Leica cameras quickly achieved worldwide fame after their market launch and continue to enjoy great popularity among amateur and professional photographers alike. The novel cameras made a whole new way of photographing possible and thus also shaped the people who worked behind the lens.
First photos with the Leica
The first photographers to have the privilege of taking pictures with the unprecedentedly small, lightweight and handy Leica camera were its developer Oscar von Barnack and the owner of Leica Kamera AG Ernst Leitz. Even though neither of them were professional photographers, their images, whose vividness and spontaneity are of a quality never seen before, have survived to this day. Even before the Leica I was released, the two amateur photographers used precursor models such as the so-called Ur-Leica to photograph scenes of everyday life in Wetzlar, the birthplace of the Leica, and while traveling. This makes them not only the first photographers to capture images on film with the Leica, but also pioneers of street photography.
Pioneer of street photography: Henri Cartier-Bresson
A woman climbing a curved staircase as pigeons fly up around her. A man with a child by the hand crossing a square in front of a huge Lenin poster. The top of a barge cutting a diagonal through the perfect arch of a bridge. Henri Cartier-Bresson, these are compositions that captivate and never let go, that open up spaces and take you back in time.
Like no other, the Frenchman captured vivid scenes in the countryside and in the city and is widely regarded as a pioneer of street photography. In the process, he was among the first professional photographers to rely on 35 millimeter film and Leica cameras. Among other things, Henri Cartier-Bresson's statement that the Leica was like an extension of his eye in his work, that he literally merged with his favorite tool, became famous.
Henri Cartier-Bresson's images are much more than testimonies to their time and invitations to follow the photographer into a world full of complex patterns and contrasts. He not only founded the Magnum photo agency together with photographer friends in New York, but his work also inspired and influenced many young talents in a lasting way.
The early photographer Inge Morath
One of the best-known women who devoted herself to working with the Leica at an early age was the Austrian photographer Inge Morath. She described in an interview that she discovered her love of photography through the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson and learned to take pictures from them even before she had picked up a camera herself. She became one of the first members of the newly founded Magnum photo agency and later traveled the world with her Leica. In the process, she took famous photos of Marilyn Monroe and Dustin Hoffman on film sets, among others.
End of the war in Berlin: Yevgeny Khaldei
Some pictures make history and shape the memory of a particular historical moment for decades to come. And so hardly any documentary about the end of the Second World War can do without the pictures of the Soviet photographer and war correspondent Yevgeny Khaldei. He captured not only the historic moment when a Red Army soldier raised the Soviet flag over the heavily destroyed Reichstag in Berlin, but also the crazy scenes that took place all over Berlin and Germany in the turmoil of the end of the war.
Unfortunately, Yevgeny Khaldei had a hard time in later years in the Soviet Union and was only able to pursue his work and passion as a photographer to a very limited extent. After the fall of the USSR, he was recognized and his work celebrated at the Visa Festival in Perpignan, among other events. His photographs of 1945 with the Leica are already an important part of the writing of history and shape the image of the end of the war.
Not only since the impressive film "The Salt of the Earth" has locallocal Sebastião Salgado is one of the most famous photographers of our time. The Brazilian photographer impressively portrays people on all continents, always in black and white, always fascinating. Especially in his early work, Salgado worked with a Leica R6which he later replaced with a digital camera.
After dealing with migratory flows in his work "Exodus" and witnessing much suffering and misery again and again, lost Sebastião Salgado lost the desire to work behind the camera for some time. He found his way back to photography only through the search for untouched nature, the encounter and documentation of special, completely natural places. This is how his famous exhibition "Genesis" came into being. 2014 also saw the release of the film "The Salt of the Earth", directed by Wim Wenders, which deals with the life and work of this great photographer.
Furthermore works Sebastião Salgado on socially critical themes, dealing primarily with his native Brazil. In the last decade, for example, he has published two illustrated books depicting life and culture as well as their destruction in the Amazon region.
Leica in color: Joel Meyerowitz
In the 1960s, many photographers were still critical of color photography. It was generally questioned whether color photographs could be considered art, and many believed that only black-and-white photography was true art. Not so the U.S. photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who began taking photographs in color as early as 1962. While he alternated between color and black-and-white photography in his early years, he devoted himself exclusively to color images from 1972 onward.
With far-reaching exhibitions in renowned museums such as the MOMA in New York, as well as tributes in documentaries by the BBC, Joel Meyerowitz is now one of the big names in the world of photography, and the "wizard with color" has found his permanent place in the Leica Hall of Fame.
The Leica is not only interwoven with photographic history like no other camera, it also inspires and shapes the work of up-and-coming talent in the photographic world and well-known photographers alike. This is demonstrated by a look at the shortlist of the internationally renowned Leica Oskar Barnack Awardwhich will be awarded for the 42nd time in 2022.
The shortlist contains mainly, but not exclusively, color photographs taken by photographers all over the world with Leica cameras. The reference to social issues and current political influences is striking. For example, the photographers deal with the topic of water in the context of climate change, with the role of women in Afghanistan, or with migration and a lack of prospects on the American continent.
A look at history makes it clear that the Leica camera has accompanied many great photographers and helped shape their work. Despite its retro look, the camera is by no means a museum piece, but remains a living part of the photographic world.