Memory, Narration and Curation in Photography by Mick Yates

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In recent meetings and photo shoots with friends, I have been attempting to self-appraise my photography – when do I shoot my best work, when do I not? Perhaps a little presumptuously, what is my signature style, when am I doing a good job? And therefore what should I focus on in 2015?

Having been a “serious” photographer my entire post-teenage life, it has probably been too easy to slip into travel snaps, family record keeping and simple reportage. In the past eighteen months, I have been getting into “street” photography quite seriously (and even published on the subject). Yet, it does seem that a little more thought is required, before pressing that shutter release.

So, how should we think of our “photographic voice“?

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A perfect place to start is “The Decisive Moment” (1952) by Henri Cartier-Bresson, just re-published in a superb edition. I was lucky enough to receive this as a Christmas present.

My favourite paragraph?

“Memory is very important, particularly in respect to the recollection of every picture you’ve taken while you’ve been galloping at the speed of the scene itself. The photographer must make sure, while he is still in the presence of the unfolding scene, that he hasn’t left any gaps, that he has really given expression to the meaning of the scene in its entirety, for afterward it is too late. He is never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again.”

Whilst Cartier-Bresson is adamantly against the “shoot everything as fast as you can” approach that is used by so many with high-speed DSLRs (myself included), he absolutely advocates extracting the maximum possible meaning from the scene presented to the photographer.

He goes on to say:

“There is subject in all that takes place in the world, as well as in our personal universe. We cannot negate subject. It is everywhere So we must be lucid toward what is going on in the world, and honest about what we feel.

Subject does not consist of a collection of facts, for facts in themselves offer little interest. Through facts, however, we can reach an understanding of the laws that govern them, and be better able to select the essential ones which communicate reality.”

So the subject is all important, but the reality of the subject isn’t a simple depiction.

I have also been reading John Berger’s “Understanding a Photograph” (1967), where he addresses “memory” in photography.

“I am not saying that memory is a kind of film. That is a banal simile. … Unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. They offer appearances – with all the credibility and gravity we normally lend to appearances – prised away from meaning. Meaning is the result of understanding functions.”

“Photographs in themselves do not narrate. Photographs preserve instant appearances. Habit now protects us against the shock involved in such preservation.”

Simply capturing an image, however technically skilled, without giving it a meaning is not enough. Narration is needed.

Berger also notes:

“Memory is not unlinear at all. Memory works radially, that is too say with an enormous number of associations all leading to the same event.”

And

“When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future. … Yet unlike the storyteller or painter or actor, the photographer only really makes, in any one photograph, a single constitutive choice: the choice of the instant to be photographed. The photograph, compared with other means of communication, is therefore weak in intentionality.”

Looking at an image as a mere “instance” isn’t enough to provide any real meaning.

In reviewing my own work, I “feel” most comfortable when telling a story. Une histoire. In recent times, two of my images seem the most satisfactory in this regard, both offering a pictorial examination of an “event”.

The first I have referenced before, showing a short-lived interplay between worlds at a pedestrian crossing, in Dublin. There’s lots of context and content in this shot – layered memories perhaps. I just love the expression on the girl’s faces, and the almost “defiant” attitude of the ‘lady”.

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The second, in Glasgow, was taken late at night in the rain, with two young women, obviously seeking a party, sheltering together almost against the odds.

There is context and layered content, and a capture that tried to sum things up at that exact time for the two women.

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Both are telling a story. And, interestingly, both are amongst my most liked recent pictures on social media. Of course, one should never be swayed by false praise (how do we value “likes”?), but it does seem to me that art is so often “in the eye of the beholder”, whatever the artist’s intent, so it is a useful view about how others see images.

Berger led me to read more, including Susan Sontag, in On Photography (1977)

“ … such [photographic] images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real.”

This seems to underpin the idea that the photographer is interpreting the real, as a photograph combines both gritty reality at that moment, and the artist’s interpretation or composition built around it – the “memory” he or she is attempting to create.

That said, Sontag also noted:

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”

If people are never “seen as themselves”, in a sense their very existence is being curated, moment by moment, by the photographer.

The photographer should thus, at least in a  “street” sense, be about both narration (the story) and curation (the moment of memory that is chosen). And the subjects are captured almost like Schrödinger’s Cat – you only see their true reality in that exact moment of capture, however much you might like to ponder the before and the after.

Berger’s references to other forms of communication led to Berthold Brecht, where I found this passage appropriate.

“Portrayal of Past and Present in One” 

Stand out, without in the process hiding

What you are making it stand out from. Give your acting

That progression of one-thing-after-another, that attitude of

Working up what you have taken on. In this way

You will show the flow of events and also the course

Of your work, permitting the spectator

To experience this Now on many levels, coming from

Previously and

Merging into Afterwards, also having much else now

Alongside it. He is sitting not only

In your theatre but also

In the world.

