Thoughtfactory: Leica poetics

Leica, film, snaps, chronicles, cliches

the bark series: #3

Throughout the winter of 2023 I would often spend an hour or so wandering  through  the local Waitpinga bushland with Kayla on an early morning   poodlewalk.  I'd be walking in the bushland  just after sunrise,  and whilst walking  I started  a bark series with  the Leica M4-P. It would be one camera, one lens, one film and it would centre on the ontology of the object in the present moment.  The bark is so mundane, that if we encounter it in everyday life, we would barely register it.

There are some earlier photos  that preceded  this series as a conscious walking art  project,  and they can be interpreted as  pointing to what was to become. These early  photos  can be viewed   here and here  and here. Oh, and here.   They emerged from drifting --from becoming lost in the bushland, being  responsive to chance and to circumstance, and privileging  the reactivity of the walk itself.

It is a low key walking art series,  which  explores  the ephemera of the mundane  bark  peeling off the trunks and branches of the pink gums; or the piles of bark lying  on the ground. The transience of the  bark,   its decay and disintegration (ie., perishability) is one of the more recognisable aspects of  the  flux,  or  the constant change in  the  bushland apart from the occasional fallen tree. It was slow walking whilst keeping an eye out for foxes, kangaroos, and rabbits so I could prevent Kayla from chasing them.

The series as a walking art project is premised on a meditative walking and seeing (of being in the ephemeral present) and  on the photography  being simple.   It  is underpinned by Japanese aesthetics,  with its minimalist approach and  complex and sophisticated categories with multiple interpretations (eg., wabi-wabi).  It  is  a modest,  walking art project that is contrary, or offside to,  the currently fashionable photographic approach to make  hero mages that celebrates the photographer's vision.  

expired Velvia film and poetics

The pictures in this post  come  from a short  experiment using an expired  roll of Velvia 50 color transparency film to check  if the Leica M4-P rangefinder  and lens were working ok. The pictures  show  that both  Leica's repairs to, and renovation of, the salt water damaged  M4-P body plus  the second hand 50mm Summicron lens that I had purchased  whilst in Tokyo,  are working perfectly. Great.

I did this quick experiment  whilst  I was waiting  for the 35mm Kodak  Portra  400 ASA  film order  from B+H in New York to arrive. The   roll of  expired Fujifilm's Velvia 50 had been gifted by a friend. It had been frozen for around 10-15 years.Thanks to this gift  the only expense for me to check out the renovated rangefinder would the cost for the lab to  process the roll of Velvia 50.      

I knew nothing about Velvia before the experiment.    Subsequent research informed me that it  was created in the early 1990s [when it was known as Velvia (RVP)]  and that it was subsequently rejigged/redesigned by Fuji  in 2007.  It is now known as  Velvia 50 (RVP 50). My  expired 36 roll of film  was Velvia 50 -- the current version.  I have never used this transparency  film,  but a quick search indicated that those who have used it love it for its vividness and brilliance.

I was  was curious about  Velvia 50  in the sense of wondering  what kind of poetic images could result,  if any. How different would the seascapes  be from the seascapes using Kodak Portra 400 ASA? So I just made some snapshots whilst I was on the daily poodlewalks. 

I was taken back when I picked up the processed  film from the lab in Adelaide   as most of the pictures on the expired 36 roll of Velvia 50 were underexposed.  The images looked as if I didn't bother to meter, even though I was careful metering. They also had a strong magenta hue. Post processing the scans  was basically  a salvaging task to obtain some  reasonable pictures.   I was able to get the odd one to come out ok. 

An example is  the above pictures of light and clouds  over Encounter Bay in the  early morning before sunrise with the  off-colour saturation and high contrast.They   look suitably dramatic and  suggest  poetic  possibilities associated with the vibrant colours of the early morning pre-sunrise and/or  stormy  winter conditions.

being simple: (bark series #2)

I have found that an appealing aspect of using the renovated Leica M4-P film camera after a year of being without it   is its operational simplicity,  especially when compared to the complex menus of the current  mirrorless,  full frame digital cameras.  The film rangefinder's mechanics are so   basic that the camera  forces you to photograph differently.   

