Background for part 4 of the series

Here is the background for my new book (part 4 of the series)
Photography has been characterized, from the early beginnings and based on its properties, as either art or science. Commentators were unsure how to categorize the new medium with its photogenic drawings (Talbot). Early photographers, not content with exploiting the objective and mechanical nature of the final picture, tried hard to convince the art community that photography was more than a recording medium with which nature copied itself without the help of the human operator. The initial excitement that the new technology could produce pictures without any human interference became soon a threat to the photographer, the illustrator and the engraver.

The early comments focused on the ability of the new process to reproduce a part of the real world without human intervention. There was much amazement that there could exist a tool with which nature could take its own picture. One could admire the capability of the machine to reproduce the finest detail that the eye failed to record. The nineteenth century was after all the age of materialism. A growing segment of the public accepted the efficacy of the machine as the embodiment of a new era, the modern one. The exhibitions in London (Crystal Palace, 1851) and Paris (Eiffel Tower, Exposition Universelle, 1889) showed the impact of the engineer’s and scientist’s ingenuity and mechanical achievement. The photographic camera was only one of many mechanical instruments of that age. It had the advantage that the machine-made image and its easy reproducibility matched the increasing demand for realistic images in the magazines and journals. Many painters looked with dismay at the enhanced realism of the images made with the photographic camera. The mechanical limitations of the camera were known and artists used all kinds of technique to produce images with a style that emulated the best of the classical painters. On the other hand many artists exploited the technical capabilities of the camera to produce optically accurate images. Baudelaire wrote a scathing critique of the Salon of 1859, where many photographs, made with several techniques and styles were exhibited. Many photographers claimed that their pictures were to be included in the domain of art. Baudelaire however denunciated photography as an art form. He listed the proper functions of photography: for record-making, as a note-taking tool and for scientific investigation. His friend Delacroix carefully noted the limitations of the photographic process and concluded that photography, used carefully, could be an asset to painting.

The description of photography as a medium oscillated between two extremes: art as photography and photography as art. Behind this dichotomy however there lurked another one. The distinction between art and science and between art and craft did not disappear, but surfaced time and time again as the main topic for a comprehensive account of photography. Scientists and technologists used the photographic technique for practical work and even for non-pictorial work, suitably referred to as non-art. In contrast the history of photography has been described as an orderly succession of the major artists in the history of the medium.
‘Non-art’ as a category also includes the snapshot (instantaneous) and detective photography, promoted by Eastman in the 1880s and finally including also the casual street photography.
In the final analysis, photography can be divided by the basic dichotomy of art and non-art. When the history of photography is approached as part of the general history of the visual arts, it is inevitable to include a discussion of the major trends in art history since the start of photography: impressionism, modernism, snapshot aesthetic and post modernism. When the history of photography is mainly concerned with non-art, the topics of science (reality), vernacular snapshot, social processes, technique, instrument development, and image quality (high resolution) have to be addressed.

Photography is intimately connected with human perception. For good reason the analogy between the eye and the lens has been stressed as a sensible idea.
Our culture is a visual culture. Vision is the main sense with which we experience and analyse the world around us. Martin Jay has characterized the twentieth century as an ocularcentric culture. The underlying cultural and scientific theories of vision, perception and reality have to be sketched and used as a background for a better understanding of the culture and technique of photography.

The Leica rangefinder camera straddles several domains. The Leica rangefinder cameras was one of the preferred tools used by a fair proportion of the classical art and iconic photographers. The optical qualities and the mechanical construction earned it the enviable reputation of being the first precision miniature camera. Its small size, accurate rangefinder and smooth handling enabled a new direction and style in snapshot photography.

