1930’s German Leica Advertisement

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.

PICTO Paris

po_consulting_picto

Some time ago I received an email from Jean-Pierre Favreau, a gentleman from Paris who reads the blog, enquiring if I might put him in contact with George Fèvre, a man I knew from my days in Paris. George had been the master printer at PICTO, the venerable Parisian photo lab that handled Magnum’s film output. If you’ve seen a Cartier-Bresson or Koudelka print on exhibit somewhere, George probably printed it. In addition to being an amazing darkroom printer, George was a wonderful man. It turns out that Mr. Favreau had worked at PICTO with George many years ago. Unfortunately, I had to inform Mr. Favreau that George had died a few years ago. I asked Mr. Favreau if he would tell me of his time at PICTO and he kindly sent back a reply (and also a piece he wrote about first visiting NYC as a photographer in 1981 which I’ll someday get around to publishing as a separate piece). I’ve translated his reply from the French and have included it here below.

For some context: In January 1950, Pierre Gassmann opened PICTORIAL SERVICE in Paris’ 7th arrondissement, six enlargers arranged around a long tank tray.  Lucky him – his first clients were the founding members of Magnum Photos – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Chim, William Klein, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, Edouard Boubat. The Magnum guys soon dubbed Gassmann’s lab “PICTO,” and Gassmann eventually embraced the name himself.

PICTO thereafter grew with the rapid development of press, fashion and advertising photography in the 50’s. In 1963 Edy Gassmann, son of Pierre, opened PICTO Montparnasse dedicated to color photography. With the help of Paulette Gassmann, his wife, he ultimately created multiple PICTO sites dedicated to specific services. PICTO Front de Seine opened in 1969 followed in 1984 by a high-end print workshop in Rue de Rennes. In 1985, Edy opened  PICTO Defense, one of the first European labs handling digital technology. in 1989, PICTO Bastille opened, dedicated to black and white and Fine Art photography.

041-petersphotoalbum2Pierre Gassmann and Peter Turnley at PICTO, 1983

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By Jean-Pierre Favreau

At the time I started working at PICTO I didn’t know that it was one of the most prestigious labs in the world. I was young and ignorant.  I had first arrived there in the mid-60’s, via Vavin Metro station, then onto the Boulevard Montparnasse, past the Dome and into Rue Delambre. A few steps later I arrived in front of a beautiful building where PICTO had recently moved.

I was met by George Smith. Mr. Smith was a charming man, smiling and polite. Very intimidated, I explained to him my situation – I’d like to work in his photo lab. At the end of our conversation, he asked me to do an internship in one of the labs to learn a bit and to see how I’d do, and then I would take a test the following week to see if I was skilled enough to work there. That day I met Cartier Bresson, Brassai, Boubat, Koudelka and Lartigue.  When I think back on it now I’m astonished that I worked with greats like them.

Luckily, I passed my test. George then introduced me to Pierre Gassmann, founder of PICTO , himself a great photographer. Mr. Gassmann hired me; I suspect it was actually a favor because he did not really need anyone else.

It was then that I met George Fèvre. George was the great PICTO printer. It was the golden age of PICTO, daily servicing 15-20 Magnum and other Black and White shooters,  without counting the night service. We worked like crazy. Often Mr. Gassmann, after periods of great activity, especially the fashion shows which lasted a week, would take us all out to dinner at La Rotonde or La Coupole. Those were fun times.

A famous negative. Those are George Fevre’s fingers.

PICTO eventually launched three other labs in Paris, and I eventually moved on to different things. Today, after the invasion of digital, it only has one lab dedicated to traditional silver halide processing and printing.

I ran across George Fèvre again only a few years ago. George always had this kindness and a warm smile in his eyes. He told me he was thinking of opening his own lab and seeing my satisfaction, offered me a job, which astonished me – his typical generosity . But travelling as frequently as I was at the time, we never again met up and I heard no more about George. On learning of his death, I was seized with a great sadness and blamed myself for not visiting him more often.  We often forget that the people who’ve helped us the most, and have been influential in our lives, may one day disappear. I would have loved to see him again, to talk about those good years and the famous negatives that passed through his hands, from which he created iconic prints with his incredible skill. I will miss him.

The Leicaphilia Guide to Leica-Related Websites

My thoroughly idiosyncratic, subjective opinion of various Leica-related websites, in no particular order. Take it for what it is…and sorry for offending anyone.

