True Story: The word “Leica” is currently banned on Chinese internet searches, thanks to the Leica promotional video above, which is a shame, as Chinese plutocrats will henceforth find it difficult if not impossible to purchase Thorsten von Overgaard elephant skin bags for their Lenny Kravitz War Correspondent Leicas. The video in question depicts brave Leica toting photojournalists, who they refer to as “hunters”, confronting malevolent powers in far-flung dark-skinned war zones. Buy that M10 with 35mm Summilux, Leica is saying, and you can be a hunter too, a man of moral in addition to aesthetic integrity, heir to this noble tradition, even if you’re just taking photos for the wonderful bokeh.
The promotional video starts with the year and location of the student-led protests displayed prominently: Beijing 1989. The last shot of the video shows a photojournalist raising his Leica R6 and a reflection of the anonymous “Tank Man” in his Leitz telephoto lens. The actual photo was taken by Stuart Franklin of Magnum and came to be one of the most famous photos of the 20th century***.
There’s only one problem: The current Chinese government doesn’t particularly like being reminded of Tiananmen Square and their role in massacring their own citizens, and have blocked all internet searches referencing the word “Leica” until further notice i.e. until Leica AG makes this video disappear and comes groveling for forgiveness.
Leica AG, which has a large presence in China through a partnership with Huawei building lenses for its smartphones, has gone into full existential panic mode and is now claiming that the video was not “officially sanctioned” in spite of the Leica Red Dot logo plastered over the film’s ending. According to Emily Anderson, spokesperson for Leica, “Leica Camera AG must distance itself from the content shown in the video and regrets any misunderstandings or false conclusions that may have been drawn”, the “false conclusions” apparently being that Leica AG would actually let a moral principle prevail over making money (as opposed to cynically manipulating such a suggestion to sell things) and would have any real allegiance to anything other than its bottom line. Well done, Leica.
Postscript: In the time it took me to draft this post, Leica has taken down the video. So much for being a hunter. It’s hard not having a good chuckle at this, the discrepancy between the idealized image Leica AG hawks and the more cynical reality behind the facade being hilariously obvious (ironically because Leica themselves initiated the entire debacle by creating an ad insinuating they possessed admirable ethics and you could too if you just bought one of their cameras). And never mind that, as pointed out by Leicaphilia reader Lee Rust, the iconic “tankman” photo was taken with a Nikon. Think of Leica AG as the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.
*** Mr. Franklin, a Magnum photographer on assignment to Time magazine, was shooting from the rooftop with Charlie Cole, a reporter for Actuel in France: “I woke up in the Beijing Hotel to find Changan Avenue occupied by a line of students facing a line of soldiers and a column of tanks. I was hunched down on a balcony on the fifth floor (I think). Three others were also on the balcony: Charlie Cole, a reporter for Actuel in France and one from Vanity Fair. I tried to photograph the whole series of events, but like any photographer working in film, I was always fearful of running out on frame 36. At some point, shots were fired and the tanks carried on down the road toward us, leaving Tiananmen Square behind, until blocked by a lone protester. I photographed the protester. He carried two shopping bags and remonstrated with the driver of the tank in an act of defiance. He then disappeared into the crowd after being led away from the tank by two bystanders. The remainder of the day was spent trying to gain access to hospitals to determine how many had died or were wounded. In the two hospitals I could get access to, I found young Chinese — probably students — being treated on the floor of hospital corridors. It was mysterious that there were no dead. I understood later that the majority of the fatalities were taken to children’s hospitals in the city to avoid media attention. Chinese officials worked very hard obscure evidence of the massacre. The film was smuggled out in a packet of tea by a French student and delivered to the Magnum office in Paris.”
“Angelica”. Eolo Perfido. Leica M10 and Thambar-M 90 mm f/2.2
When asked, “why do you need a lens like this?”, I feel like answering that this object requires an elective affinity to be forged, and thus by its very nature, does not fall within the choices made solely for practical use.
Leica reviews, even the good ones, tend to be built on an edifice of words, given the ineffability of the subtle enjoyments Leica mechanical cameras have [legitimately] provided discerning lovers of photographic craft. We love our M3’s and M6’s, not because of their technical specifications but because of the ways they provide a unique enjoyment of the fundamentals of the craft of photography, that enjoyment being ergonomic, functional, aesthetic, all subjective things difficult to quantify. Even way back when, reviews of traditional mechanical film Leicas tended to have a poetic quality missing in more pedestrian camera brands because, frankly, the elusive, yet tangible characteristics that set them apart from other cameras were found at the margins of descriptive language, best described via emotional response and metaphor (hence the “buttery-smooth” description of an M’s wind-on. I’ve seen people mock that description; they shouldn’t. It is buttery-smooth. If you can think of a better way to describe it, I’m all ears.)
