As always, he was espousing the wonders of his Leica IIIf. He’s kind of a pain like that. A Barnack purest, he believes no picture should be taken unless it is taken by a means that is extraordinarily complicated. That camera, which embodies his ideal, lacks parallax correction, film is wound by a knob and not a lever, and there are separate viewfinders for composition and focus. Clearly, ease of use and ergonomics were not considerations. The procedure for loading film has a bit of overhead. You have to trim the film leader, open the bottom of the camera, and thread the film up in to it. It’s complicated in comparison to a hinged back on newer film cameras, and is much slower. Every time I look at one, I think about how Robert Capa huddled behind a burned out tank among dead bodies washing in the waves on Omaha Beach, reloading his Leica while the Nazis walked machine gun fire back and forth across his position. He repeated “Es una cosa muy seria” over and over to himself as he did it. Serious indeed. It’s a wonder that he managed to reload and survive under those conditions. It’s hard enough to do in a coffee shop.
But I don’t really see the need for that to be the only way you take pictures. True, it’s a good camera, and there is a pride in mastering a complicated beast like that. But it doesn’t mean that complication is a requirement for producing work. Well, unless you are a large format shooter. Then complicated is kind of how things get done.
We went on to discuss Araki’s trilogy of Leica books. Araki is probably most well-known for his subject matter, but he’s also widely celebrated as a Leica shooter. I don’t think I could do that. Not shoot that subject matter, but rather be known as a Leica shooter. I just don’t want to be known by the camera I use. The idea of being defined by a thing I own bothers me.
I suppose there are things I do that do define me, at least in part. I’m the bicycle guy in the office, I ride to work and all the new bicycle people always come to me about where to lock up and such. I’m the guy that hikes. I’m the guy that shoots film. I’m OK with that. But I wouldn’t be OK with being the guy on the Globe bike, or the guy that only uses Merrell boots, or the Leica guy.
When the economy crashed, people held on to houses they couldn’t afford in the first place. “I live here” they said. True, but that particular place does not define who you are. I hope there’s more to you than a zip code or street address.
There is more to your work than which camera you used, or which lens, or which film stock. I keep going back to it, but what artist is known by the brushes or chisels they used?