Indeed it has been a while.
Not because I haven’t made any pictures or because I haven’t had anything to say. Just because I haven’t had the urge to tell people something, or the drive to write anything down.
Mainly I’ve been enjoying myself. Thinking about life, listening to people making music, observing people doing whatever they were doing.
It’s interesting to observe. I’ve always known this, but in the past month it’s been more present than other times. I find it fascinating to see how people, including myself, try to stand out in whatever they do. Whether it’s photography or producing the most advanced camera’s (to name a few in my line of work), performing on stage or running a café as good as possible, working as a volunteer in Africa or writing a blog about design. Whether it’s putting oneself in the spotlight or trying to organise for somebody else to stand on the front row, everybody tries to be good at something.
For me that is fascinating. And it showed me and reminds me of what I try to learn and excel in. I want to observe. I want to be good at it, if possible the best. This month I practiced a lot observing others, only to find out again that if I really want to be good at it, I should also observe myself. Very carefully. So I did. It wasn’t fun all the time… to be honest there were many times It wasn’t fun at all. But I progressed, I learned…. a lot. And to think I’ve only just started…
Photography often helps me in this quest to observe. It allows me to see without judgement, it sometimes hides me in plain side, I meet people that I otherwise might not meet and it gives me a platform to show my own progress.
For me photography returned to its essence when I started using my small M. Taking the time to observe, forcing me to go back to craftsmanship, engage by going in close… in any situation that I want to observe. Again I needed to learn. A range finder gives you a different perspective, works differently, invokes different reactions. Again by reflecting my work, practicing over and over again and by choosing the stories I’d really like to tell… I slowly got better. And here to, I’ve only just begun…
It’s been a few weeks now, that I actually have the M240 and I’m using it for work. I’m loving the comfort and security with which I’m shooting now. When on assignment I only take this small bag with me and it’s very liberating.
A couple of weeks ago I shot an interview with Jan Cremer, one of the most interesting writers and painters of the Netherlands. The setting was in his studio, at an improvised table where Rick the Leeuw- artist, writer, poet, interviewer and many more- interviewed Jan. A more photographically interesting setting I couldn’t wish for.
Though I had to use a bit higher ISO (800, sometimes even 1600) I had complete confidence in the camera. Post processing was a bit more work due to the mixture of daylight and yellowish tungsten and all the colours of paint on the wall, fooling my camera. Every angle I was shooting from had a huge different effect on the white balance. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I had shot with the Monochrom, but the magazine obviously wanted colour. (And to be honest, who wouldn’t in a colourful setting like this). As it wouldn’t add to the interview I didn’t interrupt, but set a standard white balance at the start and used it throughout the whole lunch.
The interview was as interesting and inspiring as taking the photos. Stories of traveling, living in poverty as an artist, sacrifices you make to reach your goal, living in the moment to enjoy the surprises life presents you, it was all there… I loved it.
Back home for nearly two weeks, it’s time to look back at a wonderful trip. Because I had to return the Monochrom to Transcontinenta BV, who very kindly supported me with the camera for this long experiment, I would like to look back at working with this wonderful camera.
It felt like a crazy decision at first, going to the land of colour with an all black & white camera. And the first month I did have some doubts. I even turned back to the M9 some times. Which I only brought with me as a backup. But during the trip I fell in love with the camera. By now, I actually don’t see a reason not to switch from the M9 to the Monochrom. In these two weeks back home, I think I’ve figured out why this B&W camera got to me. Some of the questions and remarks I had on my blogs and facebookpage, helped me discover this. Thank you for that!
As I told you in an earlier blog, I use my camera to interact with the people I meet or to cope with the situations I’m in. I use a lot of energy connecting with my subjects. I have figured out that the Monochrom helps me to safe more energy. The way it does that, is taking away choices.
When I was shopping in the Netherlands for the first time in 5 months, I suddenly realised that making a choice, does cost me energy. In India, shopping for cornflakes, will give you cornflakes. There’s only one kind. (if they have any at all!) Here in the Netherlands, it takes me 5 minutes to figure out which cornflakes to take and then I have to choose if I want a small package or a large one. Same happens when buying the milk to go along with it. It takes time, and therefor energy to make such decisions.
