Ev’ry time i see your face,
It reminds me of the places we used to go.
I want you here to have and hold,
As the years go by and we grow old
No, not the splendid cold war thriller on FX that began its second season last night. I want to talk a bit about the iconic book portraying 1950s America by Robert Frank that changed photography forever.
This will also give me a chance to introduce, to anyone who doesn’t know about it, what has been an incredible resource and source of inspiration over the years as I’ve grown more serious about my own photography. That would be the website known as AMERICAN SUBURB X.
ASX focuses on, I guess it’s safe to say, contemporary art photography and the work of the great 20th century icons of photojournalism and documentary photography as well. I can’t really even begin to relate the meaning that has been imparted to my mind, the holes that have been filled in my education, the understanding that has slowly and painfully made its way into my heart, digging through ASX.
Okay, let’s do this. I’d known about Frank’s seminal work for years and mostly through ASX had read here and there a number of essays and analysis pieces on The Americans. I thought I understood the book. Thinking about it from a post-1960s (when I grew up) perspective it didn’t really appear to me to be a work that offered the sort of photographic worldview changing experience the book’s peerless reputation clearly suggested it should.
Probably suggested is a bad word choice there as the book’s reputation comes down, through the decades of photographic history, just a little bit like a sledgehammer.
But I loved the collection of images (as stupid as that might sound) and I did understand it all to be an intentionally unflattering look at American culture. Well, big deal. I do understand the primacy of anything that manages to be the first major effort that opens the world’s eyes to a new way of looking at itself. But I grew up in the counter culture of 1960s and 70s America. This book was published in the US when I was 2 years old. America and its culture had and has been taking its well earned and justified knocks before I was even out of diapers.
To say I’m used to it is an understatement. All I’ve ever known is a world in which the the United States has had its scathing critics, always there nipping on the heels of things like national pride and patriotism and capitalism and militarism etc.
And, as an ex-hippy, I’m down with all of it. Man.
So I respected The Americans for being a pioneer work and, also, simply because I liked the images.
Then one day, browsing ASX, I happened upon yet another essay on Robert Frank and his book that was itself already a couple of decades old.
I remember reading it in the middle of the night. The spooky wee smallest of the wee small hours. But I knew that what I was reading was outrageous to my mind and changing me forever as I read it.
Cleverly, ASX’s website seems to prevent copying (and that problematic subsequent pasting) of text from their site. That’s okay. You can all read the essay here.
But then again, I do have skills. Here are some selected quotes… certainly NOT the most impactful paragraphs… but just something to whet your appetites, maybe.
“Robert Frank’s The Americans, which I think is the most important single effort in photography in this century, is also the most enigmatic. For 24 years the book has remained nearly impenetrable. There has seldom been any question of its intensity, its cohesiveness, or its uniqueness. The question has been what it is about.
“To realize the extent to which the content of the 83 photographs in The Americans has been glossed over one can look at what has been said about it over the years. For the most part, criticism as well as enthusiasm has centered on Frank’s style of photography and on its formal aspects. Until recently, no one delved into the content of his pictures.
“And in 1978 Szarkowski noted the difficulty younger photographers would have in understanding “how radical Frank’s book was when it first appeared.”
“But these accolades do little to explain how the book was important — except in terms of its revolutionary style — and they say nothing about what the images in it mean.
“Today the pictures no longer shock us. Today only one quality stands out — their muteness. Twenty-four years later, those images still never describe fully, never seem to make a clear point.
“When I first saw work from the The Americans I could make no sense of it. It wasn’t political. It wasn’t an exposé. It seemed only to deal in street photography enlightened by some perverse sense of humor, at times pervaded with an undirected melancholy.
“Only when I was told that this was the work of a Swiss national did it make sense — and then instantly.”
Well. As cliche as it might sound I never looked at photography the same way again after reading this essay. Not my own, not anyone else’s. It did the most amazing job of, finally, sorting things out for me. I didn’t care about the same things that MOST other photographers care about, anymore.
But beyond photography, because I’m an incredibly political person (for a person who doesn’t involve himself in politics in any way) this essay on ASX explained something of the dynamic that exists between Europeans and their culture, Americans and the culture we do have as well as our many voids, and more than any of that, the dynamic that exists between Europeans and Americans themselves.