After its announcement in 1839, the technique of photography was a very complex one and only suitable for the daring entrepreneur, the curious scientist and the wealthy amateur. The technology used during most of the nineteenth century (large wooden cameras, glass plates, emulsions, chemicals, lenses) was not very stable and quite xpensive. This allowed the photographer to influence the result and made him a decisive element in the processing chain. The discussion about the nature of photography as art or non-art obscured the assessment of the new medium and its most common use as a tool for recording physical reality.
Photographic technology (at least till the digital capture became the dominant technology) is a closed ecosystem. The components were provided by many small cottage industries or had to be produced by the photographers themselves. The number of active photographers around 1880 was too low to sustain a large scale profitable industry.
If nothing had changed, photography would have stayed a niche technology for the rich amateur and a tool for scientists and lithographical craftsmen.
Eastman, whose company produced photographic products, concluded that to become more profitable the scale of production had to increase substantially. He therefore created a mass market for his photographic products. In order to reach this goal he had to target the ordinary person, the public at large. The taking of photographs had to become cheap and easy to seduce the common man and woman to start taking pictures. The Kodak era started in 1880 and lasted till the end of the twentieth century. It was the century of the snapshot, the domestic photograph made by millions of people to record memorable events and persons. The Leica camera, introduced in 1924/1925, gave a new impetus to the style of candid photography: the precision miniature camera quickly became the dominant tool in the photographic ecosystem, where the rangefinder camera carved out its own niche till today.
The urge to use the Leica rangefinder camera was partly functional because of its propensity for high-quality scientific and domestic images and partly technical because of its precision-mechanical feel.
Professor Weizenbaum, one of my guiding lights in computer science, once during a lecture told the audience that he took lousy pictures with his Leica M3, but he took pictures because he liked the sound of the shutter. Here he hints at one of the most important actual arguments for choosing and using a Leica camera: the Leica RF camera is a perfect example of technical eroticism.

The Leica camera is also intimately connected to the world of art. Many iconic images were made with the Leica camera. Who does not know the Che Guevara picture by Korda (Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez), the girl in the rear window of a car by Erwitt, the kissing couple by Eisenstaedt. The classic pictures by Cartier-Bresson (“The Eye of the Century”) have inspired and still inspire many Leica photographers. The number of Leica photographers that have been allowed into the hall of fame of art photography constitutes only a minute proportion of the hundreds of thousands of Leica users who use the camera to record domestic events and persons without any other goal that to record what it interesting at the moment of pressing the shutter release button. Most of these pictures are considered as non-art and therefore as having no value by the members of the art community. Many Leica photographers feel the need to comply to the rules of composition that have been laid down by the canon of art aestheticism.

The humble vernacular snapshot has to be elevated to the level of the so-called snapshot-aesthetic to be of some interest. The common snapshot has been described as low art because it depicts ordinary life in photographs taken by amateurs who take pictures without artistic intentions. The ordinary snapshot is characterized by a highly ritualized style and composition with the main object in the center. The typical shutter speed and aperture are 1/50 and f/8. The important difference with photography as an art form (the Kantian aesthetic) is the social function of the photograph. The production and use of the photograph as a family snapshot is always embedded in a social ritual and has no artistic goal. The same style of photographs with ordinary objects as its main theme has been elevated to high art in the form of the snapshot aesthetic, as practiced by the street photographers in Paris and New York from 1930 to 1960. Many of these photographers used a Leica rangefinder camera, because in that period it was the only reliable and easy-to-use compact camera. The style of fast shooting precluded the use of the rangefinder and zone focusing was the norm, most often with the 35 mm wide-angle lens for extended depth of field.
The connection between the Leica RF camera with the 35 mm lens and the snapshot aesthetic of the street photographers has defined the public role and status of the Leica camera. There is a distinct danger in focusing too much attention on the small selection of acknowledged art photographs as typical for the medium as a whole.
The history of photography is documented with at most two hundred photographs, selected by an historian of art or photography. Bill Jay has remarked that any such small and personal selection out of the millions of pictures that have been taken since the 1820s produces a distorted view of the real history of photography. The millions of domestic snapshots, by art critics referred to as low art or by sociologists as middle brow art, are not included in the official history.

