Sunday, August 11, 2019

My Fuji X-Pro1 And The Leica Mystique

Shawn and Tom at Buck's Restaurant, December 1996
August 6, 2019 - Lunch With My Mentor: When my friend Shawn and I taught together in the last century (1979-81), we often discussed photography. Both of us developed and processed our own black and white prints, and while other interests would come to consume my time, he was first and foremost a photographer. For him, Leica rangefinder cameras were the only way to go. Many other professional photographers agreed.

Shawn is a serious student of all aspects of photography. He is both a walking Leica historian and an artist driven to document the aspects of his life that make it unique . He carries his M3 with a Sumicron lens with the ease with which I carry my car keys, and when doing so, makes me long for the time when I was equally committed to the craft so long ago.

It was Shawn's preference for the Leica that made me believe that owning and using a Fuji X-Pro1 might give me insights into the rangefinder mystique. That it did, along with momentarily re-connecting me with some of my hero photographers who continued to use rangefinders, resisting the tide of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras like the legendary Nikon F.

In the 1970's, my own rangefinder experience was in some ways similar to Shawn's, but my camera of choice, made relevant by both my finances and my level of expertise, was a sexy black  Olympus 35 SP, and fixed lens 35mm rangefinder. In the early 70's, I carried it everywhere, hoping to somehow channel the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Pierce, Gene Smith, or Gary Winogrand. That little camera helped me gain some insights into street photography, a documentary style that some hipsters seem to believe they invented. Among other things, the Olympus taught me to crop in the viewfinder to make use of every square millimeter of the film format, primarily because the lens wasn't the sharpest and the negatives it produced couldn't stand enlargements past 8" x 10".

Source posting can be seen here.
Jim Marshall, the chronicler of the 1960's music and culture scene, relied on rangefinder cameras, specifically Leicas, for his iconic rock-star images. The reason was clear: The Leicas didn't employ the mirror mechanism typical of the Nikon and Canon SLR cameras of the time. In addition, Leicas were compact and supremely quiet, essential qualities when photographing live performances in close quarters. The build quality was second to none, and the Leitz lenses designed specifically for them became the optical and mechanical standards for performance that the world would seldom equal, let alone surpass.

Photographer John Naughton. Read about him here.
The Whisper Of Intimate Things*: I think the appeal of the rangefinder is the result of some design limitations. Even the most die-hard Leicaphile will readily admit that the limits of the optical viewfinder (essentially a small peephole-sized window) make working with telephoto lens a little tricky. The rangefinder really shines when using wide angle through short telephoto lenses. You will also notice the asymmetric design of the camera puts the eyepiece off to one side. This allows the photographer to maintain make eye contact with the subject, which encourages them to establish rapport, potentially leading to images of an animated, engaged subject. The photo then become a record of an interaction, a animated moment in time frozen at 1/125th of a second. You cannot be an anonymous voice hidden behind a camera. Instead, your subject will see you clearly, and any of your facial gestures of interest, indifference, or discomfort, will be in full view. This is frightening, and challenging, at the same time.

Another happy byproduct of the digital experience, one shared by all mirrorless cameras, is the ability to review images in the viewfinder. By not having to shift my attention from my subject to the back of the camera, I can maintain my workflow without diverting my attention from the subject. This removes the distraction of the irresistible chimping, reviewing the LCD  and exclaiming "Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!", after each shot.

Life In Real Time: This luxury of time is something I don't always have. My schedule for a normal photo is 15 minutes of setup, followed by 5 minutes of actual shooting. My desire to capture meaningful spontaneity is often abandoned in favor of some quick posture adjustments, some happy talk, and a count-down to shutter-press. Heck, my subjects are busy, and so am I. But should I be allowed sufficient time to be more involved with my subject, I am certain that this Leica-like X-Pro1  will provide new challenges, and hopefully, some emotionally rewarding images.

"Whispers Of Intimate Things" was a book of photographs and poems taken and written by Gordon Parks.