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.”