The M4-P rangefinder was made  before Leica   included a light meter  in its film rangefinders  and the limits of film are quickly reached in low light situations. So it is not an all round camera like the latest full frame mirrorless digital cameras -- such as the sophisticated Sony A7 RV,  the  Nikon  Z8  or the Canon EOS  R5.  

Within these limits the usability of the rangefinder centres on image making that is slow placed and premised on the characteristics of the  film and the limitations of the rangefinder  camera.   

Due to the cost of 35m colour negative film (Kodak Portra 400 ASA) these days the 'in camera' image making has to be  slow and considered by necessity.  You are forced to slow down, evaluate what you are seeing,   and  then think about constructing the  image as a poetics.  

seascapes, poetics + folds

The repaired Leica M4-P has returned, a  Summicron 50mm lens was acquired whilst I was walking  in Japan,  and some very expensive  Portra 400 ASA colour film has been ordered from B+H in New York.  We are back in business after the camera  has been out of use for a year.   It's good to be back as I missed using an analogue rangefinder and colour film to explore the nature of photographic poetics.

 In that year of layoff I have been thinking that using a machine  as a way of situated  sense making  is different from the act of drawing as a tracing, a copy,  a  representation in the realm of appearances related to, and dependent on, the presence of  real being -- eg., an ideal form as in Platonism.    The machine sees differently -- both in  excess of what is intended by the photographer and what is hidden from the photographer's eye.      

A seascape from 2022: 

During that layoff time I have been reflecting  how much the culture of photography had been shaped by that of the  natural sciences in modernity. The latter's  emphasis was on mathematical  precision: being objective,  clear,  precise, exact and truthful in order to gain  knowledge about how things in the world worked. Hence photography as documenting the world, its objects and ourselves. 

Poetics is contrary to this since a poetic image puts poetry before objective reason and   is about  the  sensuous appearance of things.  So the image  has been traditionally seen as misleading, fuzzy and ambiguous, which is what was needed to be avoided to achieve the certainty of objective knowledge.     

a moment of winter light (bark series#1)

Leica Australia have just informed me that the camera body of the  salt water damaged  M4-P rangefinder (circa 1980s) has been repaired and that it is on the way from Wetzlar in Germany to Sydney, Australia.   Sadly, the Leica 50mm Summicron f.2  lens is unrepairable as was the basic Sekonic light meter (a Sekonic L-308 S) that  I'd been using.   I need to buy another 50mm Summicron and,  unfortunately  for me, these  lenses aren't cheap,  even the second hand ones. So it won't be going with me to Japan in October.  

I have missed not using the M4-P (one camera one lens) the last 10 months that it  has been in Germany.  I found the simplicity of the camera (one body, one prime lens) so appealing. The simplicity of the rangefinder is that it reduces the gap between meditative  seeing and the camera's sight. It is a shift towards becoming one with the camera.

I made the above photo  in  the winter of  2022.  It is from one of the 5 rolls of 400 ASA Portra that I'd exposed  prior to  the M4-P becoming  badly damaged. It was the late afternoon  winter light that caught my eye  as I was walking  along one of the various paths in the bushland that were  made by the kangaroos  with Kayla.   


I have 5 rolls of 35mm colour  film that were exposed before the Leica M4-P was damaged by  saltwater and  sent back to the Leica factory in Germany to be repaired. That was  in December 2022. It now increasingly looks increasingly likely that the rangefinder  won't be repaired before I go walking in Japan in October. 

 3 of those 5 rolls were processed a while ago and I  scanned them over the weekend.  It's a slow process and whilst doing so I realised  just how much  I enjoyed the process of using an  analogue  Leica rangefinder to make a picture.  I miss the analogue process as techne --- the working of materials by a craft person who knows effective ways to use  the camera equipment to make good moves in the design space. This conception of the work of art as  techne is quite different to  the Romantic and modernist idea of creativity as a product of individual will, subjectivity, imagination. 