Okay. Honestly, the rest here is largely up to you the inquisitive (I hope) visitors to my site. The link is there. The piece is long. It is sumptuous and contemptuous. I think it is painfully honest. When I first read it I guarantee you my blood pressure and respiration changed. I changed.
Okay. The image at the top. This picture was taken a week (or two) after I first bought my Leica M9. Anyone familiar with The Americans will recognize it as a reference to one of the most controversial (photographically) images in that book. That of the starlet at the premier on Hollywood Blvd. Enough on that. It’s pathetic in comparison to Robert Frank’s photography but… it’s still a pretty good shot… so whatever.
In the far left hand top corner of the image is a European who became an American. He’s since passed away. He was, by all accounts, a great doctor and the COO of one of the largest hospital systems in the US. The night before this image was taken we all shared a much more intimate dinner setting and he was admiring my new Leica M9 as only a European might.
We got to talking about things and the differences between the United States and Europe. I was at that time fresh off having my world view of Americans versus Europeans changed forever by the aforementioned ASX article and I was thrilled to be explaining it all to an actual cultured European.
Achilles was so kind as he smiled and deflated my hostility towards my own country. He praised America and explained that, while it is true, Europeans have many cultural advantages, they also suffer greatly from many entrenched and intransigent realities that we Americans are not saddled with. He said that most people around the world admire and are inspired by and aspire to much of what America has to offer.
Okay. That helped, actually. Because before that… I was pissed. 😉
But my perspective on photography and what it could be used for and had been used for was changed forever by what I can only describe as a more complete understanding of Robert Frank’s The Americans that I came to have after reading this essay.
Please enjoy and please visit American Suburb X frequently. I’m sure it will benefit your photography and your perspective as it has mine.
When I first got my Leica M9 back in 2010 (I think) it was all just like this. lol. This is actually my Aunt Hilda who is 95 years young. It’s all the Leica magic. Incredible. Okay. But seriously, looking through that viewfinder was every bit the combination of inspiration and orgiastic release I’d always hoped it would be. These shots (one more tomorrow) were taken with a humble (in Leica terms) 35mm Summarit 2.5. That lens was the perfect lens to begin my Leica experience with and honestly, when I look back at images I took with that little wonder I don’t know why I moved on to more expensive Summicrons and Summilux glass. Anyway, hope you enjoy the visual treats as much as I do the memories of making them.
My first outing with the Leica M9 back in 2011 was a weekend trip to Chicago. I only could afford the wonderful Leica 35mm Summarit after shelling out the money for what was my dream camera at that moment. I’d never heard of Vivian Maier at that point, as most people hadn’t. But, save for the color, this first shot I think captures a bit of the spirit of shooting on a Chicago sidewalk as she so often did. Anyway. Here’s some more. I think in some of them there is wonderful color. In others, uh… a hint of the incredible struggles to come I would experience trying to produce passable color with my M9.
THE REBLOGGING CONTINUES UNABATED! This from a few years ago.
Honestly, I’m not sure there’s two opposing camps out there. I think the way it usually goes is some poor unsuspecting chap says he likes to take pictures… and then, invariably, someone wearing a much more expensive watch says he doesn’t take pictures, he makes them.
Then the first guy smiles and shrugs and says yes, of course, and then looks at his feet. The party’s over for him. He doesn’t even know what the other guy is talking about.
Make pictures? What does that even mean? What’s the difference between taking a picture and making one? Are they really two different things? How come I don’t know this?
The reason he might not know it is because there are so many instances in life where others hang onto information as if it’s a proprietary asset. Or, just as likely a theory, as long as I’m casting aspersions, they can’t really explain it themselves even if they wanted to because they themselves don’t know.
Ansel said it. That should be good enough for everyone. Right?
The truth is, making and taking a picture are really two different things. What the annoying snobby person (a recurring character on this blog) may not know is that, believe it or not, both are important approaches to photographing and it’s important to know the difference and to be able to execute on either at your discretion as a fairly decent photographer.
Simply put, you MAKE a picture when your eye selects a subject or scene and you can envision how you want that picture to appear in a photographic image and then you set about the business of positioning yourself and your camera, deciding areas under your control such as the aperture and how it will effect depth of field, for instance, as well as principles of composition or how you might use exposure, the balance of light and shadow, and an almost infinite number of other variables that will allow you to achieve the image that you’re envisioning as an end result.
