Category Archives: Leica Store

The Leica Rep

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By Derek McClure. Mr. McClure is a photographer who shoots weddings, corporate and other portrait type work as needed. To escape from the commercial digitalized product flow that overwhelms his life, he shoots 35mm film with his three Leica’s –  an M7, an M3 and a Barnack iiib. He lives and works in Adelaide, South Australia. You can see his film  images on his instagram feed, @backwater_beat .

 

The glass was millimetres thick, yet it might as well have been made from solid steel. I beheld the items before me, displayed like endangered zoo creatures surrounded by a force field of glass that were designed to tempt even the most stoic of shooters. My breath fogged up the glass as I glared at the elite system that was both within and without of my reach. To the bloated rich, they were just another camera system, to everyone else they represented a kidney or a lung on the black market. The Leica M system.

I sighed and turned away from the glass case, feeling like an intoxicated drunk who had been rebuffed at ordering his last pint. I cradled my own Leica like a new born as I began my usual mantra of why I would always be satisfied with just one Leica.. and the other two that had been shelved prior to my early morning departure.

As I was about to proceed out of the store I found myself face to face with a man in a suit sporting a murse and equipped with red dot on his lapel. The Leica Rep. His visage was that of a person who had been caught in a conversation with their grandmother about a fungal growth on her goitre. The cause of his countenance was an enthusiastic camera noob peppering him with questions about megapixels and Instagram filters.

As I went to step past his eyes widened at the sight of my M7, his demeanour changing suddenly from clammy to rhapsodic as he recognised a fellow luddite. “I love your camera strap!” Apparently I was to buy the drinks and say how often I come to this place. I tightened my grip on my Hardgraft leather and wool camera strap which comfortably grasped onto my chrome Leica M7 and Summicron 50, all of which was set off beautifully by my ebony Artisan Obscura soft release.

The conversation moved rapidly as though we were at Beach Club Café pretending to order a drinks. The mention of Leica’s, lenses and photographic intentions were numerous, and growing at a fantastic rate. The Visco app enthusiast stood awkwardly with a smile plastered on her face like a jilted bride on her wedding day. “I love lamp,” she may have mumbled.

The moment arrived when mutual admiration was trumped by insecurity. The global obstacle of two photographers wrestling to impress the other, but having no real foothold in their ability to astonish the other. The stalemate to which we had found ourselves lead to the situation I should have foreseen.The Leica Rep revealed his Holy Grail. The Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 ASPH.

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All sound within a kilometre radius ceased, birds stopped in mid-air and a little bit of pee may have worked its way down my leg. “I love lamp..” I mumbled. He handed the lens to me with a knowing winners smile. I felt it slowly pulse in my hand like a beating heart newly ripped out from someone’s innards ala Indiana Jones. In my hand was the unattainable, legendary, real, and more than what I could sell one of my children for. I had never had a moment like this one where I wished I could run as fast as Usain Bolt. “How would you like to try it out for a month, we have..” His voice trailed off as I stared at the Noctilux. My heart was beating so loud in my ears that I thought it was about to implode. “Sure, I’d be keen.” I squeaked.

I gingerly handed the Noctilux back and gave him my card. A brief handshake later and I walked out of the store feeling alive. Colours seemed more vibrant, my senses alive like I had never seen daylight before. I skipped down the street as a trail of Disney creatures followed me. Their joy reflected my own as I broke into song. I twirled around like a giddy school reaching the crescendo of my canticle. I felt incredible. I slept fitfully that night dreaming of bokeh, thousands of Facebook followers and my new job at Magnum.

I never heard from the Leica Rep again.

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Three Tough Leicas

imageThree Leicas on display at the Ginza Leica store in Tokyo. From right to left: a Leica II that deflected a bullet and saved the photographer’s life. The middle camera is a Leica II with lenses found in the Hindenburg wreckage. To the left is an SL2 MOT with Motor and 35 mm Summicron that fell 25,000 foot (7600 m) from a Phantom II fighter jet. Battered but in one piece, and deemed repairable by Leica.