From John Willett, Brecht’s translator, attributed to poems Brecht wrote between 1947-1953.

The photographer’s job is thus very much like the actor’s. Both want to involve their audience, even though they use different means.

The photographer, though, unlike the actor, can only involve the viewer by curating the most appropriate moment. A fragment of time (or perhaps a series of fragments), rather than an extended performance.

Yet in that fragment of time, there must be both depiction of the reality of the moment, with enough narration (content, context) in the composition to suggest to the viewer that they can see beyond that very same moment, both past and future.

That will truly engage the viewer.

A sound challenge for 2015!

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Images taken with either Leica M9-P or Leica M-P, processed in Color Efex Pro. Henri probably wouldn’t approve, but he did say colour was in its infancy when he was writing in 1952 …

Leica M6 TTL, Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 pictured.

Mick Yates

http://micksphotoblog.com/

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The Leica Meet Skye – just 8 weeks to go… two spaces left…

Isle of Skye – Leica Meet – Mar 8th – 11th

These routes have been chosen to allow for multiple options to stop/shoot on the way. But as always bear in mind that the schedule is flexible and weather dependent. This is a festival of seeing, shooting, sharing, socialising…. and when you get back and process your images – celebrating!

Mar 8th – Sunday

Mar 9th – Monday

  • 6.00: meet for coffee/biscuits. Sunrise and explore coastline and local landscape.
  • 8/8.30: return for b/fast at lodge
  • 9.30: depart for Elgol on West Coast. The village of Elgol, on the shores of Loch Scavaig, has a wonderful rocky coastline with magnificent views out to the Inner Hebrides & across to the Black Cuillin range. This is a scenic drive including multiple stopping options along the way for mountains, abandoned church, lochs. Circa 1 hour on beach taking classic views.
  • 12.30: lunch at cafe in Elgol.
  • 1.30: possible trip in to see Fairy Pools or similar lesser known location, head North to Fiskavaig bay for sunset over the sea & islands of Bracadale Bay. Again options to stop/shoot
  • 7.00: return to Sconser and dinner at the lodge

Mar 10th – Tuesday

  • 6.00: meet for coffee/biscuits, dawn shots at Sligachan where an early 19th century picturesque stone bridge crosses the river that carries the water down from the Cuillin. This is a classic setting. Water cascading over a stony river bed with the surrounding hills as a backdrop.
  • 8.30: b/fast back at hotel and re-pack
  • 9.30: drive to Neist Point, the most westerly point on the Duirinish Peninsula. With its lighthouse perched on vertical cliffs it forms one of the iconic Skye vistas.
  • 12.30: pub lunch en route
  • 1.30: drive to the Northern part of the island (via Faerie Glen) eventually for sunset over the Outer Hebrides.
  • 7.00: check into Beinn Edra House: http://www.valtosskye.co.uk/bedandbreakfast.html
  • Dinner at Lodge tba

Mar 11th – Wednesday

  • 6.30am dawn shots along the Flodigarry/Staffin coastline
  • 8.30: b/fast at hotel and re-pack
  • 9.30: drive to the iconic Old Man of Storr (a rocky outcrop with interesting pinnacles that are the remnants of ancient landslips). It’s eastern face looks across the Sound of Rassay
  • Lunch is on the go and around 11.00 we need to start watching the clock. We need to be on the bridge back to the mainland by 12.30 latest to get back to Inverness airport by 3.00 pm for flights back.

Each person is responsible for getting to Inverness airport, costs of accomodation, food and drink. The hotels will be pre-booked at the following costs: Sconsor Lodge £65 single room p night for two nights. Beinn Edra House, £45 single room for one night. Additionally there is a charge of £300 pp for the driver/guide, 8 seater minibus, collect/return to Inverness airport, available pre-sunrise to post sunset each day.

