Rangefinder

Views on the photographic universe by Erwin Puts

The humble snapshot

The photographic genre of street photography as practiced by Brassai, Cartier-Bresson and more modern persons like Winogrand and Eggleston is still a popular genre. Many books exist that will tell you how and why to proceed when street photography is your ambition. Street photography was once (around 1900) a nuisance (brought about by the ubiquitous Kodak Box camera) and got the status of an art form since Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. The responsibility to elevate the humble snapshot to an at form rests with Szarkowski who vigorously promoted this style of photography as a medium specific art form. Bill Jay has remarked that any history of photography selects only at most 200 ‘iconic images’ that are supposed to define the essence of the medium. But millions of images are unknown and may represent a much more accurate history.The same Szarkowski has promoted the family snapshot as a serious topic of study. Indeed only at most 1% of all pictures made today are accepted by galeries as genuine art (whatever that means).
My guess is that there are now around 300.000 Leica cameras in use today (from M3 to M10) and only a minute fraction of these cameras is used by individuals who are conveniently classified as art photographers or produce pictures that may copy the content and style of pictures that are made by art photographers as defined by museums and galleries.
The Leica camera is most often used for taking pictures in the domestic or vernacular domain. Most of these pictures are made for personal memories of important or emotionally relevant events or persons.
The official Leica view is that these pictures are irrelevant for the Leica image. They seem to forget that the first Leica images were very domestic snapshots. It is a fallacy to equate Leica photography with art photography. Most early Leica photographs were reportages by scientists and by explorers who documented the reality of expeditions and were made with reality in focus.
The non-art snapshot is the stuff the Leica world is made of. And only when this style of snapshot photography is accepted as genuine Leica photography can we start to appreciate the camera and its lenses and uses. The photo-artist Feininger has written many books and one of them “Die Welt Neu Gesehen’ is an advice to start taking pictures without artistic pretensions but with a great admiration for the objects that reality offers us.
The camera can help you to see the world anew and the Leica lenses are superb tools to record what is in front of the camera.
So forget about art and composition and just record whatever interests you and look afterwards in the picture to see what inspired you.