The photographic style of the so-called snapshot aesthetic, was made respectfully in the world of art by the MoMa exhibition in 1967 ’New documents”, featuring then unknown photographers Arbus, Friedlander, Winogrand. Szarkowski, the curator of the exhibition wrote that what united these three photographers is a belief that the world is worth looking at without theorizing. The pictures showed the causal style of ordinary snapshots and the subject matter was ordinary or at best a bit bizarre. The street was the theatre of urban space and the new style was in fact a continuation of the famous Kodak moment and the humanistic photography of the French, mainly Parisian photographers. Why these pictures by the three Americas were accepted as art is a matter of debate. A main reason is the mere fact that they were exhibited in a famous museum and another reason might be that these pictures indicated a major departure from the conventional style of art photography, exemplified by Steichen, Weston and Adams.

The question ‘what is art’, is in most history books conveniently evaded. To answer such a simple question, one would have to plunge into the deep waters of art theory and art history, not to mention theories of aesthetics or even philosophies of aesthetics. It suffices to refer to a handful iconic works of art and to note how close the photograph that is being assessed is to any one of the established works of art. It is inevitable that such an assessment is personal and subjective.
Art critique is often interpreted as negative, because the art reviewer has a set of norms that is assumed to define the quality of the art work. In reality the art critic describes what in his view are the merits of the work. There is some resemblance to the evaluation of the technical quality of a photograph. Image quality can be described in a subjective way and with the help of a number of measurement techniques. When the last method has been selected it is possible that the amount of aberrations can be objectively established. Such an approach is not possible when discussing the criteria that define that elusive concept of ‘art’.

Art critique is impossible without a reference to one of the theories of art. The two most important theories are now the modernist and post-modernist theories of art. Most theorists would claim that only the post-modernist theory has any relevance for the current evaluation of the visual arts.
Critics of photography follow generally the following steps: describing, interpreting, evaluating and theorizing. A background theory is necessary to put these actions into context. For example: post-modernism claims that every work of (visual) art must be interpreted as a text where symbols take the place of words. The common reference is the visual language that photographers need to learn in order to create meaningful photographs. Interpretation is a most important activity because interpreting a picture loads it with meaning and provide an answer to the question: ‘what is it about?’.

There are large practical and theoretical problems when one wishes to define photographic pictures as art. Notwithstanding these problems, there are a number of iconic photographs that define the medium.
Camera manufacturers are keen to relate their products with iconic art photographs.
The reason is obvious and quite simple. Photographs are made by photographers who use photographic equipment. Any serious photographer will assume or will be persuaded to assume that using a certain type of camera will enable him to take the same kind of pictures. Leitz in particular used the strategy of connecting famous scientists, explorers and later photographers with the Leitz products to promote the Leica camera. There was also a very logical argument for this strategy: the possibilities of the novel concept of the Leica had to be explained to the photographic world. The Leica Company follows the same strategy even today. The photographic world has however changed dramatically and the use of pictures as demonstrations of the capabilities and qualities of the equipment is losing its effectiveness.

The idea of archetypes of iconic pictures that set the norm for any serious photographer to copy or emulate is still prevalent in the world of photography. No one fails to photograph a blind accordionist, a barber shop entrance or a deserted gas station, because these images are part of the collective memory of the art of photography.
Leica photographers face the double challenge to comply with the standards from the art world and the standards from the technical domain. To be taken seriously as a Leica photographer, they are under the obligation to adopt the standards of what is considered to be good Leica photography. Historically, Leica photography is also closely tied to a certain level of image quality. The reputation of the Leica lenses is legendary. One of the arguments to invest in a camera system as expensive as a Leica rangefinder camera and its range of lenses, is the potential for a level of image clarity, usually linked to medium format systems.
Photography can be defined as an art and a craft. The skill to produce a technically accurate image can be learned, while the creativity to produce a work of art is a gift. This at least is the common view of the matter. To rediscover the joy of photography, the Leica photographer needs to shake off the yoke of the art canon.
As soon as one realizes that the art industry of galleries, artists and museums follows economic laws that capitalize on the human art instinct (a biologically regulated drive), one can look at the icons and canons of modern photographic art with a fresh view.