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For Just $40,000 You Can Photograph Your Cat With a Titanium MP

 

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Above is a used Leica MP. It’s made of titanium. It’s currently for sale at the Miami Leica store for $39,995. First come, first served.

The Leica MP Titanium (0.72) camera was introduced in April 2007 to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the opening of Leica Store Ginza in Tokyo, Japan. It was produced exclusively for the Japanese market and was available only at the Ginza store in Japan. All exterior metal parts and fittings are made of titanium, similar to the Leica M7 Titanium and the Leica M9 Titan. The camera weighs approximately 90 grams less than a regular MP.  A signed (by then-CEO of Leica Steven Lee) certificate of authenticity is included.

Which gets me thinking: if I had $40,000 burning a hole in my pocket and I wanted a titanium 35mm film camera of exceptional quality, I could always go to Ebay and pick up a nice titanium Contax G1 for less than $125. And I’d still have $39,875 left for film. Of course, it’s not a Leica, but it’s a damn fine camera with a host of truly exceptional dedicated Zeiss lenses, each the equal of the latest stratospherically priced Leica offerings. And it has ‘modern’ features that the Leica lacks, like Auto Focus and Auto Exposure and a built in motor drive, all housed in a beautiful titanium body, just like the $40k MP. But that’s not the point, is it?

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“Collectors,” the sort of people who would buy a titanium MP, aren’t buying one so they can use it to take pictures. You’re not going to see a stubbled photojournalist pulling one from a beat up rucksack in some third world hot spot. I get that. And, given the crazy prices collectible Leicas go for, you can easily make the argument that a titanium MP might be a pretty safe investment. But….

Being old enough to remember when beat up Leicas were routinely pulled out of rucksacks in third world hot spots, I’m still emotionally married to the idea of the Leica as a functioning photographic tool. Call me a relic, but that’s why they’ve always appealed to me: traditional Leicas – the M2, M3, M4, and to a lesser extent the M5 and M6 – were the simplest of photographic tools. Nothing more than the strictly necessary features, nothing that presumed to do the thinking for you. Of course, that minimalist ethic is long dead photographically. Pick up the latest issue of PDN and every young up and coming hotshot has a big plasticky Nikon or Canon with a lens the size of an RPG launcher draped around his or her neck, extolling the necessity of its’ 100 Point Matrix Auto Focus. Or, even more depressing, go over to Rangefinder Forum or your favorite photo forum and join the discussion about which bag goes best with your M240 and attached Noctilux; while there, you can post pictures of your cat taken at full aperture.

Maybe its this obscene denigration of Leica’s real history that has caused throw back Leicas like the titanium MP to have become fetish objects commanding insane prices, collectors attempting to hearken back to an era where cameras were not computers but simple, reliable mechanical instruments. In my mind, however, a better way to scratch that itch is a buy a “real” Leica, a beat up M4, say, on Ebay. You can find beautiful examples for under $1000, cameras you’ll actually use to photograph things. With the money you’ve saved, you can travel the world for a few years all the while documenting your travels with your beloved M4. Or you can just stay home and photograph your cat with your Noctilux wide open. Either way, you win. And you’ll have plenty of money left for that fancy Filson bag.

 

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Justifying the Purchase of a Leica

In one version of our lives, childhood is a series of deprivations and desires whereby we want things we can’t have, some of which we grow out of or just forget. In my case, I was seized with heartache when I entered the newly opened 8,000-square-foot Leica store on Beverly Boulevard at Robertson in West Hollywood. Until then, I had forgotten how much I wanted to own a Leica….

…My own passion for photography and for cameras was kindled by a summer job, at 13,  in a midtown Manhattan camera store run by Hungarian Jewish émigrés. Back then, there was a hierarchy to everything, including desire. The serious young photographer graduated from taking snapshots to a single-lens reflex camera, such as a Mamiya Sekor (popular among my friends), or, if you were more affluent, a Pentax. From there you graduated to an Olympus, and then a Nikon. Professionals used professional versions of the Nikon — which were all black. For the truly discerning, however, the object of desire was the Leica.