Any queries or questions please contact me on olafwilloughby@gmail.com

The new Leica X (type 113) by Jonathan Slack

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Introduction 
In 2009 Leica surprised everyone by bringing out an autofocus camera with an 12mp APSc sensor and a fixed 35mm equivalent f2.8 lens. In 2012 they refined the concept in the same body, releasing the X2, this time with a 16mp sensor and better response times, with the option of using an optional external viewfinder (a 1.44m dot unit.)
The X-Vario came in 2013, this had the same sensor as the X2 in a slightly larger body with a 28-70mm (equivalent) lens. Leica designed the lens for optimum optical performance in a small package; the compromise needed to make this possible was to make the lens variable aperture and rather slow (f3.5 – f6.4). The LCD was upgraded to a 920k dot unit, and the X-Vario used the same EVF as the Leica X2 and the Leica M (typ 240).
The X-Vario received a mixed reception as a result of the slow lens, and some questionable publicity material. However, it has come to be much appreciated by lots of photographers as an elegant and no-nonsense travel camera with really fantastic image quality. The recent firmware update has improved the camera further.
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This brings me to Leica’s newest X camera – code named Anna-Louisa, but now to be the Leica X (typ 113). It uses the same basic body as the X-Vario but with a fixed 35mm equivalent f1.7 lens.
I’ve been testing the camera since July, including a 2 week trip to Crete (where this article is being written). As a tester for Leica, my allegiance is to Leica, and if I find things wrong with the camera, then my duty is to tell Leica about it rather than the world in general. On the other hand, Leica have never had any influence over what I write, and I wouldn’t dream of saying anything that I don’t consider to be absolutely true.
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The Body
The Leica X (typ 113) is a small 16mp APSc camera with a fixed lens: the 23mm f1.7 Summilux Aspherical. The body is just a little smaller than a classic M6. Like the other X cameras it has shutter speed and Aperture dials on the top plate, together with a video button. Setting the Aperture dial to A gives you Shutter priority, setting the Shutter speed dial to A gives you Aperture priority and setting both to A gives you program mode.
The rear of the camera has the same large 920,000 dot LCD as the X-Vario. On the right hand side it has a thumbwheel which also serves as a thumb rest. There is also a three way switch; up for exposure compensation, left for self timer and right for flash settings (this only works when the popup flash is popped up). In the centre is the Info button which changes the display settings. The thumb wheel and the switch are now in black (unlike the chrome of the X-Vario).
On the left hand side of the LCD are the buttons with the same layout as the X-Vario, from the top
Play
Delete / Focus (delete in Play mode, focus options when in AF mode)
WB (White Balance)
ISO
Menu/Set
The whole setup is elegant and well thought through: both flexible and straightforward.
The only other change from the X-Vario is the hot-shoe. This is the same as the Leica T, with the EVF connector in the inside edge; the Typ 113 uses the same Visoflex EVF as the Leica T with a 2.36 million dot unit (probably the same basic unit as the Sony A7, the Olympus E-M1 and the Fuji X-T1).
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The Lens
Finally! A fast lens in a Leica X camera, and this lens is a real cracker – it’s a 23mm f1.7 (35mm equivalent). It’s commendably small, and has internal focusing, so that it doesn’t change length, either when the camera is switched on, or during focusing. It has a proper manual focus ring, with a distance scale, unlike the normal ‘focus by wire’ found on similar, small, fixed focal length cameras. Auto Focus is enabled by turning the focus ring beyond infinity (there is a firm detent).
The lens focuses right down to 20cm, although (like the Leica T) the maximum aperture is reduced to f2.8 at the closest focus distance to ensure the best image quality
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Ergonomics and Operation
Although larger than the X1 and X2, many will feel that Anna-Louisa is the perfect size for street and travel photography. The thumb wheel housing acts as a good stability aid (smaller but almost as good as the winder lever on an M6) and the controls are perfectly clear and obvious; there are no programmable buttons, and the only button which changes it’s function is the Delete/Focus button.
Of course, it would be nice to have a built in EVF, but the new Visoflex works well with the camera. Unlike the old EVF on the Leica M and the X-Vario it has an eye level sensor, so there is no need to press a button to change from LCD to EVF.
Anna-Louisa is certainly no sports camera, but it is responsive and there are no obvious delays when shooting.
The shutter is almost silent and shutter lag is minimal. Auto focus is quick (although less reliable at closest focus and infinity – hopefully this can be improved with a firmware update). Manual focus with the proper focus ring is a joy, and although the camera doesn’t have Focus Peaking, it does have the central square zoom in focus assist of the X-Vario.
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Conclusion
The new arrangement with the higher resolution EVF and the eye sensor LCD/EVF transfer are real improvements over the X-Vario. Added to this all the good points of the X-Vario in terms of controls and ergonomics have been retained.
To my mind the Leica X (Typ 113) is the X camera come of age. Straightforward and logical operation coupled with a familiar form factor and a wonderful fast lens. It doesn’t offer the bells and whistles of some of the competition, but it does offer manual control of Shutter Speed, Aperture, Focusing, White Balance, ISO and exposure compensation all with labelled controls, it also has the fastest lens in it’s class.
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Paris and a Leica, a marriage made in heaven

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The Leica Meet on Aug 27th in Paris was a special event for two reasons. Firstly it was a genuinely international Meet. We had members visiting from Germany, Holland, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Switzerland, UK and of course France. Secondly it celebrated our first year as a group! A year in which three guys who didn’t even know one another when they met to shoot along the South Bank of the Thames in Aug 2013, then went on to set up a Facebook page and website with a membership currently approaching 5,000. Paul Borg Oliver decided to nickname Stephen, Gavin and myself, ‘the three musketeers’ and that was particularly appropriate as we were in Paris.

