I initially started writing this post basically to give an update on my new camera gear. As you probably guessed from the title, I’ve now switched to the infamous Leica M6. As it sometimes happen, you may start to write about a topic X, but end up telling a story about the topic Y — much like lying down on the therapist’s couch and letting the conversation to take the direction of it’s own. I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to be too deep, but there’s something more about Leicas than meets the eye. Photography is, for me at least, a therapeutic and philosophical affair in itself and holding a Leica definitely takes me to a different dimension that gives me plenty of blabber about. So what happened was, I was trying to give you my first impressions about the new camera, but immediately got off the track, leading me towards the underlying questions of photography.
Switching from Leica M4-2 to M6
Time for some big gear news again. It seems christmas came really early this year. For me, this is an extremely big thing, because, you see, I’m holding in my and, a near mint condition Leica M6.
I had previously a Leica M4-2, which I traded for this M6. It certainly wasn’t a head-to-head swap for sure, since the M6 is pretty much the flag ship model out of all the classic film Leicas, and generally much more expensive than the M4-P. The photography gods how ever heard my prayers and had a few surprises for me.
M6 has been my dream camera for ages. I haven’t considered to be a realistic option though, because of the hard price tags. That’s why I initially ended up with the M4-2. An opportunity arise though, via good connections and affiliations, to upgrade to the M6.
Are Leicas just for the rich snobs?
One thing that worries me about Leicas, is to get labeled as a snob. There are two different kind of Leica shooters. Those who have more money than sense, and those who actually understand Leicas. Let me just clear the air by saying that I can only wish, I would be rich enough to go and actually buy Leicas. Leicas may give you the impression that a person is filthy rich. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m facing the hardest times of my life and constantly worried and struggling to make an income. I’ve been under an incredible amount of pressure and stress. I’m in no position to spend the little money I have, on the most expensive cameras in the entire world. How on earth did I end up owning one then?
Photography as a personal life-saver
Photography, among few other things, has been life-saver for me. I don’t get any money from photography, but it gives me back so much more other things. Sometimes even new, exquisite gear, that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Not to mention deeply meaningful purpose of life.
I have a background in design and artwork, mostly illustration and painting. Illustration (and all art) is still of course very important for me, but after about 15 years of sitting in front of the computer, wiggling my Wacom, I felt the need to channel my creativity to some other, more mobilising medium. Few other critical affairs took place right about the same time, such as losing my dear dog Saaga. Seemingly it has nothing to do with photography, but it was actually a major plot point, that directed me back to film.
Saaga was so very important and dear to me. I start to cry every time I think of her. She passed away couple of years ago, at respectable age of 14. After finding her puppy photos, that I shot on film, in circa 2002, I started to get interested in film again. I wish would have shot all her photos on film, but most of them were shot on digital during 2004—2016. Yes, you guessed it — most of the digital photos are already lost due to broken hard drives and all the usual. You can probably imagine how happy I was to find the negatives from that old dusty box from the attic. From the same photo box, I found my old Canon AE-1 and T-70 along with all my old photography gear. I swiped the dust from them and heard the call.
Like I mentioned, leaving painting behind, left a huge void. Photography filled that void. After all, I was very much into photography as a teenager, but at that time, I chose painting instead of focusing on photography. It was a smooth transition to pick up photography again. Art isn’t just some meaningless hobby for me. It is my calling and I’ve always felt it’s my responsibility to live up to it. It always makes me sad to see people wasting their talent.
Being drawn to Leicas
Leica is the ultimate pinnacle of all camera gear and they hold a huge importance in the history of photography. They have a huge symbolic meaning. They are iconic. As much as I love my other cameras as well, I cannot even compare them to the Leica. That’s why I’m personally drawn to them. Not necessarily because I think they’d make photography any easier or more practical. Leica is also one of the ways to tell that I’m serious about photography. Because it´s serious, I tend to shoot a lot and really get into it. Film photography has been a rabbit hole for me. Ever since I started doing it again in 2016, I’ve never put my camera down. I feel so blessed to have rediscovered it again. I often ask “where you’ve been all my life?” I wish I would have got back to photography, especially film, ages ago. But perhaps the time wasn’t right earlier. In some way, I can’t see myself as being a photographer until now, because I wasn’t ready for it. Perhaps I wasn’t patient and mature enough. In 2016 the time was right and I honestly feel like hearing the call to pick up the camera.
