one place to another. Taking still photographs is like that. It is a generative process. It pulls you along.”

Things to do During COVID (A Mini-Review of “Pattern Language”)

The street cafe provides a unique setting, special to cities: a place people can sit lazily, legitimately, be on view, and watch the world go by […]. Encourage local cafes to spring up in each neighborhood. Make them intimate places, with several rooms, open to a busy path, so people can sit with coffee or a drink, and watch the world go by. Build the front of the cafe so a set of tables stretch out of the cafe, right into the street. 

Christopher Alexander et al., A Pattern Language, p. 437,439


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by Stephen Jennner

If the current “pandemic” has done anything for us ordinary folk, I suppose the chance to get off of the bus and reflect on the way we live and interact has probably been uppermost. It has also given us time to undertake a real “spring clean”, many of us are combing through our clutter, looking for stuff to throw out or retain. Every time we come across something that we had almost forgotten, the memories come flooding back. Such is the legacy of modern materialism. I have been re-reading some of Leicaphilia’s recent blogs and one strand in particular led me to re-read Camera Lucida which I had not really read properly initially, but kept on the shelf, because I liked some of the pictures. I realised also that it is a translation, and very well regarded, but perhaps less readable in English. 

There was also the recent passing of the well known English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, who I knew by name, but whose work I had never read. The ritual disdain verging on the celebration of his death by the institutionalised lefty media led me to investigate. He couldn’t have been that bad after all, I thought. I read England an Elegy first and enjoyed that, so I sallied forth and bought two more books, How to be a Conservative and Green Philosophy – How to think seriously about the planet, the first of those two was the thinner, so I read that, I am currently ploughing through the second, over 400 pages. They are very readable and surprisingly accessible for being the work of someone who is described as a philosopher. 

But, back to the COVID clearout, since the last of our kids cleared off, the room in which he festered has been where everything material gets discarded, and was becoming impassable. So it was there that the great undermining began. It wasn’t long before I came across a pile of books, discarded but kept, because of a “one day I will read that again” sentiment. My eyes settled on a book that I have read and gushed over for nearly forty years, and I sat down and started leafing through it once again. I don’t know much about the authors, I think they are American, or at least naturalised Americans, the names look English, Japanese and Jewish, but together they have produced a universal language, which has since established a format that is used repeatedly, notwithstanding the specialised blog format, where the host invokes others to chime in by way of comment, and sometimes submit their own pieces. 

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The book is called A Pattern Language and the credited authors are Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, along with contributions by Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel”. Think of it as a photo book about issues of social architecture; there are many excellent photographs and illustrations accompanying the text, many by well-known exponents, some unattributed snappers and daubers, and I presume, some by the authors. 

The theme of A Pattern Language is in a nutshell, how to approach, conceptualise and plan for the built environment for a beautiful, practical and sustained past, present and future. It is profoundly conservative in sentiment rather than its political allegiances, regarding human beings as essentially animals that are universally similar, yet differ locally and thus and employ different ways of being, different traditions, different gods.  The layout is very structured, the book indexed by levels of what the authors regard as layers of significance.

There are several main headings which are then further subdivided, beginning with a “summary of the language”, then describing “independent regions”, “towns”, “buildings” and finally “construction”. Those main headings are further subdivided into small one or two-page chapters, which are described in levels of importance by the addition of either no, one or two asterisks appended to the title. Each chapter describes a particular aspect of human habitation along with an illustration or photograph by way of visual explanation. The photographs serve the text well, lending an added meaning that isn’t capable of being articulated by words. The book is an object lesson on the different meanings conveyed by the written and the visual, how the two are distinct yet can accommodate each other to produce a larger meaning.

I had never really appreciated the importance of the photographs until I read Roland Barthes book again, even though I had not related that book to A Pattern Language until I picked it up and read it again. The feelings that a good photograph can imbue, and the memories that resurface, being what I believe Barthes devotes Camera Lucida to. 