Photographic criticism is a personal and subjective act of judgment and interpretation. Every photographer should be free to adopt any set of rules he wishes to use. The basic requirement is a sense of pride in one’s own ability to take the pictures one likes. When the Zone System was imperative for monochrome photographers, many supporters of the system selected motives where the command of the rules of the system could be demonstrated. The motives themselves were rather boring (from today’s perspective): white pained buildings in blazing sun with deep dark shadows. Printing the full tonal scale in the darkroom was the rule and the photographer who succeeded could be proud of the result. It is not different these days with the use of digital Leica M cameras. The Zone System may be anathema, but it has been replaced by a cult of sharpness, not in the least inspired by the high optical quality of the Leica M lenses and the resolving power of the solid-state sensor. The low noise (grain in the context of classical emulsions) and high sensitivity of the imager system promote the impression of high sharpness. Many Leica M users (including the small but growing class of film emulsion aficionados) exploit sharpness techniques and select suitable motives for the task. Not every Leica photographer is enamoured by this approach. The basic dichotomy in photographic criticism is the one that divides photography in two segments: science and art. The focus on sharpness definitely falls into the category of science. The focus on meaning and composition falls into the category of art.
It is important to make sure that one does not throw away the baby with the bathwater and to replace one obsession with another one. Art photography has been cultivated for a long period. Leica M photography is strongly associated with the theme of street photography and the decisive moment. Since Cartier-Bresson’s book (L’Image à la Sauvette (The image on the run), every Leica photographer is at least aware of the cult of the decisive moment. Since the New Vision movement in art and photography, every one knows about the power of the clear photograph, taken from an unusual angle. Both approaches are in themselves valuable and can co-exist side by side.

Domestic snapshot photography is not part of any of these two categories. The important events and persons in daily life are photographed in stereotyped situations (the example of the standard tourist picture is well-known). Many photographs are made with a limited command of the basic photographic techniques.
The reality of the daily environment is taken for granted. What you see is what exists. Most photographers know that there is a difference between what one observes and what the camera records. Vision and reality as subjects of science and philosophy are highly complex phenomena that defy simple explanations. The photographer who records his daily life and the things and persons that interest him most, knows, at least intuitively, that there is a big difference in the way the camera records real life and the brain processes the information from ‘out there’. Almost every manual of photography includes a chapter on the topic of learning to see photographically. This is an acknowledgment of the fact that the human eye and the lens of the camera see things differently and see different things. Only by comparing the photograph with the original view, can we see the importance of such a statement. The bad point is of course that we do not have an objective record of what we saw when we took the photograph. The human memory is a poor recording and retrieval instrument. This is one of the reasons why we take pictures at all: to preserve at least a record of what was there when we took the picture. It is the case that the brain processes the information projected on the retina based on a set of rules that are part biological, part social and part cultural. Photographers often remark that photographs are highly personalized (even intentional) versions of reality because of the choices that the photographer has: select frame, viewpoint, moment of shutter release, focal length, shutter speed and aperture. Included in this list is the quality and quantity of the light that illuminates the subject. Most handbooks of photography try to explain the effect of each of these choices in great depth. The choice of all these photo-technical parameters in a precise combination and applied to specific subject matter produce a more or less artful picture. In theory there is an infinite number of combinations and permutations and the skilful choice and application of subject matter and technique is the defining characteristic of an artistically inclined photographer.

What is the relation between this discussion about the intentionality and meaning of a photograph and the Leica photographer who uses the camera as a simple recording instrument? The photographer has three main elements to play with: the gaze, the chance moment and the objects in reality. Weston, Renger-Patzsch and Feinimger noted that it is the Thing Itself (with capitals) that should inspire the photographer to record as cleanly as possible (or as objectively as possible) the real object. Because the camera records whatever is before the lens at the moment of the shutter release and the eye only sees selectively what is beyond the head, thee is room for a detective approach, the one Sherlock Holmes applies to solve a mystery. This is a strong argument for the so-called high-resolution photography.
When one looks at a photograph, the important question is to ask what happens here. The core of the matter is that a photograph is a statement, it is a form of communication. This is a most modern approach: (digital) image processing is based on information theory and the mathematics behind it. The message of the photograph, however simple it may be (“I made this picture because I liked to make this picture”) is more forceful when there is no nice composition to distract the viewer. A beautiful composition will push away the observation or the detection of what is going on. Winogrand said that every photograph is a contention between form and content: one is always threatening to overwhelm the other. The Dutch photographer Fieret dismisses aesthetic rules as guiding principles and specifically wants to produce ‘sloppy’ pictures.

