Reader Input Needed: Are You Experiencing Barthesian Fatigue?

What This Guy is Thinking: ” Good God, Just Shoot Me…Another Leicaphilia Article About Some Completely Unintelligible French Philosopher”

As many of you know, I’ve been off on a Philosophy of Photography riff for some time now. Partly it’s because I find the subject fascinating, and partly because talking about the latest Leica gadget gets old after a while, and also, frankly, digital Leica gadgets, in general, bore me, although I’m open to someone gifting me an M10. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m now officially doing graduate work in history at an institution with fairly high standards, so that’s taking much of my time in addition to doing the work I do to pay my bills. As a means of motivating me going forward, I am open to someone starting a Go Fund Me campaign where every reader donates $10, the proceeds going to an M10 for me. It’s the least you could do, given I’ve been faithfully cranking out blog posts now for 5 years (I’m up to around 380 posts), all without running ads or mentioning sponsors or soliciting donations to “help offset” the costs to me of doing so (in actuality, the costs are minimal; it’s the time and effort that creates the burden). I’m assuming, however, that the Go Fund Me campaign, and the M10, aren’t happening. One can wish.

As long as I’m running the blog, there’s always going to be a certain philosophical aspect to it, but I’m afraid that the direction I’ve been going recently – all theory, little Leica – might be causing reader fatigue. All of which is leading up to the question I feel needs to be asked: what is it that you want to see from this site, if anything, going forward?

When I started Leicaphilia some years ago I didn’t care what my readers, if any, would think. I couldn’t have cared less. I saw this as my thing, a place I could say what I wanted to say about Leicas and film photography and digital photography and gear etc without being “moderated” by someone or censoring myself to avoid offending readers. That’s not gonna happen. Occasionally, in response to a particularly inflammatory post, I’d receive an email from a reader saying something to the effect that they’ve been reading my blog for a long time, they think it’s great, but…..I’m better than that. While I appreciate the input, I’ve made a conscious decision to ignore such advice. I think the blog works best when I say what I want to say in the manner I want to say it, and that’s the philosophy going forward. But, I’ve realized that reader input has been a really positive influence on the growth and evolution of the blog – readers’ photography, their essays, their comments.

As for my ideas about where Leicaphilia should be going, what I would like to see is more input from readers. I’m astounded by the quality of its readership, humbled really, by many of you, obviously highly intelligent people with all sorts of experience you could share with others, many excellent photographers, readers whose work I’d love to showcase, as I’ve done in the past. Some of the best work I’ve seen anywhere has been work submitted to the site by readers. I’d like to see more of that, but I’d like to see it accompanied by your thoughts and experiences of doing what you’ve done.

On an ancillary note, a reader recently commented something to the effect that the blog should be renamed Leicaphobia, given the often critical attitude I take to some of the things Leica does. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of my position. I love Leica, am absolutely dedicated to the traditional Leica ethos of simplicity of design and function. I love my Leica film cameras; I’m totally down with the idea of the Leica mystique. It’s real. Where I’m critical of Leica is when they depart from these core values and do silly things. Think of Leicaphilia as a love letter to a wayward lover.

So…the Comments section is open for your input, as is my email at leicaphilia@gmail.com. Let me hear from you.

32 thoughts on “Reader Input Needed: Are You Experiencing Barthesian Fatigue?

  1. lasousa2015

    I like the philosophical content. It is quite heady, but it is what sets you apart from run of the mill blogs. I think it would be great if you included imagery conveying the philosophic idea. And I think it would be better if you used a “less is more” approach. Hone in on the central philosophical point more succinctly. I particularly enjoyed the last post about portraits of people who don’t exist. The fact that so much time and effort is employed to create this mechanism is confounding. What’s the point? I try to make imagery that is true to myself. Photography is morphing into an other-centric genre bathed in perfection and intense computer altered reality. I take solace from those retaining the love of imperfection. I am still trying to distinguish computer editing versus darkroom edits. Both represent artistic choices. But the darkroom print must have a good base image from which to work. Photoshop and mega megapixels can make a bad in-camera image a passable one.