The journey has been so far amazing and even though life has been very tough during the past years otherwise, I still think this is an amazing period of my life, because I have photography. Like I said, it has given me so much and perhaps even saved my life. I can’t imagine how people, who doesn’t have a passion towards something, can survive in this world. Being a human can be extremely difficult some times and I personally need things that take me to another place. When I realised, I was losing my passion towards painting, I was extremely worried on what to do next. Where to find fulfilment without painting? After all, it was my saving grace for many years and losing something like that could’ve been catastrophic. I’m extremely grateful to have found photography, that gives me so much in return.
Photography, picture taking and the charm of vintage cameras
Photography and gear are of course two different things. You could almost argue that they don’t have anything in common when you get really down to it. Not in practical terms, but I suppose you could argue that from a philosophical stand point. Cameras are just the tools to take pictures, but in many ways, you can do photography without touching the camera, by studying it’s philosophy, art theory and visual expression — or by just simple looking at things. It’s still photography, but just without the actual act of picture taking. Photography has the practical and theoretical sides to it, just as any other art. Bear in mind that photography and picture taking are two different things as well. Photography is more about the art and skill of doing it, not just pointing the camera and pressing the shutter. During my digital photography days, I considered myself more as a picture taker than a photographer. I know it’s a cliché, but film photography has soul and it loves to be dedicated to. That’s why I feel like being a photographer nowadays, and for that, I’m extremely grateful.
That being said, I absolutely love cameras just as much as the philosophical and theoretical aspects. I don’t think I never would have gotten anywhere if I would have tried to pull anything off with a digital camera. It just simply isn’t my thing, but with film, I feel like I’ve found my voice, which has taken me to amazing places and offered great opportunities. I a firm believer that when you have passion, work hard and study a lot, the momentum starts to build up. A true passion always shines through from your output and that will lead you to places.
Gear matters in that sense, that it has to fit you. Some musicians enjoy playing with vintage instruments, because they get a kick out of it and because they provide the sound and vibe they’re after. Many people compare film cameras to vinyl records, but I think a more accurate way would be to compare them to film photographs… you know, the actual darkroom prints. Cameras are like old instruments, not what the instrument produces. Some people like to play Fenders — I like to play Leicas, because it becomes an extension of my creativity.
Camera as a dowsing rod
My camera has been like a dowsing rod for me. It started with my Canon T-70 back in the day, as teenager (circa 1998—2002) and then again with Canon AE-1 couple of years ago when getting back to film. After that it was my Olympus OM-1, which had almost like a magical effect on me. I got so much stuff done with it and I don’t think I would’ve never gotten anywhere without it. John Free says that the camera strap pulls him. I feel the same way. When I hang the camera around my neck, it feels like the world appears different in front of my eyes and the camera strap starts to pull me towards subjects. It also pulls towards opportunities. I think it has been something of a passport for me into many wonderful things, which would have not been accessible otherwise. Having the opportunity to become a Leica shooter has been one of them.
All that being said, a lot has happened in couple of years, and I have the feeling that this is just the beginning. I’ve met a dozen of amazing people and given great opportunities to continue with film photography. All thanks to this endeavour, I’ve had the chance to get involved in collaborations of great importance. Most notably, I’ve got to know the fine people at Kameratori and Camera Ventures, who I now work with on projects revolving around film photography. Thanks to them, I had for example the chance to meet up with Bellamy Hunt from Japan Camera Hunter last year. Basically film photography has allowed many important connections to happen and I’m now in a point where owning something like a Leica M6 is possible via collaborative work with the key people in the film photography community. If I were a unicorn hippie, I could say that the universe is showing me a very clear path to follow and even dropping all the equipment to my lap as well; I have a boat load of film in the fridge and a mint M6 waiting to be used. Seems like universe’s way of telling me to go forth and make art.
The last camera I’ll ever need
I think my camera upgrade days are now over. In the digital world, there’s the so called need to upgrade gear in relatively short intervals, as soon as new models come out. Cameras get outdated rather quickly. Generally that doesn’t apply to film gear, because they are vintage. All the existing vintage cameras are already being made, and there is not a single new Leica M6 coming to the world. If you ask me, M6 is the pinnacle of film Leicas. I wouldn’t mind some day owning an M3 either, but for me M6 is as good as it gets. I could be in a honeymoon phase as I say this, but owning an M6 makes me feel like I don’t necessarily need to buy a new camera ever again.