Last weekend I had the unique opportunity to spend the day at the brand new Leica Store and Gallery on Arlington Street in downtown Boston. If you haven't had the opportunity to visit the new store it is a must stop for any photog or Leica fan. In my various travels, I have visited several Leica stores including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Frankfurt and Washington D.C. Each store shares the modern, classic design of Leica where cameras, lenses and accessories are expertly displayed against red backdrop cases. Collections of photography books and other camera related merchandise are often found with brands like Ona, Cooph and Oberwerth to name a few.
The Boston store opened in early September 2016 and I was unable to visit during the grand opening weekend and so when a day-long workshop popped up on my social media feed it was a no brainer and I think I was one of the first to sign up. This coincided with the gallery opening of "60 Seconds" by New York based fine art photographer and film maker Mark de Paola. The workshop was called “Photography Wide Open”, and it was designed for creative photographers interested in stretching their imagination and expanding the traditional definition of portraiture. It was a shooting intensive workshop and I was joined with about 15 other photographers for the day long experience.
"Mark has used Leica cameras and lenses, especially the 50mm Noctilux, to deliver projects for clients ranging from Vogue and Gucci to Superbowl commercials and fine art photographic exhibitions." A description of his exhibit “60 Seconds” explains that he delves into a realm of abstract figures, fluidity, and poetic forms, challenging and seducing the limits of motion contained within still image. With each photograph taken handheld with a 60 second exposure, de Paola has discovered the connection between his physiological make up, the Leica camera as a tool, and time, the unflinching competitor to the timeless image.
Mark has a wealth of first-hand experience and in the 40 years that he has been taking photographs and making art, the workshop drew on this amazing foundation and served as launching point for discussion, shooting exercises and story telling.
Mark's workshop was one of the best photography experiences I have had to date. He was willing to share examples of his work, in depth understanding of his technique and artistic vision as well as personal stories that have helped to shape who he is as a photographer and artist. Mark's work has featured the 50mm Noctilux a gorgeous lens that he shoots wide open at f1 which at one point in time was the fastest lens on the market. Mark's approach to his photography incorporates the use of natural light and a desire to capture his subjects in their most sincere and humanely real moments. He shared that a bulk of his work has been shot on the Leica digital M rangefinder but that he has recently moved to using the new SL series for more of his work. As you can imagine, there was plenty of talk about gear and equipment but what I enjoyed the most was hearing Mark share his artistic process and the various life experiences that have shaped his world view.
The workshop included three shooting exercises each designed to help participants explore new techniques and incorporate new ideas into their own photographic repertoire. The first of these was designed to force us to shoot with our lenses wide open and with the shortest focus possible. I was shooting an M262 and 50mm Summilux. Sage Backstrom, Mark's producer served as our model for the day. She was both gracious and amazingly accommodating. The photographer is asked to focus by moving back and forth slightly and establish the image by using their body and not the focusing ring on the lens. Below are a set of portraits I shot during that exercise.
Another tip that Mark shared was that he encourages photographers to shoot JPG and with no post editing, in essence share what the camera gives you and more importantly, what you are able to capture. When I first began shooting Leica the shift to manual focus and a viewfinder where you are not actually seeing the image through the lens required months and even years of practice. The experience of eliminating that part of the process equally required some adjustment and I was ultimately fairly pleased with the results.
The second exercise was designed to experiment with exposure. Once we had found the optimal exposure we shot 5 images at 1/2 stops both under and over exposed. At the same time, trying to remember that you are shooting wide open with the shortest focus as possible. Below is the set of images resulting from that exercise. Interestingly enough, this summer I was shooting my Leica MP film rangefinder and working in the darkroom where the instructor had me shooting at the exposure the meter gave you as well as a half stop up and a half stop down.
The final exercise was to shoot outside the store and again at shortest focus, wide open. This time we ventured out into the streets of Boston and given the location of the store and its proximity to the Boston Public Gardens, many of us made our way into the park for what was a late afternoon shooting exercise. Anyone who has shot street photography will agree that the hardest part of taking photos of someone on the street is the need to develop some sort of rapport or connection with the person you might be shooting. Challenging and there are a ton of photographers I admire who are really good at it, I continue to struggle with the "approach" but it does in fact yield the best results.
It just so happened that as I wandered through the garden I cam across Veronika Belotserkovskaya, blogger, cookbook author and entrepreneur signing autographs for fans. The crowd was at least 40 people and I managed to make my way into a small nook where I shot the photos below.
A side note, the camera strap that Veronika has draped across her red sweater was connected to a gorgeous Leica M240 and a search of her social media channels including Instagram will reveal she is a Leica shooter as well. Kinda cool.
Seven hours went by super fast. Mark was an extraordinary teacher and a gracious mentor and Sage managed to put up with 15 of us putting camera lenses in her face all day long. If you haven't made it to the Leica Store in Boston you need to get out there to see Mark's exhibit "60 Seconds" it is a moving collection of abstract photos using a handheld camera with 60 second exposure and natural/available light. Get out there and go see it. More importantly, taking the time to be with other photographers and to learn from a master teacher is something every artist should commit themselves to on a regular basis. Think of it like your annual check up with your doctor, it will do wonders for you.