Rangefinder

Views on the photographic universe by Erwin Puts

goal for 2016

Photography has scientific roots as I told in my book ‘Leica Practicum” and recording the real world (the ‘unseen’ world) was a major preoccupation of the scientists/photographers of that period. When the Leica camera was introduced in 1924-1925 this focus on recording real life was even enhanced and as a response Leitz made a wide range of scientific accessories to enable the photographer to record life as never seen before. The photographic style did not change over a long period and the urge to record life (for documentary and/or remembrance purposes) dominated photography. The famous street photographers added a humanistic touch to this urge and their photography became known as testimonial or evidential photography. When the cheap and easy method of digital photography conquered the world the style changed again. Now the essence of photography is the so-called propaganda photography, very skillful in the hands of commercial advertisement and publicity photography, but also creeping into the journalistic photography. Notorious is the method of embedded photography in war zones, but it is also visible in more normal situations as press conferences and official photo-opportunities. The selfie is the most recent instant of this propaganda-style because the selfie is simply made to demonstrate how happy, rich or popular the maker is. There is a subtle but important difference between a 1950s box camera photograph of a holiday scene, made for personal use (remembrance), and a 2015s smartphone selfie, made for propaganda purposes because this image is instantly uploaded to the social media for public consumption and not for preserving a memory.
When one encounters a photo with the text attached, ‘made with Leica abc and lens xyz’ (and one may easily exchange Leica with Canon, Nikon or any other high grade camera system) there is a snippet of propaganda involved, because this statement has not only informational, but trivial value, but also demonstration value. It is intriguing that it is no longer possible to differentiate between camera types on the basis of the content or technical quality of the image (as was the case with analog pictures in the period 1950 -1980). When one looks at the various images in the camera brochures, issued by the main camera makers, it is very difficult (if not impossible?) to discern in these images that are clearly intended as illustrations of proof of performance the characteristic quality of the camera that is being profiled or in modern terms framed. The impact of post-processing and prepress technology is evidently at work here, but even when one looks at the raw images (the non-manipulated negatives so to speak) the digital technology is the great equalizing force that reduces most pictures to a common denominator. It is the challenge for 2016 to start making pictures with a true Leica substance and style.