One of my favourite little chapters is entitled “Zen View” and the opening illustration is a painting by Pierre Bonnard. The text describes a beautiful view in Japan, including in the distance, the sea. Many a modern architect would design a massive window into the main room of the building that he is constructing. The Zen approach might be to instead, include a small window facing the view, halfway up a staircase. It is only seen as one climbs or descends that staircase, sometimes one stops, usually in a slightly different position to look and consider, every time, the prevailing conditions whether it is night or day, sunny, raining or shady, the view, the light, is different. It never bores, but since you deliberately stopped, invokes a new thought or memory. The effect is to really see. Sublime. 

The experience that I derive from this book, is that human beings all have similar needs, even though at a local level, we have different ways of solving them. They are never fixed, since newer ideas and threats regularly surface and need to be incorporated into those ways, and the best way to do this is to ensure that the paramount human urge is conservative and localist and most importantly, not de(con)structive.  In my view and that of the authors, the manner in which we can solve our global problems is by looking after our local community issues through negotiation, a public secularity, local judgements where disputes arise, and a sense of history applied to the present and held in trust, for the sake of those yet to be. It is what the ancient Greeks, and Roger Scruton (among others) sum up in one word – “Oikophilia”. The love of home and beauty, and the avoidance of mere utility. If we look after the parts that are within our scope, we can manage the whole planet, and hold it in trust for the foreseeable future. And the method for achieving this, is what the Irish politician and philosopher Edmund Burke described as “The little platoons”. 

Anyway, to sum up, this book is an essential read, and I note that Amazon still lists it, if anyone wants to take a punt. 

It’s Not Just Leica…

Dixie Dixon would photograph her stuffed animals as a child. Now, she’s one of fashion photography’s brightest stars, and one of the first sixteen Nikon Ambassadors in the United States. “I don’t think I’d be myself without being a photographer,” the native Texan explains.

If you’re gonna claim to be someone to aspire to photographically, and in doing so claim some affinity with the glory days of photojournalism by appropriating its technology (in this instance a plain prism 60’s era Nikon F), then at least satisfy us that you know how to operate the camera. To begin with, you might want to learn where you look into the plain prism viewfinder.

Let me get this out of the way: I’m not ragging on this young lady simply because she’s ‘attractive’ in a social media sort of way. I’ve looked at her work, and it’s competent, although nothing special, nothing you won’t see thousands of times over wherever you look. It certainly doesn’t stand out in a way that would warrant a cush advertising gig with Nikon. I suspect she’s a “Nikon Ambassador” because she’s cute and social media savvy. In fact, I’m positive.

Let’s call it the “Overgaardization” of photography as a practice. Being a photographer is now a ‘lifestyle.’ It’s about being hip and technologically and media sophisticated. It’s about ‘branding’, about creating a narrative about yourself that in most cases has nothing to do with reality. It’s about creating the reality. It’s how some blue-collar woman with a high school degree from some backwater town becomes “Princess Joy,” or her grifter husband goes from working in a sawmill to claiming he’s royalty…and a company like Leica, inheritors of a proud photographic legacy, embrace them as spokespersons for their ‘brand.’ It’s all about being ‘beautiful’ and using beautiful things and having those beautiful things define you. That’s why you should buy your Nikon or your Leica. It’s called selling the sizzle and not the steak.

As for the quality of photographic output, basically irrelevant now, given how easy we can duplicate a look or a style with a few keystrokes. Anyone can do it competently. Just push a few computer buttons and we’re all Richard Avedon. What’s really important is being thought of as hip while doing it, and that means carrying the correct camera and looking the right way while you do so. Knowing how to use it, apparently, optional.

The Red Dot

I’ll admit I don’t like the red dot. It’s tacky. When Leica was Leica, there was no red dot. I’m proud to say that, when I bought my first Leica, there was no such thing as a red dot. The red dot is post- Leica M5, the M5 being both the best and worst thing Leitz ever did. Best, because it’s the last and best version of a hand-assembled M, incorporating everything Leitz had learned about interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras up to that point and, in spite of what its detractors claim (invariably they’ve never used the M5), its a better, more complete camera than the film M’s – M4-2, M4-P, M6, M7 – that came after it, which were essentially retrenchments to a fixed formula. Worst, because Leitz confused a marketing failure with a technical failure and returned to the meterless M4 in M4-2 and M4-P versions, both of which signaled Leitz’s transition from producing professional cameras to models aimed at the consumer market. Hence, Leica’s slow inexorable slide into professional irrelevancy and the rise of internet-era clowns claiming the title “Leica Photographer.”