    Reply
  2. Keith Beven

    Please please continue as you have been. The mixture of posts keeps me coming back, always hoping there will be a new post even though I am not a Leica user – more medium and large format. But the gear is really no longer important in producing images of sufficient quality – how we use the tools and the history of ideas about photography is far more important and those posts are always thought provoking.

    Another source of interesting comment (at least in some articles) that may not be known to some of your readers can be found at onlandscape.co.uk

    And why not set up a Patreon or Go Fund Me site … you surely deserve that M10!

    Reply
  3. Rob Campbell

    Frankly, Tim, why fix something that’s not broken?

    The reason you have the readership you have is precisely because of your own photography and your writing.

    It’s possible to link to websites of folks who correspond here, so it isn’t impossible to access their work. Of course, that doesn’t relieve you of having to write more material yourself, but really, it’s your stuff I think we want to read, more or less, which is not to knock other contributors, of course.

    Perhaps if it were easier to link to your own excellent photo collection…? I often think about your confrontation with the Edinburgh “street rat”! He must have been quite surprised.

    Rob

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, Rob. You’ve brought a lot of people to the site who wouldn’t have found it otherwise, and I appreciate your thoughtful comments on various posts. You’re the sort of reader who makes this a collaborative effort in a lot of ways, given I write with readers like you in mind.

      Reply
  4. Dominique Pierre-Nina

    I’ll give you $20 towards your M10. Don’t change any thing about your posts. Aside from another site called 35mmc which is more about the gear and its workings, yours is the one I read regularly as yours is about the intelectual side of photography.

    Regards,

    Dominique Pierre-Nina.

    Reply
  5. J Rasheed

    My first post was about how I was binge-reading your posts, and I don’t really do that anywhere else! I felt instinctively that your “best” posts could form the basis of a book. There isn’t much out there on photography! (And I don’t count the billions of pages on technical gear as photography)

    I agree with those saying keep your style, but I also realise I’m not the one spending the time writing, so there is this challenge of “for what outcome” that i guess will run through your mind a lot of the time.

    The last great photography writing for me was Geoff Dyers “The Ongoing Moment” and I feel we desperately need a new voice to continue to push the boundaries of the meaning of the still image. It sure as hell isn’t going come from a Canon 5DMkIV user hehehehe (Admittedly I have one of those)

    Does using a Leica mean we have some advantage or insight above any other camera user? No of course not. But John Lennon didn’t buy a Fender in Hamburg, he bought a Rickenbacker.

    Using a Leica can be as meaningless as using a Canon. But people on this forum CHOSE a Leica even though they could have bought any other brand. The consequence of that decision is that google then brings them here, to your site, like it did me. And on this site I discover there’s a guy who passionately believes in the still image, and a specific meaning of the still image, and the chemical process and human experience of going through that process, and instead of doing a comparison between the Cron 1954 and the Cro-Magnon 2019, he’s writing about Barthes, with the hypothesis that the digital has screwed the very meaning inherent in the still image. Meaning trust is broken, and what a friggin shame, that for a century or so the ONLY human artefact that was capable of and tried to engender trust between homo sapiens is now destroyed. OF COURSE you had to write about it.

    For what end? I don’t know. For me I just cannot believe how bad the whiskey selection is in London hotels, taken over instead by hundreds of gin or vodka variations.

    Hypothesis:
    a) Leica=scotch single malt whiskey=Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows or Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
    b) Canon=gin=whatever the latest pap is streaming at 128K mp3 into a tinny bud earphone that some poor kid made for 5 cents

    Keep on writing, and I’ll try and find the courage to submit some…..still images!

    JR

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, JR.

      It may be simply a cultural UK/US thing, but my Leica analogy would be

      Leica=bourbon=Coltrane Plays the Blues

      Reply
  6. Keith Laban

    Tim, my comment about straying onto liecaphobia.com was made largely with my tongue firmly in my cheek.

    I use the Leica M system for the unique simplicity the cameras offer as well as the qualities of lenses. I too often let out an exasperated sigh at the special editions and the ridiculous pricing but accept this is what Leica has been doing for decades and is undoubtedly a profitable strategy. If this is what it takes for a manufacturer that I admire to thrive then I’ll suck it up.

    The very reason I read your blog is precisely because it is different, unique even, as is Leica.