Fuelled by coffee/croissants courtesy of The Leica Store Paris we set out to explore this wonderful city. With around 36 people it wasn’t practical to walk together so we split into groups and periodically met up. Fortunately we had Laurent Scheinfeld, James Kezman and Cyrille Bailly who lived in Paris and showed members, areas with different characteristics. With the occasional stop for coffee plus lunch the day bubbled along with newly made friendships. It was fascinating to note the variety of seeing and shooting styles from zone focusing/holding the camera anywhere except at eye level, to asking permission, engaging with the subject and becoming part of the process. Conversations ranged far and wide but always came back to Leica and no doubt several items have been added to several wish lists.

The brief was simply to shoot our personal interpretation of the areas we visited. Although we had ample opportunity for urban landscape and architecture, the magic of Paris is in the street. The city seems to have a joyous energy that effects both tourists and locals. With so many opportunities all around, most of us shot in the Street genre. It was here the Leica M series blossomed. They seemed tailor made for this kind of environment. Relatively small and light in weight and bulk, the camera gets out of the way so we can get on with making the image. A marriage made in heaven. As you’ll see from the accompanying gallery we have some very talented photographers in our group and we’re proud of the work created in a just a few short hours.

We’d agreed to meet back at The Leica Store at 18.00. We expected ‘some wine and cheese’. But we were in a for a shock. There were four different wines, six different cheeses, cold meats and hand made chocolates! The generosity and hospitality of Gaelle and Emmanuele from the Leica Store was amazing and truly appreciated. We could not have asked for a better end to the day.

We like to say that our Meets are not workshops. There are no teachers and no students. However the reality is that if you are open minded there is always something to be learned from someone in such a creative group.

As for the three musketeers; we would like to say a huge thank you to all our members who attended and made it so enjoyable. We missed the fourth musketeer, D’artagnan (aka Eileen McCarney Muldoon) who is based in Rhode Island, USA.

However,  she is more than compensating by running a Leica Meet in Boston on Oct 15th. It’s called the Boston T Party to celebrate Leica making some complimentary Model T cameras available for the day. Check it out it’s going to be a creative and enjoyable day. One for all and all for one!

Olaf Willoughby

http://theleicameet.com/paris-2014.html

I Want to See the Tower by Laurent Scheinfeld

Some of the most rewarding aspects of The Leica Meet are the new friendships and the remarkable talent we encounter. One such person is Laurent Scheinfeld, a Paris based photographer with a unique perspective on that iconic travel destination, the Eiffel Tower. Here he describes his fascinating project.

Millions of people dream to see the Eiffel Tower. Trocadero esplanade, which undoubtly is the best view point for admiring the Tower, counts several millions of tourists from all over the world, every year. Surprisingly, the dream becomes reality and the place then offers a strange ballet of people shooting themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower, playing with its image as if it was a goal in life to get their own picture in a posed or grotesque attitude in front of the Tower. I love my native town Paris and I love the Eiffel Tower. Through a social and psychological analysis of the viewers, I try to catch the decisive moment when the people and the Tower are in harmony; the Towers’ ubiquity disappears and leaves the viewers in a state of grace.  Is there anyone on Earth who didn’t one day say, “I want to see the Tower?”

Watch out for my ‘Meet the Leica Meet’ interview with Laurent on The Leica Blog later this year. Olaf.

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Making it Happen. Photographing the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble by Olaf and Gavin

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My iPhone pinged and purred. The message was from Chris Marrington of Charlie Bravo Advertising in Johannesburg. It read, ‘Olaf, when are you back in the UK? Got a job that might interest you but it may not be possible to pull it off in time’. As I was chilling in the sun on the very lovely Church St in Burlington, Vermont the option of work didn’t seem too attractive but the idea of a challenge was too intriguing to pass up.

The brief was to arrange a video/stills shoot for the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble who would perform in a public space in London on July 18th, the to celebrate the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. They had just completed a UK concert tour funded by the Client, South African property investment company, Redefine. Buskaid raises money so that impoverished children in the township of Soweto can learn to play classical stringed instruments.

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Ideally the space would be Trafalgar Square as it is close by South Africa House. There were twenty eight musicians and two singers. The four cellists needed chairs and they needed to be on the bus to Heathrow at 10.00. The date of the message was July 2nd. Time to spare 🙂

With the Client in Johannesburg and me in Burlington we needed someone on the ground who could make this happen. And here all credit goes to my good friend, Leica Meet co-founder, DJ and music industry photographer Gavin Mills. A couple of Facebook msg’s and the game was on.

Gavin, over to you…….

……. organising this event was clearly a challenge. But after looking at online videos/info about the ‘Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble’ and finding out the great work they do, I wanted more than ever to help make this happen.

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First job. Get permission. With a professional group and corporate sponsorship, we couldn’t take the risk of turning up and being told to move on. I discovered that Trafalgar square is managed by two separate bodies. The GLA (Great London Authority ) control the Square while Westminster Council look after the terrace and the area around the square. The Terrace seemed right. A classical string orchestra with the National Gallery as a backdrop, a good match.