It is important to note that the snapshot aesthetic is a continuation of the amateur aesthetic that flourished since the introduction of the Kodak Box around 1890. The actual discussion centres around the dividing line between fine-art and vernacular photography. The Kodak snapshot was followed by the Leica snapshot with the well-known characteristics of immediacy and handheld shooting. The limitations of the original Leica rangefinder forced the photographer to position his subject in the center or to look over the camera to estimate his framing. William Morgan wrote in 1944:

“The snapshot has become, in truth, a folk art, spontaneous, almost effortless, yet deeply expressive. It is an honest art, partly because it doesn’t occur to the average snapshooter to look beyond reality, partly because the natural domain of the camera is in the world of things as they are, and partly because it is simply more trouble to make an untrue picture than a true picture.”
My goal is to follow this approach and to discuss modern high-resolution photographic techniques that may help the user of the Leica rangefinder camera to rediscover the joy of snapshot photography. There is however more to say about snapshot or candid or domestic or vernacular photography. There are many names for the same subject!
When we take pictures of events and things in the daily environment, we have to be aware of two problems: (1) reality is not what it seems to the casual observer: there is much debate in modern physics and philosophy what it is and whether it does exist at all and (2) neurophysiology and vision science tells us that the brain is constructing the image of reality we assume to observe. The camera has no brain and records diligently what is physically possible.
It is not the camera that has to be tamed to reproduce what the eye sees (the common artistic approach). It is the eye that has to be educated to detect what is out there in the real world without the interfering and mediating brain. Such an approach suits the stated goal of the design of Leica lenses to record a maximum amount of fine detail. Discussions between Winogrand and Meyerowitz among others focused on technical matters related to the handheld camera and its small negative. One of the topics was the question how much information could be put on a small negative.

There is at least one convincing argument to follow the path of the domestic snapshot photography.
Several historians of photography assume that among the many snapshots there should be a handful of accidental masterpieces, that are unknown because no one sees them. Domestic snapshot photography resides in the domain of the ‘visual trophies’, highly ritualized and at the same time quite spontaneous photographs of ordinary things, persons and events.
In the Leica world the number of snapshots vastly exceeds the number of intentionally artistic photographs.
Leitz/Leica have sold about 700.000 film loading rangefinder M-cameras and about 150.000 solid-state sensor equipped rangefinder M-cameras. This last estimate is derived from these observations: every year since the announcement of the M8 between 10.000 and 20.000 cameras have been produced. During the ten years since 2006 a minimum of 100.000 and a maximum of 200.000 have been made. The average is 150.000.
Only a small minority of these 850.000 cameras have been employed by artist-photographers: let us say about a few hundreds. The majority of Leica cameras then have been used to record daily domestic scenes. When we assume that every single camera in its entire life has been clicked about a thousand times (a very low estimate), then there must have been made at least close to a billion (850.000.000) pictures with a Leica rangefinder camera since 1954. Only a fraction of these have been recognized as photographic art.
Another approach would be to look at current usage.
There are now some 150.000 Leica cameras in actual use since the announcement of the Leica M3. This is a rough estimate. I guess that only 5% of the film loading cameras is in actual use and 70% of the digital cameras. That is 40.000 plus 100.000 equals 140.000 cameras. Every year 500 pictures are being taken, again a very low estimate given the appetite for digital snapshooting. That would amount to a whopping 70 million pictures in 2016 alone. How many of these would fall into the category of photographic masterpieces? Hardly a handful if at all! When the merits of the casual photographs are compared with the yardstick of current aesthetic theory there are indeed hardly any masterpieces. But this approach is backing the wrong horse. Currently, Leica’s Photo Gallery shows mainly old masters and hardly any new ones. The focus on iconic photographs is certainly not helpful when one sees the snapshot as a document for immortalizing the present.