Almost everything is riding on you. Your desired outcome will come about to your satisfaction only if you can execute and control the many decisions and results that represent your own vision for the image.
It’s an important basic concept to be aware of as a photographer and you can cement the processes involved in making images as opposed to taking them into your mind by repeated practice or application. After you’ve ‘made’ a half dozen great images of things as banal as the folds and polka dots on your shower curtain you’ll understand the concept of making an image as opposed to taking one.
But as you have probably already figured out, this is just one approach or thought process of photography and there certainly are countless instances where great photographers producing iconic images were not and are not engaging in anything approaching such a carefully thought-out creative process in the capturing of their images.
In fact, and apologies to Ansel Adams, I would suggest the vast majority of photography’s most famous, memorable, or iconic images were not made in the sense that they were envisioned, preconceived, thought about, prepared or set up for, or any of the many actions that a creative photographer might go through in an effort to make an image.
This is probably best explained with a picture, which is, the last time I bothered to check, still not really worth a thousand words.
Sao Paulo, Brazil. 2006. Women’s World Championship of Basketball.
Team USA has just lost a game in international competition for the first time in 14 years. Since international amateur athletic bodies that govern things like world championships and the Olympics changed the rules that prohibited professional athletes from participating, allowing for the creation of ‘dream teams’ made up of the best professional players in a given sport, the United States had dominated the world in women’s basketball.
But the scrappy (and photogenic) team from Russia found a way to do what no one believed even possible; literally beat the Americans at their own game.
So a bunch of baseline photographers are under the far basket after the historic loss. Some of us, the Americans I’m guessing, are shocked and more than a little bit angry. We all came a long way to shoot the United States winning a world championship.
We’re all looking around in confusion and as the Russian post-game celebration extends beyond a polite 30 seconds or so, it seemed that most of us had gotten all the shots we needed of this sacrilegious demonstration and we’d gone back to mostly arguing about who screwed the pooch harder, the US players or coaches.
After a while, in any group or pool of photographers covering an event, there’s this group-think that seems to occur. We all know what we’re there to get, and I think some of us can get a little self conscious if we’re the last photographer still grinding away at our shutter’s life expectancy at eight frames per second shooting at essentially the same scene. You don’t really want to be that guy. What is that clown doing? You mean you haven’t gotten one in focus YET?
But then I saw something. Something was added to the scene. Instinctively I raised my Nikon D3 with the 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor VR mounted and took this shot.
I will tell you without question that it is my firm opinion that if women’s basketball and the exploits of our US national team in international ball were a big deal in this country, as big of a deal as say, NBA basketball is in America, then this image would have been an iconic capture.
It’s Diana Taurasi, then and probably now the best women’s player in the world, dejectedly walking by as the ecstatic Russians carry on the celebration of their incredible upset of a team made up of the best professional and amateur women ballers our country could produce. Something that hadn’t happened, as I pointed out earlier, in 14 years.
I know you could argue that I somehow made that image, and that’s fine. My mind recognized the opportunity and blah, blah, blah. Yes, I was prepared to shoot that moment. But we’re all as photographers in a constant state of preparation.
The truth is, I took that shot. And the further truth is, I seek to take shots a lot more than I set out to make shots.
I wrote this article because I think I understand the difference between the two and can explain it. I also wrote it because I’d like to change as a photographer. I can take shots. I’m very good at it and I want to continue taking them whenever the opportunity arises.
But I want to spend a lot more time in the future of my photography making images. This blog entry will be, I hope, a major step forward for me to focus my attention onto an approach to photography that I’ve often neglected.
You don’t really know something, it is said, unless you can explain it to others. And I sincerely hope this piece is as helpful to me as it might be to anyone reading it.
P.S Here’s another women’s basketball shot that this time I apparently, in spite of myself, somehow managed to make.
P.P.S. This article was originally published here on 50lux.com June 10th, 2012. I could (and probably should) just reblog these old articles, but they don’t display quite the way I would like them to so I don’t. I guess I don’t quite see the harm in doing it this way.
Remembering a nice afternoon a few years ago with our friends at Thai Dishes in Santa Monica. Leica 50mm 2.0 Summicron showing what a lovely lens it is.