Getting the licence was a little more difficult than imagined. In July, the events department were inundated with Summer fixtures. I completed all the appropriate forms but the waiting times were too long for our deadline. I must have driven them mad, calling every day, (I was on first name basis with most of the department by now) but there was now only a week to go.

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Meantime I organised the film and sound crew. I called Mark Kemp (link below) who specialises in short promotional films and covers events for companies like Agent Provocateur and Fashion TV as well as some of my own music events. Mark introduced me to sound recordist, Jassim (link below) who had one of the most difficult challenges of all, recording a full string orchestra in an open air space full of traffic and tourist noise, with only minutes to test sound levels. He was up for the challenge.

All we needed now was a licence and we were all set. Disaster struck when, with less than a week to go, the council refused permission.

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After all that work, we weren’t going to give in and I spoke with the decision makers. They explained they already have problems with too many buskers, many of whom are illegal.

I countered that Buskaid is different. It is a good cause, our musicians had performed for royalty at Queen Elizabeth Hall the previous night. All we were asking for was thirty minutes on a Friday morning to celebrate Nelsons Mandela’s Birthday. The council gave us permission. Perfect!

We had our permit and our team. It felt like the Magnificent Seven, except we were six. Mark and Kathy on video, Jassim and Joao on sound. Olaf and I on stills.

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Olaf chose a 24mm Summilux and 90mm APO , whilst I had my Voigtlander 15mm and a choice of 35mm lux/50mm Cron for a standard lens.

Although we both shoot with Leica M series cameras, our different approaches, meant we captured different aspects of the performance. Olaf is a ‘less is more’ kind of photographer, images telling a story in a less obvious way. Using a 90mm he would get close up shots of the band as individuals.

My brief was to capture the Orchestra in our majestic surroundings as an entire scene as well as catching special moments.

It was useful working as a pair with so many musicians and so much action. We couldn’t be in the right place the whole time. Instinctively if Olaf was shooting a particular angle I’d think that was covered and find another shot. It seemed to flow naturally. Perhaps because we already photographed together at Leica Meet events.

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Olaf, back to you…….

……. Our one nightmare was the weather. There is no shelter on the part of Trafalgar Square where we were performing and the stringed instruments couldn’t get wet. So waking on July 18th to pale grey skies and drizzle looked like a bad omen. Our team arrived early and we started setting up. We were supposed to film the musicians getting off the bus for the start to the video, but the call never came. So our first introduction was when a group wearing white Buskaid T shirts and huge smiles ambled across the square to say hi.

 

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The mood immediately lifted. The spirit of these talented young musicians filled the air and refused to dampened even when rain threatened. We improvised a new opening introduction by the Buskaid organiser and magically, right on cue, the sun broke through at 9.00, the time our permit allowed us to start filming. It is impossible to put into words the positive energy generated by the Soweto String Ensemble.

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Their enthusiasm is infectious, a foot tapping crowd gathered within minutes and there were four TV station interviewers present. Ordinarily, in spite of having a permit, we might have expected trouble from the authorities or stewards but when I explained what we were doing to a police officer, he replied, ‘Its great, take as long as you like mate’.

This was one of those commercial jobs which is both a pleasure and a privilege. It all came together seamlessly. A pro team, a great Client and a very worthwhile cause.

Somehow I couldn’t resist the thought that Nelson Mandela looked down and smiled upon us that day

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Here’s a link to the video we shot in You Tube

 

You can find out more about Buskaid’s great work here. https://www.buskaid.org.za/

Here’s the agency which had the original idea: charliebravo.co.za

 

With thanks to our team:

Mark on video: http://www.mkproductions.co.uk/

Jassim on sound: http://www.soundgood.biz/

Gavin: http://www.gavinmillsphotography.com/

Olaf: http://olafwilloughby.com/

We can make your brief happen, contact us at: gav@gavinmillsphotography.com and olafwilloughby@gmail.com

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Using manual focus lenses on the Leica T

Introduction

For several years I’ve been trying out legacy lenses on a variety of cameras. It’s great to be able to reinstate some of the lovely older lenses. I also have an unhealthy collection of M lenses, and although they mostly get used on my M cameras, it’s good to use them on other cameras as well.

I’ve tried using M lenses on the Sony A7 (quite good) A7r (not so good) Fuji X-T1, Olympus E-M1 and various other cameras. Some cameras produce colour casts with wider angle lenses, especially full frame cameras. None of them include the lens information in the exif – which is not quite a show stopper, but is irritating.  In the end I’d mostly given up on it – too many compromises, and most of the cameras worked better with their native lenses. An interesting experiment, but not that interesting!

When the Leica T came along last Autumn, and the Leica M adapter T and EVF appeared around Christmas time I was expecting to be enthused for a short while, and then rapidly run out of enthusiasm.  Not So Fast!

