I took my first photographs with an old rangefinder that belonged to my Father. I used it for a few days, struggled with the focus, and then picked up a Pentax he had recently bought and never used the old camera again. That was 30 plus years ago. When I got my first job, I bought a used Nikon FM, later adding an F3T. I shot film far longer than most, finally buying a Nikon D3. As the kids began to grow up and they wanted to do less with my wife and I, we started to travel again as a couple. I would haul along a camera bag full of equipment only to use a body and lens as a point and shoot camera. An F3 with a 28-70 F2.8 on it is not really a practical camera for what I was doing. As my newer iPhones began to take better pictures, I defaulted to the smartphone and started to leave the Nikons at home. One day on a flight, I read about the new Leica Q. I had always dismissed the German cameras as expensive novelties. The Q sounded different. I knew that Leica lenses were arguably the best in the world. I loved the bokeh, and the “Leica look”. They had cinematic characteristics which I adore. The Q was interesting. It had a 28mm Summilux f1.4 attached to it. The article said that to buy just the lens cost almost as much as the entire camera. So, you effectively got a legendary Leica lens and the camera for free.
A couple of other things had also changed; I wanted to shoot people more than landscape and things, which I had concentrated on for years. I had tried to start my street photography journey with my D610 and an 70-200 on it. This allowed me to keep my distance. However, it became fairly apparent that shooting the street required a certain intimacy with your subjects. A none intrusive one. A full Nikon professional setup was not the tool to use. Most of the time people would catch me photographing them and walk on. On two occasions that was not the case. Walking down a Paris street one afternoon, I cam across a very eclectic storefront full of odd objects in it’s window. A number of tourists had stopped and taken pictures with their smartphones with the proprietor looking on from inside. I stopped and started to take a couple of shots and immediately the shop owner appeared and told me I couldn’t take photographs. The window was private he said. I just went on my way wondering what had triggered the reaction. It wasn’t until I stopped to take pictures of a fish monger in Marseille that it became clear it was a large DSLR coupled to an even larger lens. Once again tourists stopped and you pictures of the man, he even stopped several times to smile for one or two. Having a 70-200 f2.8 on my camera, I decided to shoot a couple of shots of the man from across the small square. He immediately dropped the net he had been repairing and strode across the square in my direction at pace. Stop, stop he yelled in French demanding I erase the photographs. I walked away and didn’t. At that moment I was convinced street photography needed a different tool.
It was with this backdrop that I stopped by the Leica display in Heathrow’s terminal 5. In the case was a Q. I had looked at one in Selfridges and liked the size and feel, so when I got to the Dixons I told the man I would take it. The camera sat in our Riyadh villa boxed for about 2 months. We were due to go into the desert one weekend so I thought it would be the perfect time to try it out. We drove to a dry Wadi where there was an abandoned cabin on the hillside. I took a number of photos of the shack. When I got back and put the photos on the screen, I was sold, and haven’t shot with anything else since. My Nikon and Hasselblad equipment gathered dust in the cabinet at home. Occasionally I would recharge a battery and make sure they worked, past that they never moved.
About two months ago, I decided I needed to look at Leica M’s. The M10-P had just been released and the price was eye watering. Couple the camera with a lens worthy of the body, and I was looking at somewhere north of £10,000. While I was searching the inter web for Leica reviews, I came across several photographers who wrote about the unobtrusive nature of the Leica. I also watched several videos of Cartier-Bresson the brilliant French documentary photographer. I guess the father of street photography. He walked streets with his Leica held behind his back, grabbing shots as they presented themselves. The small Leica captured iconic photographs that were about life and not equipment. There was no denying though the Leica was a part of the magic. I also stumbled upon the website of Thorsten Overgaard. I watched one of his videos and was intrigued first and foremost with his pronunciation of photography! Here was a guy who was clearly one of the professions top teachers and all he seemed to use was Leica. He didn’t speak about the equipment in mysterious terms and attributes, he talked about the Leica a a tool, albeit a stunning example. He spoke about simplicity, composition and becoming a photographer and not a tech collector. I have to confess that started my journey to buying an M10-P and 50mm f1.4 ASPH. Well at least I thought it did until I watched his video users review of the Q. Thorsten summed it up in his typical proficient succinct style; The Leica Q is a Gateway Drug. Unfortunately this warning came too late for me. I was already in need of rehab. Had sold my Nikon equipment and decided to throw technical complexity to the wind and settle for simplicity and perfection. Thus starts my journey as a photographer, one I am very much looking forward to. Thanks for reading, more to come……
N.B. I wish I could say I thought of this post’s title, but I have to credit Thorsten Overgaard a Danish writer, photographer and teacher. Several months ago after I had purchased a second Leica and 18 months since the purchase of my first, a Leica Q, I ran across his review of the Leica Q, follow this link if you would like to view it. As with all of Overgaard’s user reviews, it is very good. If you take the time to watch, Thorsten warns the viewer that the Q is the “gateway drug” to Leica, saying it will lead to more purchases. Well he was right and I am glad he was.