What I loved about this lens is the straight lines, the ease and accuracy of the 35mm frame lines in real world framing with this lens on the Leica M9, much better and more accurate at 40mm than the actual Leica 35mm lenses. Of course the flange had to be filed down to bring up those frame lines.
Sharpness is just off the charts at f2.0. Way more than anyone needs there. Color is not Leica, by any means. Micro contrast either. But for the money this is a fantastic, fast, sharp, lens for Leica rangefinder cameras. Hope you enjoy the many pictures. Larger res versions are available when I think they’re relevant so hover over many of them for a bigger version.
I’m just going to link to and excerpt today from a must read article in the New York Times by Sam Tanenhaus and a should read piece in the Dallas Observer by someone who must not be invited to all the best parties in Dallas, Jim Schutze.
It is inspiring, but also deflating, to see and hear again (and again) the handsome, vigorous president, the youngest ever elected to the office, as he beckons the country forth to the future, to the “New Frontier,” and its promise of conquest: putting a man on the moon, defeating sharply defined evils — totalitarianism, poverty, racial injustice.
This, we have been reminded, was the dream Kennedy nourished, and much of it died with him, when the sharp cracks of rifle fire broke out as his motorcade rolled through the sunstruck streets of Dallas. With this horrific, irrational deed, a curse was laid upon the land, and the people fell from grace.
But this narrative and the anniversary remembrances have obscured the deeper message sent and received on Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, America had already become a divided, dangerous place, with intimations of anarchic disorder. Beneath its gleaming surfaces, a spore had been growing, a mass of violent energies, coiled and waiting to spring.
Apparently I have written more about the upcoming 50th anniversary observation of the Kennedy assassination than anybody else in town, or else I have written crazier stuff. One way or another I have become a top phone call for out-of-town journalists, filmmakers and other seekers of something to say about the murder of JFK.
My real reason for passing on that fact is to put a chill in the bones of the old rich people running Dallas’ JFK 50th affair. I can’t imagine I would be their first choice for ambassador.
But talking to the visitors has also been interesting for me, providing me with a window on how people outside the city view Dallas and the assassination a half century after it happened. Most of what they really want to talk about is way outside the circle of thought here at home.
If you read yesterday’s entry you know that Monday morning after Super Bowl XLV we went to see Dealey Plaza in Dallas and were shocked to find the place was a run down mess.
I had a really good camera with me but after watching my team lose the big game I was truly traumatized and very cold and could not see pictures in the way I normally would and the images I took that afternoon are mostly so bad that I still can’t stand to look at them.
Nevertheless I wanted to tell the world about the disrepair of this historical site so I put a handful of shots together with a kind of a spooky written-in-the-middle-of-the-night commentary on our experience there and posted it to a Leica enthusiast website run by the wonderful Steve Huff.
About 30 or so comments were made, some of them supportive, some of them rightly critical of the bad photography, and some of them downright defensive of the city of Dallas.
I engaged a few people there for about the next week and that, as far as I knew, was the end of it.
Then one day months later, as a new WNBA season was rolling around (I covered the WNBA for years as both a writer and a photographer) and a new round of articles generated by me was about to hit the internets, I Googled myself to get sort of a benchmark idea of where I was online prior to adding a new season of coverage.
The first hint of trouble I got was when I saw a result come up on Google from the Dallas Observer.
So I click on the link and I don’t really see the part about Vanity Fair at first. I mean, it was THERE, I SAW it, but it didn’t register at all.
I was that blown away by the fact that there was THIS THING HERE AT ALL, that is an article and some sort of kerfuffle on the Dallas Observer, and then there was all these harsh comments I had to absorb the meaning of etc. so overwhelming was the experience that I was, I don’t know, just in shock for a moment.
When the Vanity Fair aspect (yes, I am BOLDING Vanity Fair everywhere in this article. It’s not your imagination.) finally registered that didn’t exactly hasten my comprehension of any material facts either. I mean Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, this is rarefied journalistic air in the air of my air HEAD.
Then there was this. Given how harsh the comments were on the Dallas Observer I was a little rattled at the idea that there might be more of the same at the God Almight Vanity Fair.
But, cutting to the chase, that wasn’t to be the case as the contributing editor James Wolcott was right there with me in spirit regarding the state of Dealey Plaza.