The realization  about techne was a kind of awakening or interruption to the flow or naturalised continuum of the myth making and  the beautiful semblance of digital photography.     

The interruption  was  not analogue nostalgia in a digital world, or a conservative romanticising of what has gone and been lost.    I realized  when  I was scanning the negatives that I  liked the look of film. Digital is  a much superior technological but film, with all  its limitations,  has its own  materiality and appearance. It   is also much more unpredictable than digital. So technological progress is not linear. There is a discontinuity here. In this  discontinuity or interruption  the idea of techne emerges. 

Kepler Track detail

My  salt water damaged Leica M4-P is still at the Leica factory in Germany,  either being repaired or still in the queue waiting to be repaired.  I have no idea which it is.  Leica did advise that it would  be repaired and returned to Australia at the end of June. It is now more than eight months. The repair times have blown out, but not to worry. The camera's  value is increasing all the time -- it would be in mint condition and  so worth around  $A4000 dollars. Unfortunately, I need to replace the Summicron 50mm f2 lens as Leica advised  me that my 1980s    damaged Summicron lens was unrepairable. Sad, as it was a good lens. 

In the meantime  I am going through the archives. The two pictures below are from 2020 and they  are details of the ground in the beech forest along  the Kepler Track,   near  the shores of Lake Manapouri in the Fiordland National Park in the South Island of New Zealand. 

There were heaps of people walking the track that day. I was only doing a days walk  as Suzanne had decided to go on a day trip  to Doubtful Sound / Patea.  This beech forest was an all green world,  and it was such a contrast to  an arid South Australia which has no forests.   he photos  were made around  the same time as this picture.

 We were staying at Lake Manapouri at the time. The news was all about the emerging Covid-19 pandermic. We  had started to worry  about whether we would need to cut short our holiday and return to Australia  early.    We were closely  monitoring  the news  for any  policy hints about  Australia closing its borders. We did not want to be stranded in NZ if Australia did close its borders.

black and white

 This hand held  picture was made of some roadside vegetation whilst I was walking down a country road in Waitpinga on an  early morning poodlewalk with Kayla in the late winter of 2022. 

This  was a low light situation as we were walking along the road around  sunrise to avoid the traffic.  The above picture of a tree trunk was made around the same time as the bark abstracts  I'd shown on  an earlier post on Leica Poetics. 

salt water-damaged film (#3) + Wim Wenders

The third in the series of the  salt-water damaged  roll of  35mm film:  

I read in The Guardian that Wim Wenders now  regards photography as a thing of the past. His argument is this:

 “It’s not just the meaning of the image that has changed – the act of looking does not have the same meaning. Now, it’s about showing, sending and maybe remembering. It is no longer essentially about the image. The image for me was always linked to the idea of uniqueness, to a frame and to composition. You produced something that was, in itself, a singular moment. As such, it had a certain sacredness. That whole notion is gone.”

The modernist understanding of photography has gone to be replaced by the network image. 

salt water-damaged film #2

Since film is undergoing a nostalgic  resurgence --Pentax says it is planning  to make film cameras again-- I thought that I would post a  second  example from  the  salt-water damaged  roll of  35mm film. This  was in the Leica M4-P rangefinder when a rogue wave crashed over me,   soaking the camera and destroying the lens.  The camera  body is currently in the process of  being repaired by Leica in Wetzlar who have recently advised that it should be returned to Australia by the end of June.  

Here is the photo:  

It  is actually a more interesting photo of the wooden structure of the old Granite Island causeway  than  it would have been if the film  was  normal or non-damaged. What it shows is that it  is the materiality of film that opens up opportunities to  treat  the film differently   during the developmental process.  You can play around with the filmic material if you want to,  but  colour film is  now expensive.