The Leica is “a sensitive creature,” an optical extension of the eye, a weapon of war, a paintbrush in the hand of an artist. Leica “condensed time and recorded things that were inexpressible… Leica means seeing more.”
Debuted in 1925, the Leica has always been known for its unobtrusiveness and user friendliness. It is an agile camera — small, fast, effective, efficient. Shove it in your pocket, grab it when that magical moment happens and snap the shot. It’s that easy.
The contraption itself is beautiful, complex and powerful. The pictures it snaps — equally so. It is natural, then, to celebrate the 99th year of the Leica with a coffee-table book that mirrors the artistry and importance of the Leica.
Each page is itself a work of art. The designers consciously assembled each composition like the most prudent photographers. They set the text off center and frame it with images, elaborate typography and design elements but most often with negative space. The colors are carefully chosen — evolving from blacks, whites, greys, reds and metals (gold, silver, brass) to a wider palette as color photography appears in the narrative.
The pages are clear and logical in organization and in order. They are user-friendly.
Page 63. Your head is tilted upwards to gaze into the underbelly of the Eiffel Tower. Electric greens, purples, pinks and blues bleed through the metal lattice structure and almost drip right off the page onto your face.
One can count on two hands the pages that explode off the page like this and truly shock the viewer’s eyes. But this is perhaps the point. Like the iconic photographs in the book, each page asserts its impact simply and minimally. Although “Napalm Against Civilians” and “V-J Day in Times Square” are some of our history’s most potent images, they do not rely on fancy visual effects to destabilize the viewer emotionally.
Similarly, the telling of the Leica story is, for the most part, simple and straightforward. Although it is weighted down at times by camera jargon — which camera buffs would likely embrace far more enthusiastically — it avoids extravagant language and superfluous narrative.
The book is consistent and dependable. Sound familiar?
We learn early on that the company prioritizes the person behind the camera. Leica is “the ideal camera for amateurs, reporters, tourists, and explorers.” Page 51 and 52 are devoted to photographs of people — all sexes, ages and races — snapping shots of us with their Leicas.
The story gains most traction when it discusses the individual behind the lens — whether that person is Alfred Eisenstaedt, Christie Brinkley or an ordinary four-year-old girl named Martha, who liked to use her Crayolas to draw Leica cameras.
Iconic photographers like Eisenstadt, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa are memorialized in provocative profiles. We learn that Cartier-Bresson acquired his vision instincts from hunting big game while living in Africa as a child. Analysis of Capa’s famous image of a falling soldier is juxtaposed with “The Falling Soldier” remake by Mike Stimpson: a photograph of a falling Lego soldier. These little Leica tidbits welcome the reader into the camera’s quirky story.
Flipping through the book is like picking up an M, Leica’s latest model. It is clear and comfortable, yet unmistakably significant. It seems like the natural way to tell the Leica tale.
And it’s a tale that is far from over. At a time when our relationship with technology is constantly questioned, it is comforting to learn about a company that was founded on the basis of “the symbiotic link between humans and technology.” “The iPhone 4,” as Steve Jobs said, is “like a beautiful old Leica Camera.” One would hope the next 99 years of photography bring the same symbiosis as the Leica has.
Anna Carey is the arts editor. Contact her at [email protected].