So here is what happened. The very next day after my piece appeared on Steve Huff, an editor from Vanity Fair magazine, James Wolcott, featured it on the Vanity Fair website. He used extensive quotes. (James, James, James. How many times have we been over this? Call my lawyers.) And he obviously shared my disgust with the state of disrepair at Dealey Plaza.
Did I say Vanity Fair? Okay. Here’s the link to that article. But don’t go there yet. Read on.
Immediately, like all these professional media people have each other on RSS or something, a writer for the Dallas Observer, having seen the Vanity Fair piece, wrote an article of his own MOSTLY about my piece and my assertions.
Here is a link to that. But don’t go there yet either. Read on, please. Seriously. The kicker here is not to be believed. Except… well… it’s all real and you can actually believe it.
Robert Wilonsky, the Dallas Observer reporter, was actually kind of neutral at this point on my assertions, mostly just presenting them to the good people of Dallas.
Well, lol, needless to say, the good people of Dallas hadn’t actually taken any of it very well.
But then something truly amazing happened. The powers that be in Dallas seem to have taken notice and a few months later there appeared yet another Wilonsky piece in the Dallas Observer. This time I’m going to quote the big guys since they have no trouble extensively using my words.
Remember how offended everyone got when Los Angeles-based photographer Donald Barnat penned his dispatch from Dealey Plaza back in March? Sure you do. Wrote Barnat, who’d been here during the Super Bowl, “The place is in such a miserable state of disrepair that it amounts to a disgrace for the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, and the United States of America.” At which point everyone told him to stick it where the California sun don’t shine.
Only, you see, Dealey Plaza is a mess — a paint-peeling, graffiti-covered, falling-apart mess.
Ah. As you can see, Wilonsky isn’t such a bad sort after all. And then comes this regarding the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination.
As one Dallas Fort Worth Urban Forum dweller pointed out back in March, “I’m sure all the usual conspiracy junkies will be there in force, but there will also be more national attention due to the landmark anniversary. I do think Dallas ought to show more respect for the site and finish the job of sprucing it up.”
That’s the plan — at a cost of around anywhere from $1 to $2 million, depending on how extensive the redo…
Here is a link to the article and yes, you now can go ahead and read that and read them all.
How much did my piece hasten the badly needed repairs at Dealey Plaza or at least push people there to look in earnest at the problems there from the perspective of an outsider?
I’m going to go with the humble answer here. I, of course, had nothing at all to do with any of this.
It was all that guy from, wait for it… Vanity Fair.
But seriously, I’m in a very long term relationship (38 years) with a sane woman who doesn’t always share the Leica love, and especially when we focus too much on the actual cost of all these great cameras and lenses.
But when she got wind of all this Vanity Fair stuff and the $1 to $2 million that was going to making repairs to the site of assassination of President Kennedy, well, we don’t downplay the role of me or my cameras in any of this around here. 😉
Yet another re-blog. This one is different because… it’s the first time it’s ever been re-blogged! How unique that makes it among my re-blogged articles. 😉
Apologies to Raymond Carver. Reposted from the early days of 50lux.com
I think of the best stuff when I’m half asleep. It’s called hypnagogia and I’ve got a bad case of it. I’m not alone, apparently, as a New York Times article pointed out late last year and as Wikipedia establishes as encyclopedic fact.
Many other artists, writers, scientists and inventors — including Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton — have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.
I’m intending to capture some of these fantastic creative thought processes that trot through my mind when I’m half asleep for the purpose of bringing them back alive and showing them to the world here on 50lux.com. It won’t be easy. Not many things are when you’re half asleep. Nature of the beast. More on all this later. But let’s start off…
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Today, it is the digital Leica M-E that embodies the philosophy of the M-System in its purest form. – Leica Camera AG
HEY EVERYONE! DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER…
From the get go I should point out that this is as much a love story as it is a review of a piece of photographic equipment.
Yes, I love the Leica M-E. But this is the love of someone who owned a Leica M9 for over a year and who put 24k shutter clicks on that first full-frame Leica digital rangefinder. I did not like my M9. I don’t like YOUR M9. (I’m kidding, I don’t know your M9)
Almost from the moment I first held my M9 something seemed to be not quite right. I’d been shooting an unused silver M7 for about four months, a camera that Ken Rockwell likens to a gun. I know exactly what he meant by that. The camera feels like a .45 caliber military side arm. Heavier than you would expect and more solid than you’d think possible for something made to simply take pictures.