This poses the question why do we take photographs in the first place. An answer to this question can be found in the tale by Italo Calvino: “Adventures of a Photographer”.
The next question is a logical continuation.
Why use a Leica rangefinder camera? When one considers only the final result (the image or print), there is not much to argue in favor of the Leica camera. Many modern cameras can deliver the same image quality, thanks to the powerful image processing algorithms. The much discussed special optical characteristic of three dimensionality of Leica lenses is hardly visible in the thin sensor surface.
The big advantage of the original Leica I camera was its size, the reliability of the mechanism, the quality of the optics and the eye-level framing. Of these characteristics, the size is the most important. Small size and weight are necessary ingredients for the casual photographer who cares for the style of the instantaneous photograph.
The picture is always judged with reference to the function it has for the person who took the photograph or the function which the maker thinks it could fulfil for another person (the famous intentionality of a picture). Artistic photography depends on genre and aesthetic qualities, however nebulously defined. When the picture is considered as non-art, any genre will do and the quality of the picture becomes a technical issue. In addition, the practice of photography as an activity or process, its social dimension and its role as a craft, are important elements to consider.
The Leica rangefinder camera has the advantage that the user will be aware of the process and technique of photography. Photography with a Leica rangefinder is easy: just pick up the camera and start taking pictures. There is a whole world to discover as soon as one discards the artistic template in one’s head. Visual templates, derived from iconic pictures, have the bad habit of guiding the photographer to seek for these templates in real life. The important rule of Sherlock Holmes (looking with your eyes is not observing with your eyes) is easily forgotten. Observing is only possible when the detective knows a lot about what he observes. Finding the reality behind the commonplace is a goal of the photographer who accepts the rules of the high-resolution snapshot with the Leica M.

new trends in film emulsions

When film emulsions were the only method of recording a scene or object/person, there was a clear division of labour. The 35 mm film and camera was selected when convenience, speed and low cost were important. The small negative had its limitations when the utmost in image quality was required. Then the medium format camera could be selected. Less easy to use, more costly and the maximum of 12 images was a limit. Fashion photographers had assistants that were involved in loading cassettes for the master. Commercial photographers and art photographers (zone system required) used field and studio camera that could be loaded with one negative at a time. Speed was replaced by contemplation. Large negatives were costly and careful processing was needed to make the most of it.
Kodak tried to make the 35 mm camera a challenge for the medium format camera by introducing the Kodak Technical Pan film. Incredible resolution, but extremely slow speed: the best results require an EI of 16 ISO (incidentally the speed of the original Pan-X).
My own testing shows that modern film emulsions are the equal of 35 mm sized sensors, when you take care of all variables. This is of course not the current style of photography. Modern consumers require ease of use, foolproof processing and fuss-less sharing of images.
A film that can surpass even a 50 Mp sensor in 35 mm size is the Belgium-Agfa made microfilm, that is sold in several guises. The Adox version is well known as is the Spur DSX. The bad point about these films is the very low speed: more than ISO 12 is not advisable when one wishes to get good shadow detail according to the rules of the zone system. If you have scenes without deep shadows ISO 25 is possible. Spur has recently introduced a new developer for this film, the DSX 200. With this developer a realistic speed of ISO 100 and even ISO 200 should be feasible. I will test the claim soon. If true this is a major boost for quality conscious Leica photographers. The Apo-Summicron range (50-75-90) could be exploited to the full.
When Amaloco was a household name for photographers, the AM74 was a favorite developer because it could be used with all kinds of film and produce outstanding sharpness. Grain was a problem but when printing at a maximum of 10 times enlargement, everything was fine. An improved version of this film is now on the market as Rollei Supergrain with (claimed) much improved performance.
The last new developer is the Spur Speed-Major, a push developer without the usual loss of shadow details. This developer allows the HP5 to be used at EI 2000 without loss of shadow detail and without a substantial grain increase. When true (test will follow soon) analog photographers can now move into really high-speed photography (above 3200 ISO).

