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Thursday, July 30

The Leica look - again

Hotel rest area

Even Leica diehards would probably agree that a lot of rubbish has been written about the so-called "Leica look". I should know because I've been guilty of it myself. It wouldn't be so bad if those who claimed mystical properties for some Leica lenses could put into words what they're seeing. But I don't recall reading anything convincing along those lines. 

Having said that, I do see it from time to time in my Leica negatives and it's not something I can say I've seen in other lenses except, maybe, the 50mm f2 Ultron on the Voigtlander Vitessa. Perhaps it's the vintage of the lens that's the key, then, and not the name that's stamped on it? Narrowing it down further, could it just be the look of very high quality lenses of a certain age. I doubt you'd get it with cheaper optics from lesser manufacturers.

As far as I'm concerned, it's just a high resolution, low micro-contrast look that's better for some subjects and worse for others. The best word I can think of to describe it is "gentle". I see it in the four pics I've posted here - all taken with a 1960 50mm Summicron. They're random shots from the rolls of Tmax 400 I developed in Firstcall's Superfine earlier this week.

There's a certain sharpness there - you wouldn't say that any of the pics were unsharp - but it's not an "in your face" sharpness. There's enough to be satisfying but not so much that you get a headache trying to focus on the tiny details. I sort of relax when I look at these photographs.

The first one was taken at the Crieff Hydro Hotel whilst I was hanging about in the corridor waiting for Cath, Freya and my mum to powder their noses. I'm sure women's toilets are actually portals to another dimension. How else can I explain the time they spend in there?

The second pic takes me back to my teenage years. I spent most of my free time playing golf at the local municipal course in Dundee's Camperdown Park between the ages of 15 and about 22. It must be one of the few council facilities that has a clubhouse in a beautiful old mansion - the late-18th century house built by Admiral Duncan of The Battle of Camperdown fame.

The fight with the Dutch took place in the North Sea and was a resounding victory for the British under the command of Admiral Adam Duncan. He was rewarded with a peerage and a barony, the latter coming with a large area of land which is now the city's Camperdown Park. I have a pal who grew up in a flat in the basement of the house - his mum worked for the council - and was given a guided tour of all the parts that were never open to the public. It's weird having the run of a historic mansion like that without security guards and visitors in attendance.

Camperdown House

The Wikipedia pic above shows the colonnaded front of the mansion. The entrance to the golf club was 'round the back. We entered through an unassuming swing door to be faced with an old wooden phone booth, kind of like the ones the victims are in when dispatched by the mafia in a 1930s New York Italian restaurant in the old black and white films, and what must be the smallest pro's shop in the world. It can't be any bigger than about 6x8 ft and yet it's still there 35 years later.

Abandoned golf clubs

It's had a few characterful teaching pros over the years, the most colourful being an ex-prison warder called Derek Watt. He was once giving a lesson to a pal of mine then aged about 16 and who had a tendency to carry his hands quite low towards the ground at address. Derek said to him (excuse the language), "I know what you need son - a fucking prayer mat!" And that was him being polite.

He was a good guy, however, who used to give us his bag of practice balls when we were going to hit some shots on the practice range. His black German Shepherd, Ursula, accompanied him on the course and had an uncanny knack of running into the trees and emerging with a golf ball between her teeth. That dog must have found hundreds of balls. It was a trick that my brother and I tried to teach to our family labrador, Major.

We started off at home hiding a golf ball under furniture, behind cushions, etc. and urged Major to "find the golf ball". He started getting really good at it and was having a great time so we tried the same approach out on the course. He never found a single ball. Only later did we realise that he'd just been sniffing out our scent at home and probably had no concept of what a golf ball really was. He was a truly lovely animal, though.

But enough of these memories. The point of all this rambling was just to provide a little back-story to the photograph of the golf clubs. They've been sitting in a corner of the old phone booth for years and nobody has bothered with them. The glass in the phone booth has never received any attention either by the looks of it. The last time I was there, the sun was streaming in and lighting up the muck and grime. I wasn't sure what the exposure should be as I didn't have a meter with me so I took four shots and bracketed a bit. This was the best of the bunch. It's a little under-exposed but that adds to the atmosphere.

Derelict transport office wash room

The last two were taken at the derelict transport yard near Newtyle about ten miles from Dundee. I love going there as there's never anybody about and I can wander around with a 5x4 camera without feeling self conscious. On this occasion it was the M2 and Summicron I had with me. I've written about that transport yard before and there's not a lot to add. I have to say, though, that the Tmax 400/Superfine combination is brilliant if you can't be bothered shlepping a tripod around - and that's my default mode.

It's all I've been using in 35mm and 120 for a few months and I'm completely happy with it. I might try the developer with Tmax 100 for bright days. I also fancy giving it a go with Fomapan 100. Superfine moonlights as Amaloco AM74 which seems to have a particularly strong affinity with the Foma film. It would certainly be propitious if the cheapest developer on the UK market turns out to be a great partner for about the cheapest film out there!

Scales left behind in the transport office kitchen area


Anonymous said...

Don't know about the developer or the lens/camera combo but I love the four b&w compositions. Each one keeps my attention.

Herman Sheephouse said...

That's the stuff Bruce - they're great!
They really do have that 'proper' vintage look, and I think it is a lot down to a certain lack of contrast (though not enough for a thud). Great compositions too - well done that man.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else remember this: in the late 1970s, a well-known writer for one of the popular photography magazines, (it may have been David Vestal), caused quite a stir when he wrote that looking at his prints taken over the years, he couldn't distinguish the ones taken with a Leica from those taken with a Pentax. As I recall, this was his last column before retiring from the magazine.