APUG: A-
Hardcore film users. Emphasis on “hard core.” Need to know developing times for some weird Hungarian film pushed to 6400 ISO and developed in Diafine? Someone here is bound to know. Bury your head in its archives for an extended period and you’ll learn everything you need to know about film photography.

Japan Camera Hunter: B+
Camera porn.

Erwin Puts: B
The perfect site for Leica techno geeks. Putts is obviously a bright, knowledgeable man who loves his Leicas and knows a ton about them. Reading the site, however, is about as interesting as reading the manual that comes along with your Canon Rebel.

Leicaphilia. C+
A weird melange of Leica history, facts, social criticism, self-righteous luddite indignation and ostentatious philosophical meandering. The functional equivalent of a reasonably intelligent college student blog, by turns entertaining and thoughtful, often paranoid, repetitive and stupid. Still can’t figure out who runs it, however.

Summilux.net. A-
The French Leica forum. I love the French and highly recommend the laconic and often world weary skepticism of almost everything here. Got to be able to read French though, which disqualifies 99.9% of American readership.

RFF: D+
Ahh, Rangefinder Forum. Unabashedly dedicated to over-the-top gear fetishism (“what three Leica bodies and six lenses should I take on my bus tour of Khazakstan?”; or “I’m wondering what gives better bokeh for pictures of my cat? The Elmarit 2.5 ASPH or the third version Cron?”). To be fair, It does have some decent people and technical info to offer, (Bill Pierce and Tom Abrahamssen are treasures, as is Sonnar guru Brian Sweeney, who seems to know everything ) but it too often devolves into the virtual equivalent of old guys meeting at McDonalds to discuss their grandkids. If you must go there, tread lightly, don’t suggest anything remotely thought-provoking or counter “common sense” (this place just oozes bourgeois insecurity) and, whatever you do, don’t challenge the self-appointed forum guru, an easily identified forum “mentor” whose idea of “mentoring” is to compulsively hector, in his most pretentious Queen’s English, anyone with the nerve to express an original opinion not first thoroughly vetted by him.

LUF: B+
RFF without the annoying and often sadly ridiculous RFF Moderators, and thus significantly lighter on the herd mentality and conformist passive-aggression toward independent thinking.

Steve Huff: C-
Likes to take pictures of his wife.
He is what he is. I admire his enthusiasm, and you gotta give him credit for finding and exploiting his niche, which he has done in an impressive manner, although his critical faculties leave something to be desired. Typical new gear review: “its the best camera ever! I’ve fallen in love with photography all over again! ….”. Rinse and repeat.

Ken Rockwell: D+
See Steve Huff. Rise and repeat except delete the wife photos and add some really cliched cheesy photography I’d be embarrassed to turn into an “Intro to Photography” course given at the local community college.

Thorsten Overgaard: C
Scientology meets Leica mania, or the Leica world’s particular version of “alternative facts.” There’s something weirdly fascinating about the site, as if it were an infomercial written by a Leica engineered Bot. I always feel slightly dirty after going there, like I need a shower.

Dante Stella B+
Mr. Stella is obviously a bright, well-informed man, and he’s an excellent writer. There’s a lot of good film era information here. Unfortunately, the website is hopelessly outdated.

Cameraquest: B+
Would get an A for all the useful info, except the website design itself has all the sexiness of the AOL era. My bet is he’s still using dial-up. The proprietor apparently is a licensed dealer of Voigtlander products (good on him), although from looking at his website, you’d assume he’s probably selling them out of the trunk of his Ford Taurus.

La Vida Leica: D-
Unofficial propaganda arm of Leica Inc., sort of the Fox News of Leica Nation. Leica “News and Rumors” for those who’ve drunk the Leica digital Kool Aid. Think “Shutterbug” magazine with nothing but Leica 24/7.

The Rare Rigid LTM 50mm f2 Summicron, 1960-1963

In 1956, Leitz introduced a rigid version of the 50mm f2 Summicron, the revolutionary lens first offered as a collapsible version in LTM in 1953 and in M mount in 1954. The 1956 rigid version constituted a revised optical design with a harder front element and deeper rear element. A “Dual-Range” M mount rigid version was also introduced at this time. Leitz produced this “second version” rigid Summicron, both normal and dual-range, between 1956 and 1968.