The Leica felt solid and was fully manual (a plus to the camera geek), allowing for maximum choice, and therefore, maximum artistic control in each photo. It sat in your hand with a satisfying heft, a solidness that spoke to its seriousness of purpose. To me, it was the embodiment of the schwarzgerat (literally “the black device”), a finely tooled exemplar of German engineering so satisfying in its design and manufacture, so intelligently made, that its use gave pleasure and conferred status and excellence on the user. The reverence in which the schwarzgerat is held has been central to several contemporary classics such as the black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 or the secret component in the searched-for rocket in Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow.” I aspired to the Leica, although I knew it was way out of my league. 

Everything about it said “German,” which might have added to its forbidden-fruit status, as my parents, Holocaust memories ever fresh, didn’t buy German. However, just as the overwhelming quality of the product convinced some Jews to drive Mercedes and BMWs, particularly after Israel accepted the wiedergutmachung — reparations from Germany — Leica was adopted by many Jewish photographers, among them Robert Capa and Cornell Capa.

Jewish guilt was further assuaged by an e-mail that has been making the rounds for the last several years (I’ve received it as least three times from three different sources), variously referred to as “Leica and the Jews” or “The Leica Freedom Train.” The e-mail tells of how, as the Nazis came to power, Ernst Leitz II, son of the founder, arranged for his Jewish employees to leave Germany. He strung Leicas over their necks and dubbed them Leica sales agents, allowing them to obtain travel visas when those were increasingly hard to get. The cameras themselves served as proof and were a valuable commodity upon arrival in a foreign land. In many cases, Leitz personally arranged introductions to photo businesses in the United States and other countries for his employees. This continued until 1939, when Germany closed its borders to all Jews. Even after that, Leitz’s daughter was involved in helping to smuggle Jews into Switzerland. As Protestants, Leitz said, it was just the right thing to do and he never sought any acclaim for his actions. 

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A spirit more truculent than mine might point out that Leica did not close its factories under the Reich, or move its operations to the United States or England — to the contrary, Leica optics were very valuable to the German war effort, and Leitz remained a Nazi party member. And although the company was never convicted of using slave labor, in 1988 it voluntarily paid into a fund set up for German companies to compensate former slave laborers. But this does not make what Leica did for its Jewish employees prior to 1939 any less true: Those “Leica Jews,” their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive because of the opportunity Leitz gave them…

…For many years, though, Leica had been off my radar. Then  I walked into the Leica megastore, a gleaming cube, replete with an upstairs gallery space showing the works of celebrated portrait photographer Mary Ellen Mark, Seal (yes, the singer, who is a brand ambassador for the company, as well as an accomplished photographer with special access to nude models lying on hotel room beds) and Yariv Milchan, the landscape and celebrity photographer (whose Hollywood connection is genetic — his father is entertainment mogul Arnon Milchan). It also houses a bookstore selling rare and well-chosen photo books, curated by Martin Parr of Magnum. And, finally, there are the cameras…

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….One might think this would be the worst possible time to be selling expensive cameras.  In the last few years, images made using smartphones and iPhones posted on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have made everyone a photographer or a photodiarist of their meals, pets, friends and selves. Hasn’t digital and the Internet disrupted and leveled photography?

James Agnew, the store’s general manager, sees it differently. He believes the ubiquity of photos has created a backlash, and he believes there is “overall a return to the tradition of photography and a renewed call for quality cameras and images.”

What became clear from talking with Agnew — who prior to opening this new Leica store, worked for such luxury retailers as Giorgio Armani, Chanel and Van Cleef & Arpels — is that Leica is positioning itself as a luxury company. We live in a society where driving a Bentley rather than a Prius (or, rather, driving a Bentley in addition to a Prius) is a choice that the marketplace supports. So, for every 1,000 or 10,000 iPhone photo enthusiasts, there will be some who crave, or succumb to, the quality and the allure of a Leica.

And if they can’t afford one, then, like me, they can spend time at the beautiful new Leica megastore, lusting for excellence.

Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. His blog can be found at jewishjournal.com/tommywood.

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