The gunners reached out into the open air and leveled their guns with a great slot and click sound. They trained them on the ground. I felt my hands tense up. I realized, for the first time, that both my hands were wrapped tightly around my Leica. Oh my god, my Leica! I have the greatest camera in the world in my fucking hands and I’m in the middle of this shit right here.
In that moment, ALL FEAR was gone. I was right where I wanted to be in the whole world. I reached into my pocket, which was difficult with the armor, and took out my light meter. I got readings out the window, inside, the floor under my feet. I did quick averages of the readings in my head. Now all my thoughts were of film. “Okay I’m at about 5.6 outside if I’m at 250 which is a good speed from a moving helicopter. If I want to get stuff outside, I’ll squeeze the fstop down to about 8. If I want inside the bird I’ll open to 2.8, 4 if I want a bit of both.” I set all these functions on the camera and started firing away. The helicopter leaned forward and we tore off across Baghdad.
– Louis CK
Do not know why he took down the rundown of his gear on his old blog, but I only recently found out that the tremendous Louis CK is a Leica shooter. Hope he doesn’t mind me repurposing his post and an article excerpt, but it is fantastic. He’s not just a Leica fetishist like some well-known celebs, but a real film nerd.
Seriously. His stock just rises and rises.
I take a lot of pictures. I am very, very into photography and I was certainly going to take this opportunity to take some. I’m going to show you all the equipment I brought with me. I’m not showing off here. I’m not rich. I just spend all my money on cameras. It’s important to me. I am sharing it with you because to me it’s part of the story.
This is the main dude. A film camera. A range-finder. I only really shoot film, though I do use a digital camera just to record moments, to take snapshots. This Leica is handmade in Germany. It is encased in painted brass and has all mechanical parts. It has no automatic settings. There is a light meter but the battery was dead when I brought it on this trip so I shot the entire trip manually with a hand light meter. The Leica MP is made exactly the same way Leica made Rangefinders in the 60s. It’s not even an SLR. you have to line up images in the rangefinder and hope for the best.
The main reason to use a Leica is the lenses. Leica lenses are hand ground and they just do amazing things with images applied to film. I really love shooting film because there are an infinite ammount of combinations aof types of film (black and white, color, fast, slow, grainy, fine, high contrast, low), ways of exposing the film (pushing, pulling, over-exposing) and lenses to use. Small adjustments to the exposure, like changing the apeture, make dramatic differences from one picture to the next. Shooting without an in-camera light meter forces you to really look at the light you are shooting with, to notice when it changes and to think about what each apeture means and how it will effect your picture. Having prime lenses means you work with one focal length at a time and think and learn about the different characteristics and strengths of each lens and instead of zooming in and out you use your legs and body to frame the photo, which makes you do it more carefully. Comparing this to most digital photography, where you just sort of pump the lens back and forth till you get the framing you want, and snap, letting the camera decide how to expose it. Even with manual and more proffesional digital cameras, the sensors of these cameras are what they are. Theyr’e very limited and you can use photoshop later but it just ain’t the same. Not in my opinion. It’s just my opinion so save your long comments in defense of digital photography. Or don’t. I don’t care.
As I just mentioned, I only use prime lenses, meaning the lens has one size, fixed. It doesn’t zoom. If you want another focal length, you have to change the lens. I brought three lenses with me. The one on the camera is a 50mm Sumilux. It opens to f1.4 which makes it very good for low light and takes incredible daylight pictures when wide open, because of the extremely low depth of field, meaning only the object you focus on is in focus,the enviroment around it is not and the way a Leica Lens treats that area is part of what makes them great.
The other two lenses were an old 90mm lens and a new 35mm aspherical lens. Aspherical means it’s not roundish and so you can take a wide angle picture without getting a distorted rounded image.
This is the light meter I brought, very basic..
Seconic light meter
The last thing I want to say is that Leica cameras are stupid expensive. even really old ones. But you don’t need one to take film pictures. You can get an amazingly good Nikon SLR, (I reccomend the FM2) and good Nikon lenses for very cheap.
– Louis CK
Mary Ellen Mark passed away last week. She was absolutely one of a kind.
If you have not already, I urge you to go read the many articles and tributes pouring in from writers and artists and her peers.
Her love of teaching has sadly been ignored by the media. It was this personal touch with many of us that made her rise above the ranks of legendary photographers into a legendary mentor, affecting and changing an entire generation of photographers and artists.
The lessons I learned in the short time I spent with her, one travel workshop and one weekend workshop, have stuck with me and I am remember her words clearly like a bell. I can clearly see her influence on me in my proof sheets. She gave me so much in such a short time. I deeply regret not taking more advantage of her openness and giving nature.
I honestly do not know of anyone that could possibly fill the empty space that she left in the world.
And here is the crux of what she taught me, the lessons and goals I have each time I bring the camera up to my eye.
What I learned from Mary Ellen Mark and Think of Every Time I Shoot
These were the points from her quick appraisal of my initial portfolio review to start the workshop:
- My portraits are stronger
- I have too much noise in my street work
- I am losing the graphic elements and strongly designed frames of my portraits in my street work
- I need to add a 28mm to my suite of gear (I only shoot with a 35mm on the streets)
As she was going through my photos and making her selects, I had some of my own revelations:
- My street photos have become very literal, very straightforward
- I record and capture now more than I create, especially on the street
- My portraits reflect me controlling a situation and creating and the result is very different
- Because my candid street shooting has been my priority, I have been solely focused with the ability to get close to people and fire off that shot, in focus and properly exposed. In other words, speed and closeness have trumped other values
- I have lost the lyrical, weird, quirky aesthetic to my work, qualities that I used to have years ago
- There is a surreal, disconcerting to many of Mary Ellen’s images that I have always loved. I have never been a very strong surrealist and it is time to incorporate this quality into my work if I can
Mary Ellen’s Tasks for Me
The charge I received from Mary Ellen was simple and was repeated almost daily to me:
- Stop being safe
- Put my lens in different places
- Be bold
- Be conscious of everything in the frame
- Reduce the background noise
- Compose with strong graphic elements
- Take risks
I will do my best to honor her by doing great and meaningful work, to not suffer fools, to keep pushing in everything, and to keep shooting film.
Thank you, Mary Ellen. It was a blessing to spend time with you.
It was a great pleasure to sit down with the architect and cultural curator Warren Wade Andersen late last year and chat with him about my life and work.
Many of the questions I continually field are in this interview. It was a great time and as much as I hate to hear the sound of my own voice, there’s a lot of good content in here:
- Leonard Cohen | On Conde Guitars
- Chiang Mai | Hill Tribe Area
- Bucharest | Gypsy Apartments
- Romania | The Shepherd
- Chiang Mai | The Chinese Monk
- Thailand | Chiang Mai
- Thailand | Chiang Rai
- Werner Herzog | On Celluloid
- Chiang Mai | Hmong Hill Tribe
- Chiang Mai | The Karen Hill Tribe
- Arthur C. Clarke | The HAL – IBM Myth
- Chiang Mai | Palong Hill Tribe
- Ridley Scott | Kubrick Footage in Blade Runner
- Chiang Mai | Longneck Hill Tribe
- Louis CK | Leica Shooting, USO Tour
- Born Yogis
- Chiang Mai
- dougKIM photography
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- San Francisco
- São Paulo
- Washington DC