Between 1960 and 1963, Leitz also produced 1160 copies of  this rigid second version in LTM, making it one of the rarer and most valuable Summicrons produced. Of course, its rarity soon encouraged the assembling of fakes; the rigid Summicron’s lens head can be unscrewed from the rigid mount, and Leitz complicated matters by supplying rigid mounts in LTM for a few years so that owners of M and LTM bodies wouldn’t have to buy two lenses but could simply swap one lens head between two different lens mounts, M or LTM.

The end result is that it’s a good possibility that the LTM Rigid Summicron you’re being offered for sale is a frankenlens and not a true factory assembled version. The situation becomes further confused in that the true focal length of the rigid Summicrons differed slightly, depending on the version – 51.6, 51.9 or 52.2 – while the LTM rigid mount required a specific 51.9 focal length lens head, and many of these self-assembled lenses contain 51.6 or 52.2 lens heads mated to LTM rigid mounts.

How can you tell you’re looking at a rare factory assembled example instead of one made up from a replacement focusing mount and a non matching lens head? Fortunately, on the factory assembled models Leitz engraved the serial number of the lens both on the lens head and on the detachable lens mount. If these serials match, you’ve got a legit factory assembled LTM Rigid Summicron; if not, you’ve got a self-assembled frankenlens with potential focal length compatibility issues, one that can’t claim to be among the 1160 produced by Leitz.

A further complication in identifying a real factory produced version is that Leitz apparently produced them in dribs and drabs instead of one sequential run of 1160 consecutive serial numbers. According to Dennis Laney’s Leica Collector’s Guide, accepted serial number ranges for a legit copy are 1,599,XXX, 1,704,XXX, 1,706,XXX, 1,762,XXX, 1,763,XXX and 1,885,XXX, “but, as always with Leitz, the fact that a lens falls outside of this range does not necessarily mean it is not original” [Laney’s words]. The litmus test is the matching serial numbers.

*************

I was recently contacted by Bill Moretz, the owner of a reputable brick and mortar photo establishment in business since 1988 doing repair and photo lab services and equipment rental – asking me about a rigid Summicron he had in inventory he wasn’t quite sure exactly what it was. I had him send me some pics, did a little research, and then asked him to remove the mount from the lens head to see if the serials matched. They did. His rigid thread mount Summicron is a rare factory assembled original, serial number 1,607,043. According to Bill, everything in great condition optically and mechanically.

Bill has asked that I put the word out through the blog that the lens is for sale, and I told him I’d be happy to do so in order that he might avoid the pitfalls of Ebay and the various ways dishonest buyers devise to scam honest sellers out of collectible items. He’s asking $1950 plus insured shipping charges of $30 within the States. In my opinion, that’s a great deal as I see undocumented versions with various optical issues offered from anywhere between $1700 on the low end to $2800-$3000 on the high end. It comes with the original matching Leitz hood and lens cap.

If you’re interested, contact me at leicaphilia@gmail.com.

Leica M10 Introduced. Digital Gearheads Ecstatic.

“Leica today introduces a new camera, completely dedicated to rangefinder photography.The rangefinder has a complete new design, it has a new sensor and the usability was re-engineered. The camera top has now a dedicated ISO dial, thus all relevant parameters are directly visible and accessible.”

Leica-world is abuzz with anticipation in the wake of Leica’s official announcement of the M10 (I thought they said they weren’t going to number the M’s anymore?). Apparently, it’s a “revolutionary evolution” of the iconic M series [a necessary contradiction of terms BTW]; as best I can tell, it’s a sliver thinner and has a manual ISO dial on the top plate in addition to a new sensor and wifi capability, all of which promises to magically transform your photographic experience. Erwin Puts is of the opinion that Leicaphiles need to immediately run out and get one or else be forever consigned to the dustbin of technological irrelevancy. $6950.

Don McCullin: War and Peace

Early Morning at the Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India, 1989. © Don McCullin, courtesy of Hamiltons Gallery


Don McCullin tells Jonathan Bastable how his present work helps him manage memories of his past. This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 edition of Christie’s Magazine


At the back of his sunlit, peaceful house in Somerset, Don McCullin has a tiny workroom where he keeps his prints. There are boxes upon flat boxes, stacked on broad shelves like pizzas awaiting collection.

