by Vaussore de Villeneuve, for Leicaphilia. [Vaussore de Villeneuve is the nom de plume of a working Parisian photojournalist. While it’s a screed, I think an ample dose of irreverence is needed when talking about Leica, so I thought I’d pass it on.]
You, the guy with the latest Leica. Whats with the $8000 camera and $5000 lens? Do you expect people to take you seriously because of what you’ve got hanging around your neck? Newsflash: When I see you stumbling out of the tourist bus with your shiny new Leica, the first thing I think is that you’re compensating for what you know, deep down, is a weak capacity for individual judgment and a compulsive need for approval, because serious working photographers don’t use Leicas anymore, and anyone who actually has a decent understanding of the realities on the ground knows that. And even if we wanted to, we couldn’t afford to, the collapse of photojournalism being what it is. Twenty years ago a PJ could make enough money to survive, and maybe even sport an M and a few lenses. Not now. Not even close, especially when a Leica body and a few lenses will cost the equivalent of a year’s PJ wages.
So you are, by definition, a poser, by the very fact that you’re trying to blindly emulate a way of doing photography that doesn’t exist anymore. The guys who are doing excellent work – the heirs of the greats who often used Leica film cameras – don’t give a damn about the camera they use. And they certainly aren’t impressed by the camera you use to practice your “street photography.” They’re too busy doing hard work in difficult conditions and they’re more than likely using some innocuous camera to do it, maybe even their iPhone, because they usually live paycheck to paycheck and couldn’t even begin to think about buying the latest Leica even if they wanted to. And whatever they’re using, they’re not carrying it in a designer bag. They can’t afford a designer bag.
I happen to live in a place where people often equate self-worth with the luxury they can afford. The culture here is predicated on ostentatious displays of wealth, with a constant eye to self-identity through the possession of things. The de rigueur BMW and the Rolex. I hear the stories: people who want giant bookcases, not to display the books they’ve read, but the books they’ll buy by the yard to fill them out. A 30 year old aspiring plutocrat who wants 500 art books, but presently owns none, who wants his guests to think that art is an interest of his. I know an interior designer who designed this huge, specialty bookcase for a guy like this. He asked her to purchase books that would “look good” on the shelf. She went to a site called “Books by the Foot” where you can buy books by color, size, topic, and purchased books for him based on size and color, totally random books that would never be read but whose sole criterion was to look good. She left some of the shelf empty so the guy could fill it with his own books, but he told her to just fill the bookcases out with Books By The Foot. He didn’t own any books.
That bookcase serves as a mask for this man. Its his status marker, a means to impress upon others a certain narrative about himself, his supposed discrimination and refinement. In actuality he can’t define any interests or tastes of his own other than the interest of being thought a certain way by others. And so with you, the new Leica consumer. Your Leica is your mask. And it’s a shame, because Leica used to be a quality camera brand whose cameras were understated, elegant, simple and practical. And some of their digital models still are, although that’s not why you’ve fixated on them now. You buy them as markers of your supposed discrimination and taste. At some point in the last 25 years, people like you hijacked the brand for your own puerile purposes, initiating the transformation of Leica from a photographic tool to a cross between an investment and fashion accessory, a situation that accelerates with each passing year. Its left us traditional Leica users, holding our beat up M3’s and M4’s, cameras that have functioned for us as craftsman’s tools, orphaned and inconsequential to Leica when faced with your tasteless money.
Do me a favor: stop sullying an iconic brand with your status anxieties. You’ve ruined the pleasure I take in using my well-worn Leica, because now, when I’m out and about with my M4, a camera I’ve used for almost 50 years, one nobody used to pay attention to because they thought it was just an old camera, a camera that was sent back to Leica for rebuild after I dropped it into the Niger while falling out of a sawdagart in Biafra 40 years ago, people now accost me, mouth agape, asking about it. Is that a Leica? Cool! How much does it cost? My uncle is really into photography and has one. Does your’s have The Leica Glow? You know it’s bad when the 17 year old behind the counter at the boulangerie asks if it really takes good pictures like they say.
Really, all you’re doing is showing off to the low hanging fruit, the untutored but well-meaning chaps who will make certain assumptions about you because of the supposedly cool camera you use. The people who know better – well, they know better. When you’ve bought into a world where products define the people who use them, your identity becomes inseparable from the perception of the goods you use to identify yourself. People will make certain assumptions about you as the user. That cuts both ways, however. What you don’t seem to understand is this: the great unwashed might be impressed, but someone in the know, someone serious about making images, as opposed to the equipment they use to do it, well, what they think when they see you with your $8000 digital Leica with the conspicuous red dot, taking pictures at the book fair, is this: loser.