I Don’t Need Anything But This Leica…and This Notebook

Being both a photographer (documentary/street) and a writer (stand-up comedy/screenplays), I came to the realization that there is a correlation between the two. Because both require something of me. See, I carry a Leica and notebook everywhere I go.

When my parents took photographs when I was growing up, they took them out at Christmas, at the Jersey Shore, at backyard birthday parties. Maybe they pulled out a Kodak Hawkeye or Retina IIIc, then they put the camera away until the next big occasion.

The photofinishers famously said, “Many rolls were snow, sand, snow!”

That’s one way to use a camera–bring it out when you expect to see something “photo-worthy”, though in this phone-crazed world, that’s everything and all the time. I don’t mean shooting your lunch. So, disregarding how most people use phone cameras–more as diaries like where they parked their car, or a pic of a receipt–typically folks use cameras for special occasions.

But I have one in my pocket (IIIf fits nicely with its collapsible lens in my front jeans pocket), or over my shoulder (typically an M2, M6 or M9) all the time. Friends and family wouldn’t recognize me without one.

The difference is I’m not looking for a special occasion. I’m not taking it out to photograph.

My friends might bring a DSLR to a backyard party, but would not usually bother to take photos at Tuesday night dinner. I have my camera at Tuesday’s dinner and every dinner every evening.


Same with my notebook. For when an idea strikes, I can write it down before I forget it. That’s so important. But I think something else is happening when I carry these items. Almost like luring the muse, asking for inspiration to find me.

The Leica and the notebook are attractors. Like magnets to metal. They bring the photographs and writing ideas to me.

If I were to leave without a notebook, my subconscious doesn’t have to be on the lookout for ideas. It knows I have no way to record them. But if the notebook is in my pocket, the ideas come. I don’t know how they do, but they do.

If I were to go out without a camera, I don’t have to look for possible photographs. Even peripherally. At the most, all I’ll see are the ones I would have missed, so better to discount everything before really taking a good look, not to get disappointed in not being ready to take the shot.

So, for me, the object, the camera and the notebook are much more than devices for photography and writing. They’re an agreement for my creative, my subconscious, to be watching and listening, because I’m ready and open to their input, their awareness.

I don’t go out to take photographs. Or to write.

But I do. Both.



Kenneth Wajda is a photographer who loves old cameras, film photography, and storytelling with images.  Kenneth hoots with a Leica IIIf, M3, M6, Rolleiflex 3.5F, Hasselblad 500c/m, Nikon F3, among others.  Sometimes digital too, with a Leica M8 and a Fuji X100.

Street Photography: http://ColoradoFaces.com
The Wise Photo Project: http://TheWisePhotoProject.com

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11 thoughts on “I Don’t Need Anything But This Leica…and This Notebook

  1. Leicaphila Post author


    Your comments about carrying a notebook resonate with me. It’s the best way to document those stray thoughts that sometimes morph into real insights. Usually they go right past us and we only think of them again when we encounter them via other people….and then we think, “I should have thought of that!” I like, too, your documenting things with a film camera. My phone photos are so ubiqitous as to be non-existent. My film photos seem more concrete, more real. I like that, even if it is simply a state of mind.

  2. Dan J Castelli

    Hi Ken,
    We may be twin sons of different mothers –
    I carry a small canvas Domke bag with my Leica CL (film) and a small notebook. The bag is mostly for transportation. It stays in the car, and the camera gets slung over my shoulder. I bulk load my HP-5 in ‘short rolls’ so I can take the film out at the end of the day (usually around 12-15 exps.) and process it. Notebook is used to note locations, the contact info of people I might photograph, or just ideas. Longer excursions and travel require different set-up, usually a M body and more film.
    This habit started back in 1983 (ish.) My wife & I were Christmas shopping. We crossed an intersection, and two utlity workers were in a manhole. One was sitting on the rim, the other was head first, feet up, working. “Yup, that’s a funny photo.” The next day I began to carry my camera with me everyplace I went. Today, when the locals in my small town see me, they check to see if I have a camera with me.
    I use the same rationalizations as you: “If I were to go out without a camera, I don’t have to look for possible photographs. Even peripherally. At the most, all I’ll see are the ones I would have missed, so better to discount everything before really taking a good look, not to get disappointed in not being ready to take the shot.”
    Thank you for being more articulate that I would ever be in explaining why comes to taking a camera everywhere.

    1. Stephen J

      Hat tip Dan, bulk load HP5 in short rolls.

