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 (!?).
Traveling through India for a couple of months, I’ve been roaming the streets, got lost in the slums and had some nice conversations with people I portrayed. Whether it was a big city, a small village or out in the country; there’s one and a half billion people and they all had a little story to tell. Like I said in one of my blogs, this is how I try to understand the world.
To keep challenging myself and to learn even more, I also need to change perspective every now and again. Most of the time this happens unexpectedly. Coming to Khajuraho, that opportunity presented itself quite clearly. The first day I still did what I always do. I walked the little streets, had some fun with the kids that ran around me, when roaming through the outside neighborhoods.
(picture by Maartje Grond)
But Khajuraho is known for its temples. Even though it’s a very small village, it even has an airport to fly in the herds of tourists coming to see the Kama Sutra temples of Khajuraho. So there was no way around it. I had to pay my entrance fee and see what the fuss was all about.
After five minutes I already noticed… this is not what I’m looking for. I can see how impressive the buildings are. I can even be overwhelmed for a minute by the idea that everything is build by man, some 1000 years ago. But this moment of astonishment only takes a very short time. It’s probably why I don’t do architecture photography, or product photography. (Although I like to work for real estate agents… but that’s because I can snoop around in people’s life just for a couple of hours or so.)
My curiosity towards the “typical” groups of tourists on the other hand is something that immediately made me grab my camera. The way these herds of white-socked people, with safari hats and huge amounts of camera gear move, is something that intrigued me right from the start. It may sound like a huge judgment if you read that last sentence, but it’s not! I think it’s great people travel the world to see what other countries and cultures have to offer. And I really couldn’t care less how they do it. It’s just that “their way” of traveling and exploring is completely out of my comprehension as well. Therefor I did what I always do when I don’t understand. I photograph.
To see the complete series, both the streets ánd the temples of Khajuraho, check my Flickr page.
Steve Huff, one of my favorite photography bloggers has put up my guest blog today!
Most of the time when traveling, I find myself going from city to town and back to a city again. Sometimes I almost forget there’s more than that. When I hired a little motor bike and just cruised out of the town Pushkar, I noticed everything changed. Landscape, there’s no surprise, but also the contact with the people I met along the way.
There was no hassle, asking for money or trying to sell me anything anymore. People were open and friendly, inviting and very photo genetic. I wrote a blog a while ago, about sending a private driver back home and taking the bus between destinations. I’m still very happy i did, but after a day driving around on my little moped, I guess next time I’ll be traveling with a drivers license for a motorbike. That way I can buy myself a cheap motor and travel the country on my own. Bringing only my small Leica kit - same as I have with me now - and some necessities like underware, there will be no trouble with luggage and it will bring me at places I’ll otherwise won’t see.
So, at least I have found my reason to stay traveling and go back to beautiful India again and again! ;-)
If you like to see these pictures and some more in higher resolution, check my Flickr account
Framing is quite an important part of photography and I guess it’s something that comes with practice. (like everything else ;-) All over the net or in any bookstore that sells “how to” books, you can find information on how you can or should frame your pictures. Rule of third, Diagonal rule, when to shoot horizontal or vertical, leading of lines etc etc.
To be honest, I’ve never really bothered to read all that stuff. I just shoot the things I see, making sure that everything that is of interest to me is in the frame. Sometimes it’s not until afterwards that I see something that really ads to the picture, or that makes it suddenly a useless one. In this picture for example the boy in the back just started to take a wee. I didn’t really notice when taking the shot. I was to bussy with the two boys on the left side playing and the serious boy making strange faces. It’s a detail that you don’t even see in the low resolution on this blog… but if you check it here, you’ll see it in full. To me, it finished the shot.
So then I started to wonder if it’s just luck if you have these moments. Many would say it is BUT… is it still luck if it happens more often than sometimes? When is the point that you can honestly say you make your own luck?
One of the things that helps a lot with practicing the framing is feedback of others. Sometimes you’re so caught up in what you’re doing, you start missing things. Last week I was asked to provide a horizontal photo that would be used for a magazine cover. It would take both front and back of the magazine. I asked a friend at Transcontinenta, to help look for what would be a suitable picture. After checking out a fair amount of pictures he pointed out that if you use a picture that way, your main point of interest should be in the right side of the picture. The left side is going to be at the back of the magazine anyway. And suddenly I was aware that a lot of my picture actually have the main subject on the left side of the picture. Let me start by saying, this is not on purpose. Most of the time I just see something and I’ll take the shot. Often it’s not even possible to frame it from the other side, due to uninteresting topics that I want to crop out while taking the shot.
It’s not that I will think about this anymore then I used to… I figure that the more I think during my endless walks through cities and slums, I’ll just get distracted of what I’m supposed to do… take photos. But I am aware now. Specially when I know I need a picture for a certain purpose like the cover one or for example one that needs a heading in the picture. I think this is what they mean when they (the books and tutorials) tell you to know the rules, so you can then bend or sometimes even brake them.
I ask myself every day: “Why do I take photos? Why do I feel the urge to record what I see?” And the answer is more or less the same every day. I don’t feel that urge to actually document what I see, at least not for myself. The only reason I use my camera is to make contact with a world I understand less every day. I use my camera to interact with people, to force them and myself into making contact. At the same time the camera helps me to keep a safe distance of what ever is happening. So I can look at it without any judgment or even without forming an opinion. I merely try to observe and hopefully understand whatever it is I’m looking at.
So why not use an unloaded M6 or M7 ( analog Leica cameras working with film, for those who don’t know) instead of the Leica Monochrom? Here’s the tricky part. I would love to do that. It would safe me a huge amount of time in terms of selecting, post processing, uploading photos etc etc. On the other hand… I need to conquer my place on earth, find a way to make a living and - for some weird reason – I feel the need to be seen as an individual just like everybody else. I’m also trying to give meaning to my life in some way. I try to get better at the things I do. I hope to be more successful everyday and I work hard trying to exceed the expectations people might have of me.
I guess this is what it comes down to: “Making sure other people confirm my existence.” I’m pretty sure this is what everybody does. In my case, people give me conformation by saying my pictures are beautiful or that my blogs are shit. Whether they recognize my work or condemn it doesn’t really matter, either way they confirm whatever I’m doing and therefor that I am alive. (I prefer the positive conformation above anything else by the way, like most people would.)
Isn’t this what everybody does? Whether you are a successful businessman, a caring mother, praying to a God, or begging for food, drugs or alcohol. Everybody is just searching for the same thing in a different context: “a way to give meaning to their lives and an acknowledgement of them actually being alive.” I feel truly grateful to have found a way, which comes closest to what I’d like to think I am… an observer.
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.
I don’t pretend to be even in the vicinity of a photographer as great as Henri Cartier Bresson, but every now and again I like to tell myself I’m on my way to get a little bit closer… small steps. Today I had a very slow day, photographically. But if there is just one shot you have been waiting for, suddenly is there… these moments make it all worth while! Hope you like it to!