    Please carry on regardless.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Keith: yes, I realize it was tongue in cheek. No offense was taken; I actually chuckled at it, and I’ve seen it said elsewhere.

      I think that’s the problem with many people who write about photography from a gear centric perspective, where they emotionally connect to a brand of gear – they’re unable, or unwilling, to be critical when criticism is necessary. I love Leica and its history. There’s just nothing more satisfying, from a photographic gearhead’s perspective, than an M4 or M5 with a 35mm lens and some HP5. It’s magic. I’ll always consider that the “real” Leica experience, even in the face of some of the silly things they do to squeeze out profits, some of which are downright embarrassing.

      Reply
  7. Archiver

    Your blog reminds me a little of the articles Daido Moriyama wrote for a magazine, which were compiled into the book Memories Of A Dog. The content isn’t the same, but the journalistic intent to write interesting and personal opinion pieces is there.

    The philosophical content is very enjoyable, and I’m certainly not someone who would ask you to tone it down. It’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back, because it’s NOT just about sprockets and circuits, but notions of photography with a Leica slant.

    As for analogies: I once wrote that a Zeiss Ikon ZM is a clean, workmanlike camera that grunts, ‘I vill take your fotos’. But a Leica M7 is a haptic delight which croons at you the moment you pick it up, purring, ‘Ja, now ve take ze fotos, ja’.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks Archiver. And thanks for your ongoing interest. Think about submitting something for publication….

      Reply
  8. David H

    I have very much enjoyed your more philosophical posts. In fact, I had intended to comment on the last two because they have pretty much persuaded me that digital photography is a significantly different thing than film photography, something I would have shrugged off earlier. That’s the kind of thing that brings me here. Don’t change anything. I surely don’t wanna have to fight my way through Camera Lucida on my own.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      That’s great to hear, David. I’ve made you think, obviously, which is the point of the entire endeavor.

      Reply
  9. Rob Campbell

    You really don’t want to get yourselves bogged down in the whisky business: it has as much bullshit as has the wine. I’m Scottish, so trust me, he said. Think marketing and the construction of price layers.

    Likewise cameras: there was zich I couldn’t have cut with Canon that I did with Nikon. So why did I go with Nikon? To me, it looked a lot better, was familiar and attracted me, apart from the fact that my last employer had one. He also had, at the same time, a spanking new M3. I didn’t go with that, despite knowing first-hand that its lenses did have a distinct characteristic that his Nikkors did not. As system, it was crippled by being a rangefinder. By the time the R system became valid, it was too late (insofar as I was concerned).

    Camera buying depends on two major factors: can I afford it; is it the right tool for what I do?

    If you use these thing for earning your crust, decisions are easy, and even price takes a second-row seat to a large extent, because you eventually write the things off agaist tax.

    Photography is a ripe subject for romantic thought, for attaching to it all manner of appendages that that are largely bogus. It should never be taken as religion, visual scripture, as it were. It has always had its heroes as its charlatans. Tim, here, has one particular bête noir that raises his hackles from time to time, and that provides some ammusement of itself: if ever there was a photographer who had no need to give a damn about another, that’s Tim.

    But look, this is giving me something to do as I sit alone in a restaurant sipping my coffee…

    Long may Leicaphilia retain its distinct identity!

    Rob

    Reply
  10. Wayne

    With the camera, I hope to capture some fleeting moment that swirls past: it is there; I am there; freedom. Philosophy feels like trying to cram those moments into my head. I wonder what moments I miss while doing so.

    I own, and periodically browse, Camera Lucida. I treat it like the literary version taking photographs. Read a paragraph/page or two; let it settle into my head; move on. I suppose it is all there, settled into my head, swirling around. It’s a unique book. It does not need to make sense.

    Reply
  11. StephenJ

    Bearing in mind Tim’s aversion to digital photography, I am just wondering why one should wish to sink $8k into an M10?

    One can get a whole load of really nice bodies and lenses, boxes of film, or a couple of decent photo-safaris out of that kind of dosh, either of which would be an investment, rather than an exercise in consumerism.

    In fact it would seem that most of the current output is a little bit EU… i.e. overpriced and underperforming. Their preoccupation with Safari this and anniversary that, seems to relegate their customers to bovine level, just like us brits for daring to question its legitimacy.