With photography it’s the same thing. Most “modern” cameras have so many options I don’t know where to start. Specially when the camera is equipped with a 24-70 mm zoom. With the Monochrom and its 35 mm Summicron, there is very little choice. Actually there’s close to none. This camera is as basic as they come. Therefor all my energy can be spend with the subject of my picture.
That said, I did have to become a craftsman before I could use this camera in such way. The technique had to be ingrained in my hands and in my mind. Luckily I had done so in the past two years with the Leica M9. Now I’m shooting the same way as I did when I started photography: Instinctively. The only difference is that now, I know what I’m doing, so I can work with a minimum in choice and a maximum in quality (camera) and knowledge (technique).
The Black & White aspect is another important aspect of why I love this new Leica. In the same blog I referred to before, there’s another reason why I take pictures. I need to observe. I need to step away from the story to actually see the bigger picture. For me personally, colour distracts me from the story. Whenever I see a picture in colour, the first thing I see is colour, vibrance (or lack of) and contrast. When I look at a monochrome picture, the first thing I see is a story. To me there’s only one exception to this and that is when colour or it’s vibrance, ís telling me the actual story.
Of course I could also “sell” the camera with it’s toning, beautiful sharpness, it’s dynamic range etc etc. But every advertorial or advert will tell you this. For me personal this is not that important. A camera is good or it’s not. What’s most important for me, is that it lets me do what I like to do the most: Get to know the world and tell my stories as I see them.
Sometimes, you need to admit you’re in need of desperate help. This is one of those times. When on the road for a long period of time, shooting as many pictures as I have, you can lose track and certainly objectivity of the pictures you have shot. I can make a reasonable estimate on which pictures are good and which are even better, but picking out just one black and white photo out of all the pictures I have taken during my trip, is a task that comes near to the impossible. Still this is what I need to do, so I ask you… Help me.
You can check the pictures at my Flickr page and leave a comment and a description of your favorite here on the blog. Thank you so much!
So Bangkok just didn’t really work for me, even though I wanted it to. It just wasn’t the time. A train ticket to Ayutthaya would help me ease the pain… I thought. Unfortunately in the start, it didn’t. This place is full of old temples and is lovely to ride through on a rented bicycle, but it didn’t really give me the inspiration that I was looking for. At the moment it is about 40 degrees Celsius which keeps most people inside or in the shadows doing nothing.
So I decided to do the same. Give in to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen and lie down with a book in the shade. Second day, just to have a break from lying down, I decided to take a short walk. Not intending to take any pictures or look for any interesting situations. There it was… a huge tent, filled with Thai people, a boxing ring in the middle and banners hanging down, shouting: “Muay Thai Boxing Championship.” There was no hesitation, no doubt, this I needed to see. This needed my Monochrom to get out of the bag and work.
I found out, shooting sports with a rangefinder is hard. I needed to shift my thinking. The movement of the boxers was to quick to keep up manual focus. Luckily I knew I could push the MM to ISO 640 without getting noise or quality loss. This way I could close down my aperture a bit ( to f8.0), to ensure that the movement of the boxers wouldn’t immediately mean my picture would be out of focus. Using the zone focus scale on top of my lens gave me the opportunity to focus on framing and the actual action. More important I could do it without loosing any speed. And that’s what I needed: speed. These athletes were ferocious, quick and all over the place.
I walked up to the ring and maneuvered myself into the corner where one of the boxers would be patched up every break between rounds. I was only send away once, as I nearly sat down on one of the referees lap, but I was virtually hanging inside the ring most of the time. Very necessary because a 35mm Summicron is a great lens, my favorite, but you’ll have to get in close and I didn’t want to crop (to much) afterwards.
Looking back at the results, again I’m so happy with the Leica MM. It again delivered above my expectation. And one thing I’m quite sure of: the pictures are completely different from the ones taken by all the photographers that were there using their highspeed dSLRs with mega zooms and flashes (!?).
Suddenly I realize what a writers block means to a writer or a musician. And I know now, that a photographer can have the same problem. Sure you can take pictures of everything and anything, but that doesn’t mean that it will inspire you, let alone your viewers.