      Thanks, I have always wasted far too much film, just trying to get to the end of the roll, and one of the reasons I have dabbled in MF, even though carrying around such gear and also raising the thing to the eye is both enervating and shouting, look at me, I am about to candidly snap you!

      Thanks too to Ken and yourself for the notebook idea, although that might be more tricky, as then I need my specs, old age creeps ever onward.

      1. Daniel Castelli

        It’s not the specs (or older age [68]) that bother me, it’s the fogging from the freaking mask I’m wearing every time I go out! Better than catching covid-19. And, I’m not into bleaching my insides like the man in the White House. So, mask it is!
        There is one downside to processing short rolls of film – you use the same amount of chemistry for a 16 exp. roll of film as a 36, but it’s a trade off I’m ok with.

  3. Kenenth Wajda

    Thanks! I also find if I think I’ll remember something when I get back home or to a notebook, it’s lost. I can never recall what it was, and that is so frustrating. So, like I used to never leave without a camera, now I’ve just added one more item, a small notebook, to that list of things to take.

  4. Rob Campbell

    Notebooks… carrying cameras every single day…

    Kids, it’s supposed to be fun, not military training! If I learned one thing in all these years it’s this: if something is meant for you it won’t go past you. Relax, take it easy, it’s already been planned out for you, which is why whenever you think you missed something, something else comes along that you don’t miss, and at the end of the day, unless monetary considerations come into play, one good shot’s absolutely as good a good shot as any other good shot you may make. Be cool, be happy and don’t fret.


  5. Rob Campbell

    Something else that often gets overlooked in these paeans to film is this: whether you use your little film camera or tiny digital toy, the question answered by aficionados of silver is the wrong question: it isn’t about the differences between film and grain or silky smoothness, it’s always the same problem in the end: content.

    Doubt that? Then take a look at the oeuvre of the late, lamented Deborah Turbeville, who made her name with film and grain and blur and all the organic mess that can be derived from film if you so desire:


    and then ask yourselves this: is it the grain that makes her work good, or is it the content? She was as capable of making smooth, non-controversial pictures as she was adept at turning out stylised “distressed” images, and she did both depending on clients. Ditto Sarah Moon. It’s a bit like football: folks swear allegiance to a team and are stuck with it/them for life. Better to stay free and use what turns you on on that particular day. Because it’s difficult doesn’t, of itself, make something better.

    It’s always content: if you can’t produce it, it doesn’t matter whether you fail on film or on digital: either way, you fail. That’s photography.


    1. Stephen J

      Uh huh, yes Rob, but I and I suspect others here use both, in the same way that Mr. Turner sometimes used watercolour and sometimes used oil or chalk.

      It isn’t the tools, but rather the mind, and as Turner is supposed to have said on his deathbed…

      The sun is god.

      1. Rob Campbell

        But what does using both prove, one way or the other, beyond the fact that some people still hang on to old technology just for fun? And what does it have to do with the fact that content is still key in all photographs?

        Turner may have had very sound reasons for his varied choices of medium; painting etc. is art beyond the photographic. There are not many reasons that come to mind that really favour film over digital. The only one I can grasp at the moment – the straw in the sea, you could say – is that were I having to photographing a low, hazy Sun, there’s a good chance film would pull it off in a more pleasing fashion. In one shot, that is; but that’s history for today’s people: they can merge several shots where we had to use ND grads (I’m bluffing here: never used one of those in my life – not my bag, as they used to say in olden days).

        Being of generous disposition, I have just come up with another circumstance where film may be more suitable: not being troubled by a sensor, one could safely assume that shots stopped way down wouldn’t reveal lumps of dust bunny that have to be retouched at some stage. In point of fact, and I hope and pray I don’t tempt Fate here – I have never cleaned a sensor by hand. I shoot usually wider than f4 , and f2 seems to be a favourite spot for me. Consequently, I don’t get to see many of those exotic rabbits, but the time I did was when I used a variable ND filter (nor a grad) so that I could get my little D200 to give me a slow enough shutter speed so that I could pay with blur. Unfortunately, I still had to close the lens too far, and hence the dusty rabbit. The D700 has a shaker device that’s supposed to remove dust when you switch on. As I automatically find myself switching off after each exposure, that thing must do a lot of shaking on the rare times the camera escapes from the cabinet. I gravitate towards the older D200 most times. I think that’s because of the way the 50mm works with the cropped sensor, and it’s become my go-to combination.

        Thank goodness this site exists; it offers things I find nowhere else.