    The new CL seems to be the exception, even though it has a cropped sensor and all the native lenses are auto-everything and not even made by Leica, it seems to be a pretty good way of using older proper Leitz lenses.

    If only the SL had been as petite.

    As to Keith Laban’s comment regarding Leicaphobia, a more fitting epithet might be “Leitzphilia” since most of the decent cameras and lenses came from the “family’s” era. 🙂

    Anyway, as to the blog…

    It’s brilliant just as it is, even though I am wrong most of the time, it is still one of my favourite reads.

    My 2p…

    Thank you sir.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Stephen. I’m going to encourage you – again- to write something for the site. I suspect you’ve got much to say that other readers would find interesting and instructive. As for the M10, I’m certainly not sinking 8k into one…I’m asking my readers to do it for me.

      Reply
  12. Harry B Houchins

    I think, if your blog went away, there would be a void. What would I do at 6 AM, coffee in hand and the wife still asleep. I check every morning. It is so not what everything else is in the photo internet world. Please keep it up. I will gladly send you a tenner for your M10. Send me ten for my M4, I had to sell my two Ms to help pay for cancer surgeries.
    Once I figure out how to post images I would love to share them on this blog.

    Reply
  13. Lee Rust

    Leica has always done silly things… that’s nothing new… but to me they are one of the very few high-tech companies who still make devices that adhere to a consistent proprietary aesthetic.

    That’s exactly why you should continue to write about whatever you want to, because you too have a consistent proprietary aesthetic.

    You should be thankful that you don’t have to profitably support hundreds of skilled employees to design, assemble, package or repair your products, plus pay suppliers, sub-contractors, ad agencies and web designers.

    Not to mention continuously dreaming up super-expensive and shiny new stuff for wealthy dentists and über enthusiasts to buy and then sell when even more shiny new stuff comes out. Without those first purchasers, there would be no steady supply of used Leicas for the rest of us. That’s why Leica has always done silly things, and hopefully always will.

    Reply
  14. brunosaltspring

    Dear Leicaphilia, I second other readers who have advised you not to change direction in your writings. To paraphrase you, I would say your blog is like an old Leica, if it works fine, a CLA is unnecessary… (The Myth of the Necessary Leica CLA, Sept. 2015). I particularly enjoy the way you alternate arcane musings about obsolete but still so covetable cameras and lenses and witty, insightful, sometimes digressive considerations that relativize and give meaning to our relation to photography. There are certainly a few more French scholars’ abstruse writings around to dissect and distill for our edification and enjoyment. Your writings, together with Mike Johnston’s TOP and Kirk Tuck’s VSL, (unfortunately recently put on hold), are the ones that I enjoy most and regard as outstanding online references, offering readers both humanistic wisdom and a wealth of technical data and trivia all wrapped in rich and lively English. Keep calm and carry on. Best regards, Bruno.

    Reply
  15. Finny

    sorry for my bad English… but: I have to admit that this is the only website I visit regularly and I like to read! Because it’s not just about technology, but about philosophical topics, ethics, morals, travel reports… I love this site! Please, keep on!

    Reply
  16. Ed Ntiri

    I’ve been reading this blog off-and-on for years and never left a comment. I’m a silent observer and admirer. Most true Leica users are lone wolfs, in my findings. I roam around in a modern city with my M3 & a handful of fifties, observing & shooting. I’m friendly with other photographers, but I can’t say I get along with them.

    That being said, I get along well with this site.

    When I experience days when I wonder why I don’t switch to digital, why I still labor in the darkroom and idolize the silver gelatin print, when I worry that the public is losing appreciation for the pure image in favor of sharpness and over-stylized drama, I type in leicaphilia, read a little bit, and without fail, I realize that this lone wolf isn’t entirely without his pack.

    Keep it up.

    Also, if there were a collection of these writings, I’d be the first to buy the book. And $10 towards an m10 is doable. Count me in.

    Best,

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      I’m at Harvard (through the Extension School there, which is a really cool way to get a Harvard degree; if you’re capable of doing the work you’re capable of getting the degree). My preference would have been to get back into graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, but I suspect I’d have little chance of being admitted to their history program given my age.

      Reply

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