Coming from India to Thailand I didn’t know what hit me. From complete chaos and disorder I stepped into a world of structure, order and tourism. From camels in the streets and young children playing at every corner, I came to a city of young backpackers getting drunk. I just didn’t know what to do. All inspiration was gone in a second.
Of course this is something happening in my head. If you look at it, Bangkok is a great and diverse city offering more than enough opportunity to take good photos. But it just didn’t do it for me. Specially after the huge amount of pictures I had taken in India. I just turned blank.
I found myself sitting at a little cafe, eating some springrolls and wondering what in the world to do next. The more I wanted to make interesting work, the less I knew what to do. The pressure of a blog, a facebookpage and a flickr account didn’t really make me sit back and relax either.
In the end I figured out this is exactly what I need to do… sit back, relax, admit to myself that I don’t know what to shoot at this moment and just except the fact that I don’t know what to do for a while.
I’ve been traveling India now for about one and a half month. I’ve seen a lot and there’s many more to come. On the program are Amritsar, city of the golden temple, Rajasthan with it’s blue city Johdpur and its pink city Jaipur, countless colored saris and the endless yellow sands of the dessert. The white sandy beaches of the Andaman Islands are still a place I want to see and there is so many many more.
The crazy thing is, I’m going to show you all these places without color, as I have totally fallen in love with the Leica Monochrom. There were some times I wanted to grab the M9 again, sometimes I even did… but even most of those pictures I ended up converting in Silver Efex Pro. To me the lack of color, takes away the distraction of just that same color. All is suddenly stripped down to emotion, movement, light and energy. Yes color is one of the most obvious in India, but what is left when you take away the most obvious ends up to be often a lot more interesting.
The fact that the Monochrom is so very defined in its dynamic range - specially in blacks - and that it is amazing in sharpness, makes this camera an absolute treat to work with. Because of the high ISO possibilities, combined with the Summicron 35mm it’s pretty much all I need to carry around, no flash needed.
I guess I’ve made the change I wanted to make, from DSLR to rangefinder. I now cary a small bag, light on my shoulder. It replaces the heavy load of 2.8 zoom lenses and 2 pro Nikon bodies. A bag that would easily top 10 kg. But I’ve taken it one step further. One step closer to, what to me has become the very basic of photography: One camera, one lens and a monochrome image. I feel lucky and grateful. I can roam the world, looking at it’s beauty and capture this in exactly the way I observe it. In its naked, vulnerable, most honest way. To me that’s in black & white… in Monochrom.
After a long period of time without posting “regular” blogs, it’s time to start where I have left of. Haven’t worked with the M9 for quite some time, so the title is accurate stating it’s a new start. One where I will try to put up some more post again.
As you maybe have read in the previous post, my life has made a drastic turn in the last month. This made me think about what I really want. Of course what I want in life, but also what I would like in my photography. Using the M9 in advertorial work has been hard. Most of the time I only have 15 minutes till half an hour to take a couple of portraits. The people I shoot have tight schedules and there is no second chance. As the M9 doesn’t support thetered shooting and the LCD doesn’t give me the security I need, I can’t really use it (yet) for that sort of assignments. I still rely on my DSLR for these assignments.
I do start to use the M9 for assignments where I have the time to shoot or I have more artistic freedom in terms of high contrast, motion blur, grain, black & white etc etc. Next to that, I try to use the camera a bit more in free work to get the feeling back again. Looking back at my post from Japan, Malawi and France I realize that this is where I want to put my focus. This is what I really want to do.
I’ll try to post more often, even if it’s just one or more pictures without a whole story. Here are a few pictures I took today and also a picture of myself taken by Sjoerd Walkier, a good friend of mine. I post processed all three pictures in SilverFX pro.
Leica M9 with a Summicron 35 mm at f2.0 - 1/60sec - ISO 200
Leica M9 with a Summicron 75mm at f4.8 - 1/45sec - ISO 400
Me, taken by Sjoerd Walkier
Leica M9 with a Summicron 35mm at f2.0 - 1/60 - ISO 200