That sort of review, for better or worse, has followed Leica into the digital age. Now that cameras are computers – the M10 being a computer housed in the form factor of the iconic M cameras, sharing not much else – Leica reviews are now all too often over-the-top reflexive nonsense, vain attempts to justify modern Leica’s luxury pricing model. Sometimes bullshit is just that – bullshit.
We’re starting to see the first “reviews” of the new Leica Thambar lens, one in particular by an Italian photographer Eolo Perfido**, who apparently advertises himself as, among other things, a “Leica Ambassador” (You can find the “review at https://eoloperfido.com/blog/leica-thambar). I will note that Perfido in Italian is Perfidious in English, Perfidious in English meaning duplicitous, deceitful, unfaithful, untrustworthy, which pretty much sums up Mr. Perfido’s “review” from a critical perspective.
In reviewing Mr. Perfido’s review, I’ve annotated some of his claims with my responses:
“Thambar means “something that arouses wonder” and never has the name of a lens been more inspired.” [Our respective capacities for “wonder” obviously differ considerably. It’s a soft-focus lens that has almost no practical application that can’t be met with a jar of vasoline and a $30 Soviet made Jupiter. The only thing that might arouse something close to “wonder” for me is that Leica have the cojones to market this thing for $6995.]
“I decided to let myself be amazed and started clicking less with my head and more from the heart.” [What the hell does this mean? “Amazed” by what in particular, or is this simply free-floating amazement, something like giddiness after an expensive bottle of Prosecco? Please define a shooting technique that mirrors this new “from the heart approach” and how it might differ from “clicking with your head.” This is a review, not surrealist prose].
“The shutter speeds, the perfect focus, and the classic ratio between times and diaphragms I was used to, were totally usurped by an instinctive approach throughout the session. There were just me, the model, and a lens that responded unobtrusively to all my solicitations. Yet, precisely this lack of control meant I experienced a form of photographing, which will very likely become increasingly relevant in my personal development.” [The Thambar “responds unobtrusively to all [your] solicitations” producing “a lack of control” characterised by “an instinctive approach”? Ok. Totally get it.]
“It is a lens for those wishing to take creative portraits by adding a lens with a great personality to their artistic journey. You will understand if this tool is for you by simply going to a Leica Store and trying it in person. It will be akin to being in love, so if something clicks, this lens will definitely become an indispensable part of your kit.” [But only if I “forge an elective affinity with it,” apparently. Right? I’m confused.]
I enjoyed myself so much that when it came to returning the prototype I felt a sense of inner sorrow.” [Damn right you did. You could have turned around and sold it to some idiot on Ebay for $6000.]
Footnote**: In his defense, Mr. Perfido has photographed some really cool people, as shown on his blog. Valentino Rossi, perhaps the coolest human being alive, and Jorge Lorenzo, another legendary MotoGP rider, among them. Bravo. My advice: stick to photography and leave the reviews to someone else.
I expected I wouldn’t like this video, given that I ran across it while visiting figitalrevolution.com, wherein it was reviewed as such:
While watching this video the word Photography did not come to mind…. the words pretentious, obnoxious, stupid and misleading did. Over-the-top promotions like this are nothing but porn for the cult of Leica and make me fear for their survival as a viable tool.
The lie that runs at the heart of this video is offensive: Leica invented “photography”? What kind of revisionist history is that? Many of the images featured here were shot using 4×5 cameras- which came out of the studio LONG before Leica came on the scene.
It’s too bad, because recreating these iconic images from photographic history is an interesting idea. But twisted to their own ends, Leica just ends up tipping their hand: they’re looking desperate.
I watched it and liked it, thinking it was pretty much spot on in addition to being well done.
As for the reviewer: I get it. You don’t like Leica, apparently for some of the same reasons I’m critical of them. However, the claims made in this video – certainly hyperbole from a strictly true/false perspective – are, in my humble opinion, pretty much on point. Love em or hate em, Leica “invented” photography as we know it today. You can argue around the specifics, but the basic claim is correct. Credit where credit due….
“This “pro” doesn’t boast electronic circuitry. It doesn’t have photocells to select the area of interest. No little indicators to tell you there’s not enough light. The Leica M4 is strictly for those of you who prefer to do your own thinking, your own creating.” – Leitz Advertisement, Popular Photography, 1968
Still a valid claim today. It’s interesting to think how far camera technology has come in the last 50 years, and yet, the same claims of simplicity of design and function can be made for a 65 year old design, Leica M film cameras still being enthusiastically used by photographers around the world.
Mid-30’s Leica Advertisement. Given what was going on in the Fatherland at the time, one can only surmise what these women were fleeing from (tracer fire possibly?).
That looks to be a Leica III, Model F (not to be confused with the IIIf), made between 1933-39, although it might also be IIIa, Model G, the only difference being the IIIa had a 1/1000th shutter. The lens is a 5cm F2 Summar.