McCullin, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, stands at a wooden plan chest, sorting through some large format ‘platinums’. ‘The print is made of platinum dust on thick watercolour paper,’ he explains, carefully laying aside the sheets of tissue between each one. ‘This batch is for a collector. They are produced by a specialist I know in Gloucester; Bailey uses him too.’

The images are breathtaking. The first one out of the box is a still life of dark mushrooms lying on a slab of chipped concrete, a shiny wine jug behind them; it is an essay in textures and surfaces. Then there is a group portrait of Indian pilgrims outside their tents at the Kumbh Mela: wrapped in their shawls and blankets, they look like Hebrew wanderers waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain.

There is a bleak and snowy view of the valley beyond McCullin’s house. ‘I love the nakedness of the countryside in winter,’ he says. ‘When leaves cover the trees they are deceiving — you don’t know the core of them.’

Perhaps the most stunning photograph in the set is a statue of Aphrodite from Leptis Magna, now an exhibit in Tripoli’s Red Castle Museum. It is a wonderful shape, the pitted torso illuminated by a single unseen bulb (‘No tripod: I had to stand stock-still for a fifteenth of a second at wide-open’). That battered goddess says a great deal about McCullin’s preoccupations: history, humanity, and the damage that humans do.

Don McCullin was born in 1935 in Finsbury Park, at that time one of London’s rougher bailiwicks. When war broke out, he — like thousands of other small children — was packed off to the countryside, where he was separated from his older sister. His experiences as an evacuee were rough, and would now certainly be classified as neglect or cruelty. But it was the dislocation that left the deeper mark. ‘I have been on the move since my mother sent me away as an evacuee,’ he says. ‘I haven’t stopped running.’

As a teenager, McCullin did his national service in the Royal Air Force, where he was given the job of processing aerial photo-reconnaissance. ‘Photography came to me accidentally. I didn’t know that was what I wanted to be. In the RAF I even failed my photography trade test.’ On a whim, during his last weeks in the forces, he spent £30 on a Rolleicord — the twin-lens-reflex camera beloved of Brassaï and Brandt: ‘I came out of the Air Force with this beautiful camera, but I didn’t know how to use it.’

Don McCullin’s Nikon F. “I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does a job.”

It took a perverse stroke of luck to turn that impulse buy into the beginnings of a career. One night, back in Finsbury Park, a policeman was killed in a scuffle between gangs. McCullin, who had been experimenting with his Rolleicord, took some pictures of the lads he had grown up with — though they had nothing to do with the murder.

He took his portfolio to the Observer, where the picture editor immediately saw that it said something newsworthy and worthwhile. One shot of those North London lads posing on a bombsite became McCullin’s first published photograph. ‘So my career in photography was built on violence and death from the start.’

Now he had a foot in the door of a newspaper, McCullin looked around for stories that he could pitch. It was 1961, and a political crisis was looming in Berlin, then under the military occupation of four armies — British, American, French, Soviet. McCullin told the paper that he wanted to go to Germany to cover it. Incredibly, the Observer was not interested, so McCullin went at his own expense, and shot the first days of the construction of the Berlin Wall. The pictures — which, needless to say, the paper was more than happy to print — won him a British Press Award and a regular contract.

‘That’s how life has been,’ says McCullin, ‘a series of episodes where I thought: I must go here, I must go there.’ He has a firm belief that his hunches always turn out to be right. Throughout his life, he has had the good journalist’s knack of turning up in the right spot at the right time.


‘In Biafra I took pictures of starving children. I was riddled with guilt for being there, troubled by the knowledge that they hoped I had food, when all I had was two Nikon cameras’


In 1967, during the Six-Day War, he headed for Jerusalem when the press pack went south to Sinai, and so was the only photographer present when the Israeli army took the Wailing Wall. In the 1970s — during what he calls his Hogarthian period — he shot the lost souls of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, somehow sensing that gentrification was on its way. More recently he published a beautiful book, Southern Frontiers, that explores the Roman remains strewn around the Maghreb and the Middle East — among them the very temples in Palmyra that have just been obliterated by ISIS.

