Buy a Leica, turn into Cartier-Bresson.

Leica M9


There seems to be some kind of myth floating around that by using a Leica you suddenly turn into a "street photographer". Your photos will suddenly become black and white and consist of amusing incidents in front of advertising hoardings, down and outs sleeping on the street and other similar scenes from the urban jungle.


A review of the X1 I saw recently said that it fulfilled Leicas primary market, that of the photo-journalist.


Well I must be doing something wrong, since I don't use mine for that, and have no real intention of doing so. Apart from anything else, if I start doing that in UK cities, I'm probably going to get arrested as either a terrorist or a paedophile, or both.


The first photographer I became aware of who used a Leica was about as far away from urban street photography as its possible to be. Walter Poucher was a mountain photographer (and one of the great British eccentrics - check him out) whose books of landscape were one of my inspirations when I was starting out as a photographer. 


Leica M9


In addition to becoming a member of Magnum, it seems that Leica owners are required to define what makes their camera and lenses so special. I've seen threads asking for examples that define a "Leica look". 


Both of these assumptions about Leica owners, as well as the usual one that they are brain dead, wealthy, status symbol owners puzzle me. The notion that buying a certain brand of camera locks you in to a certain photographic style and gives you easily identifiable results strikes me as misguided at best. 


Leica M9


Leicas first appeared when most other cameras were large and difficult to operate. At that time they provided a lighter, smaller, more unobtrusive alternative that many photographers took to enthusiastically as a means of working without the bulk of plate cameras. With the growth of 35mm however many other options became available, and so it has remained until today, when the choice of camera is incredibly wide and varied. 


Assuming you wanted to be a street or documentary photographer, is the current Leica range your best option? Probably not. Changing lenses, using framelines and rangefinder manual focus is hardly the quickest way to work. Its perfectly possible to use a Leica for this, and many still do, but its hardly a requirement. Just because many of the great photographs were taken using one doesn't mean that you can't produce your own quality work with other cameras. Nor does the ownership of one pre-determine what you are going to take pictures of.


Leica M9


As to whether there is a "Leica look" I've yet to see one. People use these cameras in all sorts of ways and produce every kind of image its possible to imagine. Anyone who sees a picture and immediately asserts it was taken with a Leica has more psychic powers than I have. 


To me all of this is further evidence of the somewhat strange mythology that has grown up around these cameras. I'm as much a fan of them as anyone else, but I don't claim that they give me any special powers or by holding one in my hands somehow the spirit of the great photographers inspires me to shoot in a certain way. Nor do I claim that the pictures that I take with them have any special qualities. The pictures I have taken that please me the most are taken with a variety of cameras. Since I started using Leicas I haven't suddenly started to produce a masterpiece every time I press the shutter. I don't seem to have suddenly developed an overwhelming desire to dash round the streets of Paris, aiming my camera at couples kissing in the streets either. 


Leica M9


Words - D
Images - D & A