The first wonder was that the Leica Adapter T saves the exif data relating to the lens if it’s 6 bit coded – this is great – I like to know what I’ve been shooting with, I’m much to lazy to make a note of it, and not nearly clever enough to work it out from the image. Of course, this doesn’t work if you stack adapters – as in the example below, where I used a Leica M to R adapter on the Leica T to M adapter.

Semaphore

Semaphore – Lecia 60mm Macro Elmarit R

Focus Assistance.

Very soon after the introduction of mirrorless cameras with Electronic Viewfinders (EVF), various electronic focus helpers were introduced.

Zoom to Focus (The T has this)

Initially this seems like a great idea – point somewhere, zoom in, check the focus, zoom out take picture. . . Fine on a tripod, not so useful otherwise, as either you will have moved . . or your subject will, or both.

Added to which any idea of the composition of an image you might have has completely gone. With most cameras you can choose where to zoom in – with the T you can only zoom in to the centre spot, making it even more problematic (especially with lenses with a curved focus plane, in which case focus and recompose doesn’t work. either).

The Look

The Look – Leica 50mm Noctilux @ f0.95

Focus Peaking (the T doesnt have this)

The holy grail – at least, I thought it was, and was very adamant that it should be implemented on the M(240) – which it was. It seems like the perfect solution, as it shows you areas which are in focus without having to destroy the composition by zooming in and out.

But now I’m less convinced; it LOOKS good, but there are issues with it as well. Higher contrast areas are more likely to show in focus than low contrast areas. Worse than this, it’s almost imperative to focus wide open and then stop down – hardly the modus operandi for catching the ‘decisive moment’. The final problem is that it’s not always very accurate either.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that focus peaking isn’t sometimes useful, but having been a devout advocate I’m now much more equivocal about it’s use.

So, what’s a guy to do – his new camera has the zoom in, zoom out option (nicely implemented) but no focus peaking!

Exp[losion

Explosion – Lecia 50mm Noctilux @ f0.95 on the new Leica Macro Adapter M

The Bride

The Bride – Lecia 50mm Noctilux @ about f2.0

The Solution

Having rather fallen in love with the T, I really did want to use some of my lovely M and R glass on it, I don’t like magnified focus assistance when I’m not using a tripod (and I don’t use a tripod very often).

The only solution seemed to be (shock horror) to focus with the EVF zoomed out. The fact that I really prefer to use the left hand dial on the Leica T for Exposure compensation rather made this the only option.

Focusing is practice (I told myself). So I’ve been practicing. . . and practicing; and it’s paid off. I’ve found that I can manually focus accurately with the Leica T and it’s EVF with all the lenses I’ve tried; sometimes I get it wrong, but not as much as the AF using the 23mm and the zoom. In fact, for static objects when there’s time to focus it works really well.

Although the camera has no focus peaking there is a kind of ‘shimmer’ that you can see with most lenses over the area which is properly in focus. It’s not as apparent as the focus peaking in other cameras,  but it’s usually more accurate.  This discovery has prompted me to turn off focus peaking on my M240 – with good results – usually better than with focus peaking on. Of course, it works over the whole frame; no focus and recompose required.

I recently received the lovely new Leica 90mm macro elmar, together with  the Macro adapter M from Leica. It’s wonderful fun on the Leica T, and I’ve had pretty much complete success focusing using just the EVF, and without even the zoom focusing aid. Which leads me to . . .

The Smile

The Smile – Lecia 50mm Noctilux @ about f4.0

 

Learning o b a grandfather

Learning to be a grandfather – Lecia 60mm Macro Elmarit R

The Ultimate Test

Having got to this point I thought I should try and work out a real test to see whether my instinct was right, and that focus assistance was only useful on a tripod. More to the point, that it was possible to use the EVF to focus without zooming in, and without focus peaking.

So, it had to be a wedding – the real test of any camera / photographer partnership.

We had been asked to the wedding of one of our eldest son’s very best friends, in fact, Silas was to be the best man. It was a lovely and informal humanist wedding at a country location, and there was a fine photographer employed to record the event. So I could afford to take the chance on complete failure.

Which lens to use? well, if it was to be a proper challenge, then it need to be a difficult one. The 50mm Noctilux was the obvious answer, and as it was a dull day, it was possible to shoot wide open at the maximum aperture of f0.95. So that was what I did; I shot the whole wedding with the Leica T and the Leica 50mm Noctilux M wide open (effectively 75mm at f.0.95) . I took around 600 images during the day, all of them focused using just the EVF, with exposure compensation on the left dial, so no focus assistance at all.

Of course, if I’d been responsible for the wedding photos I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing it like this, but actually the results are fine, interesting and different – obviously there are some out of focus shots, but there are always out of focus shots when you shoot at f0.95. There are also lots of good catches, and the album of the wedding has been very well received.