        1. Stephen J

          Rob, as I understand things the significant difference between the painter and the photographer (or sculptor) is that for the painter, the creation can be a total artifice, whereas the photographer/sculptor starts with a “thing” or some material substance, be that a scene or a lump of stone, and chips away at that to reveal what is on his/her mind.

          I am reminded that Turner when visiting Venice, wanted to produce a work that included various features that the photographer would never be capable of producing. The position of the features were so widely distributed that however wide the angle of his lens, they could not be included, so he just moved them closer together, for his own ends.

          The only choice that the snapper has is to create a tryptych or collage, and the film photographer, especially one that wet prints is conscious of texture and as you suggest filters in order to slow the shutter, or alter the tonal balance. The digital camera is certainly capable of reproducing the effects of filtration, but not texture, or the unending real dynamic range, it just whites out when the algorithm reaches its zenith (or nadir)… The analogue whites keep getting whiter, the blacks get endlessly blacker.

          This might in the practical scientific mind be merely subjective, but in a recent discussion on TOP (offtopic) Johnston has just been converted to a fan of digitally streamed sources and has decided to flog his analogue sources and devote his listenening to the new form… Amazon HD (there are others too), I have used the French Qobuz for several years now.

          The engineers pop up and state that the human ear begins to lose its abilities throughout the human lifespan, and state that because of this, there is no point in bothering with fidelity as age creeps ever onward. To which I pointed out that there are many ways to skin a cat, we use more than just our ears to “hear” music.

          Otherwise, how else did Beethoven (I am sure there are other examples), produce such beautiful music, getting ever more beautiful the older and increasingly mutton that he became?

          A few years back, I bought myself a table top HMV gramphone. It was in poor condition, but a quick search on the web produced the original two page service manual, which I used to get the thing up to speed (as it were).

          It is not powered by electricity, but is clockwork, the vibrations are transferred through a steel or bamboo needle, through the soundbox at the end of the tonearm and are amplified by a folded horn. I don’t use it much, since I have yet to find enough old jazz, blues and classical records to avoid too much repetion of what I do have, but the experience is wonderful.

          The mind is unfathomable, creativity is endless, as is being a mere eavesdropper, or “audiophile”.

          The tools that we employ, do not lose their relevance, regardless of the commercial imperatives of the purveyors of the latest gadgets, as you yourself suggest at the end of your comment. You prefer the output from your D200 over your sparkly new D700!

          1. Rob Campbell

            I’m happy to learn that you are also a fan of classical jazz, which for me means New Orleans. My first buzz from jazz was via Bunk Johnson, Armstrong’s Hot Five and then Hot Seven. My bible during those early 50s was Jazz, by Rex Stewart. It made us kids a wee bit snobbish about pop, and when Earl Bostic’s Flamingo hit the hit parade, we all thought how terrible! A saxophone! What is this – Chicago? But a bloody great tune. I revisit it today, often, via youtube. However, when Haley’s Blackboard Jungle opener broke, that was it: the Bal Ami jukebox at the café close to our school won the battle for hearts and minds. Rock’n’Roll was real, for us, not a historical footnote. ( Ouch!!!) Of course, a lot of it was about we deprived Brit kids filled with envy of those lucky US teenagers we just knew were all driving around in glossy new cars (something proved years later in American Graffiti) whereas we were just lucky to have a bicycle. Vicarious living, baby! Of course, we could always catch a tram instead – and they could swing! (Oops; swing and jazz were also topics of tribal separation.) 🙂

            I got to see Armstrong in Glasgow – with his All Stars. Magical. Like Chuck Berry, who I also got to see there once, except that Chuck was too miserable to do an encore. I thought at the time of all those fucking albums I’d bought, and this was the payback: left hungry.

            I also went through a prolonged Frank Sinatra period; he could break my heart. I can no longer listen to that one about it being “a very good year”. I’m not hardened enough

            Today, my musical tastes are mostly built around R&B and also Swamp Pop from Louisiana. I loved Motown in the day… never felt a thing for classical music, ballet or opera, which my wife loved. I only like stuff that makes me want to get up and dance, not that I’m any hot dancer, but the feeling’s there. The Beach Boys did some magical stuff too. I still adore boogie woogie. Looking back at all of this, I’m pushed to question whether it was the music or the times, the periods during my life, times that were spiritually a lot better than they are now, living in Spain notwithstanding. As for popular music – I gave up completely when punk came to call. My son enjoyed it.

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