The humble snapshot

The photographic genre of street photography as practiced by Brassai, Cartier-Bresson and more modern persons like Winogrand and Eggleston is still a popular genre. Many books exist that will tell you how and why to proceed when street photography is your ambition. Street photography was once (around 1900) a nuisance (brought about by the ubiquitous Kodak Box camera) and got the status of an art form since Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. The responsibility to elevate the humble snapshot to an at form rests with Szarkowski who vigorously promoted this style of photography as a medium specific art form. Bill Jay has remarked that any history of photography selects only at most 200 ‘iconic images’ that are supposed to define the essence of the medium. But millions of images are unknown and may represent a much more accurate history.The same Szarkowski has promoted the family snapshot as a serious topic of study. Indeed only at most 1% of all pictures made today are accepted by galeries as genuine art (whatever that means).
My guess is that there are now around 300.000 Leica cameras in use today (from M3 to M10) and only a minute fraction of these cameras is used by individuals who are conveniently classified as art photographers or produce pictures that may copy the content and style of pictures that are made by art photographers as defined by museums and galleries.
The Leica camera is most often used for taking pictures in the domestic or vernacular domain. Most of these pictures are made for personal memories of important or emotionally relevant events or persons.
The official Leica view is that these pictures are irrelevant for the Leica image. They seem to forget that the first Leica images were very domestic snapshots. It is a fallacy to equate Leica photography with art photography. Most early Leica photographs were reportages by scientists and by explorers who documented the reality of expeditions and were made with reality in focus.
The non-art snapshot is the stuff the Leica world is made of. And only when this style of snapshot photography is accepted as genuine Leica photography can we start to appreciate the camera and its lenses and uses. The photo-artist Feininger has written many books and one of them “Die Welt Neu Gesehen’ is an advice to start taking pictures without artistic pretensions but with a great admiration for the objects that reality offers us.
The camera can help you to see the world anew and the Leica lenses are superb tools to record what is in front of the camera.
So forget about art and composition and just record whatever interests you and look afterwards in the picture to see what inspired you.

Why do we take photographs



The urge to take photographs is a mystery that is slowly being unraveled. We have to discard all the common arguments that can be found on the internet and look a bit deeper. A sociologist will remark that taking photographs is part of a highly ritualized social protocol: we take pictures as tourists of all photogenic locations we visit and we take pictures as family members of important family and domestic affairs. We take pictures of these scenes and events because we want to remember what was the case. Memory is tricky and will fade anyway. In this age of the selfie, another motive has to be added: the photograph as tool for personal communication. Documentary photographers and photo-journalists may object and add that the idea that a photograph or a series of photographs tells a story, is an old one. A selfie does not tell a story but makes a statement.
Snapshots and selfies may be neglected by ‘serious’ photographers who see a photograph as a personal expression of sentiment or as an artistic creation. It is the age-old dichotomy between intention and documentation that has coloured the definition and appraisal of photography since the early nineteenth century.
When we ask why we take pictures, we must also look at the objects we take pictures of. Photographs are taken to be looked at at some time after the moment of recording.