Perhaps more importantly, the camera was a real joy to shoot with in a wedding environment – nobody was phased by it – the almost silent shutter meant that you could shoot anytime anywhere, and the raised EVF meant that most of your face was visible, which is the best way to engage with your subject.

Gleaming

Gleaming – Lecia 50mm Noctilux @ f0.95

 

Posing for the camera

Posing for the camera – Lecia 50mm Noctilux @ f0.95.

The Conclusion

The Leica T is a fine camera in it’s own right, and with it’s own dedicated lenses. However the M adapter T is there to be used, and it really does do a fine job; populating the exif information and allowing us to use our favourite M lenses.

There is an instinct that we need these special tools to manually focus on an EVF, but the truth of it is that a bit of practice, and the excellent new EVF on the Leica T, make focusing accurately relatively simple at any aperture. No crutch (or focus assistance) is required, handheld focusing is perfectly straightforward, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Jono Slack.

See the full image gallery here: http://www.slack.co.uk/slack/Home.html

 

 

 

A musicians’ sense of timing

I grew up in a house where the aroma of darkroom chemicals frequently filled the air. To supplement his income as a professional musician my Father worked as a photographer for The Musical Express in London, now the NME (New Musical Express). He was fortunate in that not only did he photograph the famous singers and bands of the day but also the countries he visited, touring as a Musical Director for various acts.

We were talking about the old days when my Mother reminded me that he used a Leica M3 for many years. No, unfortunately I didn’t find it perfectly preserved in the loft but I did unearth a plastic bag with some old prints of street genre photography. Street? I was really only familiar with his more traditional travel memories of temples and tourist spots.

He never really spoke much about these images and clearly was following in the footsteps of the ‘decisive moment’ giants but it was like opening a new window into his life. The images you see here are just scans of the old prints, so please forgive the quality but I wanted to give some of his photos an airing to a group who I thought might appreciate the style of work some fifty years later.

Olaf

fw1 fw9 fw8 fw7 fw6 fw5 fw4 fw2

There are well documented links between photographers who were also musicians and vice versa. From Ansel Adams and Milt Jackson through to Bill Wyman. From philosophy through to learning the toolstechnique and interpretation. Perhaps it’s all about a musician’s sense of timing applied to photography?

There’s also a thought here which could be applied more widely. Many of us, me included, are propelled forward through our creative lives; updating, uploading, upgrading, it never stops and neither do we. Maybe there is a benefit in seeking out those undiscovered gems, revisiting old projects, breathing life into old ideas whose time may have come full circle.

Could the D in DSLR come to stand for dinosaur?

sshhhh

It all started back in July when Trey Ratcliff, of Stuck in Customs fame blogged about swapping his D800 for a Nex7. Now I can hear you protesting already, ‘Trey Ratcliff, isn’t he the guy who pioneered those ultra vivd HDR pics and all that deliberate keystoning? Yuk. We’re serious about our photography, that’s horrible, we don’t do that’. Well of course, we’re all entitled to our opinion. But with over 10 million followers on social media, clearly he has his finger on the pulse of global popular culture to a degree unmatched by any other photographer ever. In terms of marketing and camera industry trends he would be a ‘disruptive innovator’, someone whose view counts in looking at tipping points. He is now moving to the new 36 MP, Sony A7R.

Now let’s fast forward to last week, 26th October 2013 and another famous and popular website, Luminous Landscape. Michael Reichmann, fresh from the PDN Photo Plus show in New York has written a piece titled, “Staying Alive”. To quote directly, ‘Over-all, dealers whom I spoke with report that sales are down and have been for a few years now. Replacement and upgrade sales are in the doldrums. Buyers aren’t terribly motivated…’. I’ve been to the Antarctic twice with Michael and I know him to be a very savvy commentator on the industry.

He also refers to the lack of smart innovation amongst the major players (Canon and Nikon), the success of the Sony Nex series and probably their new A7R plus Olympus and Panasonic. I guess I might include Fuji in there too, as a maker of interesting cameras.

Pulling together these and other threads I’m getting the impression that battleship DSLR kits are journeying down a cul de sac. When they look around to make sure their little competitors are all trotting along obediently behind, there will be no-one there. They all turned off long ago. Could DSLR’s be in danger of becoming dinosaurs? Specialist tools for professional sports, wildlife and architectural photographers? Even then with the speed at which technology advances, this might only apply to the short to mid term.

The bigger picture seems to be DSLR’s being squeezed on both sides. Ahead of them medium format. More expensive but depending upon the digital back, with an image quality superior or at least equal to a D800. I’ve owned a Phase One P45+ and although I could never get on with the camera, the back and its output were superb. Behind them, the charging hordes of smaller, lighter, cheaper cameras increasingly able to match and perhaps beat the DSLR’s for image quality and functionality. Just consider. My wife’s Nikon V1 has a 73 point AF array and in manual mode can shoot 60fps. It may be unthinkable currently but how long before this technology spreads to full frame cameras and squeezes into the sports and wildlife niches?