The same irresistible intuition is taking McCullin to Iraq this autumn. ‘I will not be able to run any more,’ he says. ‘But you can’t outrun a bullet anyway.’ War is, of course, what McCullin is best known for. From Cyprus to El Salvador, Vietnam to the Bogside, he has probably been exposed to more armed conflict than any photojournalist of his generation — more, come to that, than most professional soldiers. But he doesn’t like to be termed a war photographer. ‘It’s like saying I work in an abattoir; it’s like being called a criminal.’

Those seem harsh self-judgments: to be present at a crime — even a war crime — is not to be complicit. But McCullin is adamant. ‘I found wars exciting when I first went to photograph them. I thought this is fun, the bullets are flying, it’s a bit Hollywood. Then I started going to wars where the civilian population was suffering the most, and that brought about a change in me.

‘In Biafra I took pictures of starving children. I was riddled with guilt for being there, troubled by the knowledge that they hoped I had food, when all I had was two Nikon cameras around my neck. I have flagellated myself over the years with conscience and uncomfortable memories — but that hasn’t helped those children. None of my pictures have saved lives.’

What are documentary photographs of human misery for, then? What can they achieve? If — as seems reasonable to suggest — their function is to bear historical witness, then to take pictures of other people’s suffering is an entirely proper thing to do.

Don McCullin, Palestinian Woman returning to ruins of her house, Beirut. © Don McCullin, courtesy of Hamiltons Gallery

As for the deep unease that McCullin feels, it surely derives from the fact that — however harrowing the events of the moment — part of his attention is on broadly artistic matters: composition, light, narrative, visual impact. McCullin pauses before he responds to this idea. ‘I was once in a stairwell in Beirut,’ he says. ‘Some Palestinians had been dragged out of their rooms — they were going to be shot. And as the shooting began, the men looked up and raised their hands like this…’ He lifts his own hands in a gesture of supplication, the five fingertips oriented upwards and almost touching, so that they make a shape like the head of a tulip. ‘They were calling to their God,’ he says.

So the photojournalist in him saw these men at the moment of their death, and what stuck his in his mind was their pose — and with it, the instinctive knowledge that this could be a good picture? ‘Yes, but I wasn’t looking for a good picture; I was looking for truth. There is nothing good about photographing a man being murdered, nothing at all. I am not an artist, and I don’t call my work art, I call it photography. When people say my pictures are “iconic”, that doesn’t mean to say it is art. I would rather people said that my pictures were memorable, or even that they can’t bear to look. Though of course I do want people to look, to have the eye contact, to have the connection with suffering that any decent person should have.’


‘One of the most stupid things people ask me is: do you have a death wish? I feel like saying, why don’t you go to hell?’


That eye contact is central to McCullin’s work, so much of which is portraiture — albeit portraits of people in distress or in extremis. He has never used a long lens: proximity is for him an essential part of the transaction, as if the subject were co-creator of the finished picture, or at least a collaborator in it.

That is certainly true of his best-known portrait, a close-up of the blank, drained face of a shell-shocked GI in Vietnam. ‘I am slightly sick of that one. But yes, everything is in the eyes of people. The truth of pain is in the eyes. I try to hold the eyes, to get them to look into the camera and trust me. So I need to be close enough to be trusted. That’s what makes it powerful, because the eyes become accusing.’

McCullin says that his platinums are an attempt to bring some balance to his work, and maybe to his memories. After all, a landscape cannot cry or bleed. ‘This work is therapeutic,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t be happier than when I am standing in the cold on Hadrian’s Wall, waiting for the right light. The platinums are the essence. They are as far as you can go with what I am trying to do and say.’

Dew Pond, Somerset, 1988. Gelatin Silver Print. Dimensions variable © Don McCullin / Contact Press Images.

So can these pictures, at least, be called art? ‘No, I call them photographs. There are photographers in America whose prints fetch $100,000 a time, and they all call themselves artists. Why can’t they be content with the word “photographer”?’

He puts away the platinum prints, then goes out into the garden to look at the view down the sloping dell to the trout stream and his orchard. ‘One of the most stupid things people ask me is: do you have a death wish? I feel like saying, why don’t you go to hell? My father died when I was 13, and that left me really angry. I have kept that anger about death. When I see children dying, I think: who can I blame? Who can I punch?’ He pauses again. ‘I am coming to the edge of the crater, and I think about life quite a lot. The other day I was wandering around out here and I thought, you know what, this is rather nice. I want to live as long as anybody. And having seen so much death, I want to live twice as long.’