When discussing the essence of photography the analogy between the eye and the lens is often used to show the similarities. This is too easy. Reality, some philosophers would say is not the physical reality we assume it to be, but there is a filter between the physical reality and our brain which transforms the physical reality into a social reality. What we see is not what there is. The brain will influence what we see, based on what is already known. Neurofysiology tells this story in a different way. The basics are indisputable. Physical objects bounce off photons and these reach the retina. The retina calculates the angle of the trajectory of the photons and a pattern of light intensities on the retina is used by the brain to construct a meaningful shape. This is the so-called top-down direction: the higher level of the brain influences the lower level processing. This is needed because the brain can process at best 1% of all visual information that is being transmitted through the eye lens. There is a good biological reason for this fact: the brain must process the visual impulses immediately to become aware of danger in the close surroundings of the human being in his environment. If it would take minutes to recognize a lion, we would never survive by running away.
Lower level processing is not influenced by the brain processes that select the information and construct an image. This lower level processing records the unfiltered visual information that the environment sends to us. Scientists do not agree on what this type of processing is and does, but it is evident that an ‘objective (unfiltered)’ scan within the field of vision provides us with an overview of what is ‘out there’ beyond our head.
The Leica viewfinder incidentally is a perfect match for this idea of visual processing. The viewfinder corresponds with the low level vision and when focusing on a specific object (the rangefinder patch) the high level processing takes over.
The lens has an easy task: it has only to transmit the photons and the emulsion records this amount and pattern of photons without interpreting the pattern. The comparison between the eye and the lens is a bit too primitive.
The accuracy and objectivity of the camera lens and emulsion has been one of the main reasons why scientists were so enthusiastically about the new medium. It could function as a welcome correction for the subjectivity of the human perception.
Here then lies one of the reasons why we take pictures. It is not the art instinct that Dutton describes in his book with the same title and not the preservation of the moment that Barthes mentions in his book ‘Camera Lucida’. It is the urge to record in an instant what we do not see and what can be preserved for eternity and for later study. It is the compensation for the scrupulous gaze of the detective who can see what others overlook.
There is more however.
Psychology adds some valuable insight: the drive to record scenes for later inspection and hoping that the recording is objective (at least immune for brain reconstruction) is one element. The other crucial element is the psychological relation to a scene. Studies have shown that persons get good feelings when looking at pictures of scenes and events that they were involved in and that produced at that time good feelings. Seeing the scene some time later, recalls the same good feelings as one had at the moment of recording. That is why parents take pictures of their smiling baby: looking at the photo relives that same good feeling of the moment.
That is also why ritualized photographs, taken because the social rules demand or prescribe it, have much less emotional value. A picture of the Eiffel Tower will not produce happy feelings, because the commercial version is much better and you were not happy when taking the picture in the first place: there is an obligation as a tourist, not a strong emotional bonding. The picture of the small bistro where you asked your girlfriend to become your wife, has strong emotional connections, but as a picture it may be boring. But it will produce happy feelings and that is why you took the picture: to relive these feelings that fade in memory.
Why then do you take pictures? Forget about art and rituals! Search and find objects you are curious about and that will give you good feelings when looking at the photograph again. Take pictures of events and persons that you were enthusiastically about when encountering. Forget about the classical rules of composition and free yourself to see and feel. Then press the shutter and process a straight print.
There is yet another motive to take pictures: this is what Winogrand did in the last stages of his life: he took thousands of rolls of film without developing or inspecting them. The idea was that taking a picture enriches the experience of being there and to feel yourself as a being. If this is your goal: a course of yoga might be cheaper and less time consuming.


selective enlargements

There is one persistent trend: the demand for more pixels. When Leica announced the M8 with its 10 Mp, there was an immediate response that this amount was too timid. The M9 had 18 Mp, but spread over a larger area. The pixels size did not change (6.8 micron in both cases). The M240 family and the new M10 has a pixel count of 24 Mp with a slightly reduced pixel size. The Leica Q uses selective cropping to emulate several focal lengths, combining a 24 Mp sensor with a basic 28 mm lens. The idea is that the definition of the lens can be used to enlarge sections of the sensor area. It is the same as using several focal lenght’s from one fixed standpoint to enlarge a small part of the scene.
The same idea can also be used with the MM2 and the Apo-Summicron-M 50 mm lens. When you take a picture of a model the result may be like this:
L1000343

If you want only a part of the face, you can use a 90mm lens or enlarge a section of the picture, see below.

L1000343-select

This picture is a non-post-processed sectional enlargement of the original file. The definition is excellent and all detail is clearly and crisply rendered.
Selective enlargements are as old as photography itself. It is one of the main arguments for using high definition, monodispersion emulsions.