The M9 did not have that feel. Mine didn’t anyway. The material used to cover the camera felt rough and uncomfortable to my hand. The camera had smear marks which showed constantly on the black metal top and bottom plates. From the start I was disappointed in the build quality of the camera.
Now I know these are just impressions. But those were my impressions of the camera. It never really felt comfortable in my hand or solid and impervious to anything other than gentle treatment.
I also had issues with the color and working with the files out of the camera. Overall, my experience with the M9 was a downer and I sold mine a little over a year after buying it.
Then I shot film for almost two years. I shot my M7 and then also added a black M6. I shot and scanned probably a hundred or more rolls of color film. I learned a lot about shooting Leica by shooting within the limitations of a chosen film speed for the entire roll. I also learned a lot of discipline given the fact that 24 or 36 frames is all you get per roll and also given that you can not see what the result is of the frame you just shot.
But you might be thinking, if you didn’t like the M9 and you have two film Ms to shoot, why did you jump back into an M-E which is merely, in the opinions of so many, just a ‘cheaper’ version of an M9?
There are a couple of reasons. One I grew very tired of the process of having to drive somewhere, the dropping off for developing, then waiting, and then scanning the negatives. Having to do all of that just to see what kind of images I’d shot. I also got very tired of not being able to experiment freely with my great Leica lenses as one can only truly do with a digital camera.
But I also recalled some types of things that the M9 did really well photographically. Black & white, for one, and if I only used this camera for shooting black & white, and I loved my results, well, uh, jeez, aren’t there people out there who have made that exact choice by purchasing and shooting the Leica Monocrom?
There were more reasons. I thought that another M9, but this time much less expensive, but new and with a new warranty, wasn’t a bad thing to have as a second camera to go with the truly new M that I and so many others have on order.
So I took the leap. Very nervously and apprehensively. Unsure of myself or my purchase. It’s still a very expensive camera. I’d heard the M-E was ugly, made of cheaper materials, gutted of at least a couple of rarely used features in order to save production costs. I heard that it was also viewed as the entry level Leica M.
And then, I really didn’t hear much else. No one that I’ve seen has even taken the time to write a review on this camera. Why bother? It’s just an M9 stripped and cheapened for ‘entry level’ users anxious to make their move into shooting Leica digital rangefinders.
At BelAir Camera, where I buy my gear if I’m not buying online, the guys were talking about what a great camera the M-E is. Our relationship isn’t one wherein they are inclined to try to hard sell me on anything and they all knew how much I really didn’t care for my M9. My buddy Rika would go on about the anthracite finish. I wasn’t expecting, however, that I’d have any different sort of impression or experience in buying and owning and shooting an M-E than I’d had in buying and owning and shooting an M9.
Well, my goodness, was I surprised. From the moment I took the M-E out of the box and mounted my 50 1.4 Summilux on it, and held the camera in my hands, I began to immediately bond to this mechanical object. The fit and the finish are unlike anything that I’ve ever owned. Ever. It is the most flawless and solid piece of digital equipment I’ve ever seen or held in my hand. That alone was a huge surprise for me.
Where do I even begin? How about the anthracite-paint finish. I have to confess that I’m notoriously bad about wiping down my gear when I’m done using it. It just doesn’t happen unless I’m doing a job and my hands have been sweating, both of which are rare things these days. While my M9 showed everything, the M-E shows absolutely nothing, even after weeks and weeks of use. It’s as if this paint has properties that resist the accumulation of the oils from your hand.
But one of most important changes that improves the M-E over the M9 is that the body covering is now *LEATHER. Soft luxurious LEATHER. The camera is a pleasure to hold and to grip with one hand. It is never hard feeling on your fingers. The camera feels incredible compared to the much rougher feel of the M9.
(*correction. the body covering on the M-E is synthetic leather. it feels soft and fantastic, but oops on me, it’s not real leather. maybe there’s a language mishap to blame, but Leica shouldn’t refer to the body of the M-E as having a leather covering as they do “its leather trim offers superior grip” on their product description page. It’s only when you read the specs page where they mention that the leather is synthetic. Not so good on them.)
The application of the leather on the body of the camera is so perfectly accomplished that looking at the camera itself makes you wonder how it isn’t selling for MORE than the M9, as opposed to much less.