Even more unthinkable, what if there is whole generation coming along who don’t worship technical quality? What if they love the roughness of Instagram? What if filters trump Photoshop? Kirk Tucker writes brilliantly on this in an article called, ‘The graying of traditional photography’.   As if to prove the point, the iPhone was introduced 7 years ago. Recently National Geographic shooter Jim Richardson used it for an essay on Scotland.

So if the industry is at a tipping point where does that leave us and our Leicas? On the positive side, Leica Camera AG has bounced back financially from the troubles of 2004. It doubled turnover to Euros 300m in 2012 and seems to be in good health as items in the product range are often over subscribed. On the negative side we see this report from Die Welt, ‘Leica’s Nightmare is Sony’.

I am way out of my depth in criticising one of Europe’s leading newspapers but IMHO they have missed the point. The reason for buying a Leica, especially an M series, is the use of a rangefinder, the quality of the glass, the heft of the camera, how it challenges us to make instead of take pictures. Whilst the Sony A7R will undoubtedly be a technological tour de force, the positioning is entirely different. It is jam packed with functions and features. Conceptually it is much closer to a DSLR and is an obvious direct competitor for the D800/E. I believe the headline should have read, ‘Nikon and Canon’s Nightmare is Sony’.

So what are some of the likely outcomes? Personally I doubt that many will actually sell and replace their M’s with an A7R but some may buy the Sony body as a back up with a lens adaptor. So Leica may benefit from increased sales of lenses here and also from Sony owners who want higher performance lenses. Where Leica could lose out is if the A7R revolutionises the market by setting a new price/weight/performance benchmark and sales of Leica compact cameras suffer. Even then this would be mitigated by Leica brand values. That red dot has a certain pulling power which is able to sustain premium prices and to an extent this changes buyer behaviour in a way which Die Welt seem to have missed.

Having said all that, these are just some personal views shared with friends on The Leica Meet Group. I’d love to hear how you see this developing situation. Oh and one more thing… last week I ebayed my D800 and three lenses.

Olaf

Collaboration: unlocking a fresh burst of creativity

Think about it for a moment. Collaboration is common in many artistic disciplines, for example; music, film, theatre.  And whilst there are examples of photographic collaboration (Hilla and Bernd Becher, Broomberg and Chanarin…etc) they are few and far between. Our image of the photographer is mostly of someone working alone.

Yet those of us who have attended workshops know from personal experience that we don’t only learn from the instructors. Some of the most valuable lessons come from interactions with other class members. How they see, how they shoot, how they talk about their work. How their images are so different, even though we are all in the same location.

We’ve witnessed this again recently on our two Leica Meets in London. We covered the same territory and even while walking and talking together chose to shoot differently. The images from those two days show a fascinating diversity and the atmosphere is one of a mutual appreciation for each others’ talents.

I’ve tried to take this one step further by actively collaborating on projects with other artists.  From visualising haiku poems through triple exposing film with photographers in other countries to visual conversations in which images are exchanged which seem to ‘go with’ one another.  The first resulted in a print on demand book. The second goes on Kickstarter in November. The third is still a work in progress. Every time I’ve benefitted from listening to the artistic sensibilities of my collaborators. Hopefully they have also gained from my input too.

confluence

Confluence: triple exposed film with Ramya Reddy and Shayne Lynn

As photographers we are constantly trying to control every variable; from aperture and shutter speed to ISO, not to mention framing, lens choice and of course those great demons, editing and post processing. Well, we’re talking a new experiment in creativity here, so how about we throw all that out the window? What if all those variables and any others you can think of, were the subject of discussions between you and another photographer?

The two of you are bound to disagree right? Yes. That’s exactly the point. Collaboration shakes up our routine approach to shooting. Being deeply involved in a project where you are constantly revisiting and shaping the creative outcome is very different than shooting on your own. Just like the great art movements of history, making art based on dialogue is exciting. The process itself is highly creative and engaging. It reflects a larger point of view. It uses our collective intelligence. We all gain.

When the collaborative project is over we return enriched. Whether our original aim was to break through creative block or simply to challenge ourselves to do differently or to do better our own work gains from the exchange.

wavelength 3

Wavlength: combining analog and digital with Eileen McCarney Muldoon

But it isn’t all necessarily peace and light. Collaboration calls for a high level of trust. It can dissolve into discussions of authorship, recognition and copyright. If there is sufficient interest I can cover these off in another post. But for now, I’d be interested in hearing if any members of the Leica Meet group have tried collaborative projects and how it worked out? You can reply to this post or feel free to write up your own experiences as a separate post. Just send them into us here at The Leica Meet.

Olaf