That’s One Ugly-Ass Red Dot IMHO

The ‘Leitz’ red dot goes back to the company’s Binocular and Microscope divisions, which
used the dot on their products for many years before someone decided to impale it on the hapless R3 and M4-P. Binoculars from the mid/late 60s have a rarer black ‘Leitz’ dot. As best I can tell, the Leitz red dot first appeared on the 50th Anniversary Leicaflex SL2 in 75 followed by the1976 R3. As for the M’s, it’s first seen on a preliminary 1977 run of a few hundred M4-2, and then into full production of the M4-P, which is, with its numerous top plate markings and huge Leitz red dot, the ugliest Leica M ever, although you can get rid of the red dot easily by replacing the vulcanite. Revisionist history aside, for late 70’s – early 80’s Leicaphiles, the red dot coincided with the end of the most desired models (M3, M2, M4, and M5) and represented a perceived decline in the quality for which Leicas had theretofore been known.

  • 1980 black M4-P red dot
  • 1983 chrome M4-P red dot
  • 1987 R5, red dot moved to the right side
  • R6, R7,RE, R6.2 red dot on the right
  • M6 (1984) Leitz red dot on top center
  • R8 (1996) Leica red dot moved to the left again
  • M7 (2000) Leica red dot on top center

Leica’s final film camera, the MP (2003), thankfully did away with the red dot, although it’s been resurrected with the digital M’s and all the other assorted digital models they’ve produced. Why, I don’t know.

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Leica has learned to monetize the red dot and certain consumer’s aversion to it. Witness the M9-P upgrade, which allowed you pay $US1995 to upgrade your red dot m9 for a dotless M9-P. Granted, removal of a red dot alone didn’t cost two grand — Leica also replaced the LCD screen with sapphire glass (apparently a good thing they hadn’t bothered to use on the original M9), and threw in some new leatherette. They also got rid of the tacky M9 logo on the front plate. Gotta admit, the M9-P looks a lot better than the garden variety M9.

Heinrich Hoffman’s Leica

Leica IIIa “Heinrich Hoffmann, Berlin”, 1935 Leitz, Wetzlar. No. 178859. This Leica IIIa with engraving “Presse-Hoffmann, Berlin Nr. 6” is the camera of notorious NAZI press photographer and journalist Heinrich Hoffmann, Munich, later Berlin.This Leica IIIa with serial number 178859 was sold on November 8, 1935 to “Monsieur Hoffmann de Munich”. With Hektor 2,5/5 cm as originally equipped.

Heinrich Hoffmann (12 September 1885 – 15 December 1957) was a Nazi politician and publisher, a member of Hitler’s intimate circle and Hitler’s official photographer. Hoffmann received royalties from the use of Hitler’s image, even on postage stamps, which made him a millionaire during Hitler’s years in power. After the Second World War he was tried and sentenced to four years in prison for war profiteering. He was classified by the Allies’ Art Looting Investigators to be a “major offender” in the plundering of Jewish art, as both art dealer and collector. Hoffman’s art collection, which contained many artworks looted from Jews, was ordered confiscated by the Allies. He recovered the art in 1956 by order of the Bavarian State.

Letter from Ernst Leitz Wetzlar GmbH to French owner of the camera confirming its authenticity

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Benito Mussolini greeting German ldr. Adolf Hitler, whose right arm is in a sling after he was injured during an assassination attempt planned by his own military officers. (Photo by Hoffman)
Hitler admires a model of the Volkswagen car and is amused to find the engine in the boot. He is with the designer Ferdinand Porsche (left), and to the right Korpsfuhrer Huehnlein, Dr Ley, Schmeer, and Werlin. (Photo by Hoffmann/Getty Images)