I said on dpreview in a thread on the Leica forum a few weeks ago to someone that they should buy an M-E, that it was a better camera than the M9. That statement was met with just a little bit of questioning of how such a thing could be. How could it be better than the M9 when it is essentially an M9 with some slight changes in the finish and covering and two rarely used features removed?
My question is how could it NOT be better? Just think about what I’m saying. It is an M9, right? The camera that so many people are crazy about. But it’s missing two holes from the body that give moisture two places to enter into the camera. Those two missing features are things that you can feel with your hand as you hold the M9 and believe me, they are things that your hand enjoys NOT feeling on the body of the M-E.
Leica says on their product page for the M-E.
The top and base plates are discreetly and unobtrusively finished in anthracite-grey paint. The design of its body expresses clarity, and its leather trim offers superior grip. The mechanical yet almost inaudible sound signature of its shutter release remains as a reminder that this M too is a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship.
Look, if you’re someone inclined to dismiss this as just some corporate marketing bullshit, then we’re both probably wasting our time in this review. But this will be your mistake. And you won’t be able to say that you weren’t warned or at the very least that no one came forward with a user review to give their impressions or feelings about the Leica M-E.
But the truth is that Leica did not strip some expensive features off of their flagship M9 in order to produce an entry level M made up of either less or lesser body components. That’s snobbery talking and it’s not at all a reflection of what Leica could or would do. The M-E is a refined M9. That is the news I’m delivering to you now in this reveiw. It IS a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship and it WILL be classic camera for years to come.
I have bonded with this camera and love it more than any thing I’ve ever owned. I can not express to you how different those feelings are for me than how I felt about the M9 that I ultimately could not wait to get rid of. I am sure that over the years of manufacturing that camera some refinements were made in the quality control or subtle changes that maybe account for how happy people have been with a camera that so displeased me.
Maybe that is what is reflected in the M-E that enables me to agree with the Leica product blurb that calls the camera a masterpiece of unparalleled craftsmanship. I honestly don’t know the answer to what my issues were in comparison to the satisfaction of others. But this camera is, by all accounts, simply an M9 that’s missing two unsealed openings in the body that make the earlier camera that much more vulnerable to moisture or the elements, and the M-E’s anthracite paint and sublime leather grip make it an unparalleled pleasure to hold and shoot with.
So much so that I now find myself dreaming of a second M-E far more than I’m dreaming of the new ‘M’ that I have on order.
That’s about all I have to say. Except I’ll add this for anyone who thinks I might be just another Leica fan-boy or merely sucking up to Leica.
I’ve been on record in the past as being very critical of the Leica M9 and especially the color issues that were ultimately something I just couldn’t live with any more. And I mean, I have been brutal. I despised not only the color I got from the M9 but also the color most everyone else was getting. A visit to the M9 Master Shots on LFI is still like a trip to the dark side of a year of bad memories for me. Sorry, Leica.
I still and always will hate the look of the M9 images as produced by a majority of M9 shooters. I don’t like what people are doing with their images, but I believe I’ve come to understand that it’s not the camera’s fault entirely and the hint that I might be right about that comes from something that Monocrom users often say about the files that camera produces. You have to REALLY work with them to get good results.
That applies, I contend, equally so to the DNG color files that come out of an M9 or an M-E. Anyway, I’ll have a lot more to say about all that in the coming weeks and months.
And that brings me to what will be the next part of the discussion about the M-E and that is what I’ve done to make myself as happy with the camera’s images and color as I am with the body itself. And I AM happy with the color I’m achieving at the end of my processes. I don’t know that I can replicate a process, however, or that I plan on outlining exactly what I do because that would be impossible. It varies so much for every lighting condition.
Anyway, thanks for reading. If you are a person who frequented this blog in the past, thank you for coming back and for your patience and for, I hope, excusing my long absence. If you read the blog from the early days you know that last year was a very difficult one for me. It’s taken a long time to feel like posting about photography and Leica equipment again.
Bottom line, thank you, Leica, and bravo. You’ve outdone yourself with the M-E. Unfortunately very few people in the Leica community seem to have any idea of how true that is. I sincerely hope that this review begins the process of changing that fact and awakening the deserved recognition for this amazing camera.