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With the com­ple­tion of Leitz Park in Wet­zlar, the Le­ica global head­quar­ters in Ger­many is des­tined to be­come a pho­tog­ra­phy lovers’ mecca.

Esquire (Singapore) - - MAN AT HIS BEST - ESQ: Be­cause LOBA is a se­ries of 10 to 12 im­ages, do you think that re­quire­ment

Le­ica’s first prod­uct may not have been a cam­era, but who cares.

Fun fact: did you know that the Ger­man com­pany that now brings us beau­ti­fully crafted and tech­ni­cally ex­cel­lent cam­eras started out by mak­ing tele­scopes?

Trace the roots of Le­ica Cam­era AG and you’ll dis­cover that it all started in 1849 with the Op­ti­cal In­sti­tute founded by Carl Kell­ner in Wet­zlar, Ger­many. Upon the death of Kell­ner, the busi­ness changed hands to his busi­ness part­ner, Friedrich Chris­tian Belthle, who sub­se­quently passed the work­shop onto en­gi­neer Ernst Leitz in 1869 upon his own death. The com­pany was re­named the Op­ti­cal In­sti­tute of Ernst Leitz and was fo­cused on pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity mi­cro­scopes with the ad­di­tion of pro­jec­tors and binoc­u­lars at the turn of the 19th cen­tury.

It wasn’t un­til 1914, three years after op­ti­cal en­gi­neer Oskar Bar­nack joined the Ernst Leitz com­pany, that the world’s first eas­ily por­ta­ble cam­era was in­vented. Orig­i­nally known as Liliput—now com­monly re­ferred to as the Ur-Le­ica Pro­to­type—the 35mm lens cam­era cre­ated by Bar­nack was put into pro­duc­tion in 1925 and branded Le­ica; a port­man­teau of ‘Leitz’ and ‘cam­era’.

Fast-for­ward to 2018, and the third con­struc­tion stage of Leitz Park has fi­nally been com­pleted in Wet­zlar. The global head­quar­ters for Le­ica Cam­era AG has firmly re­turned to its roots.

Built on an en­trench­ment field pur­chased in 2007 by Dr An­dreas Kauf­mann (ma­jor­ity share­holder of Le­ica Cam­era AG), Leitz Park is the em­bod­i­ment of Kauf­mann’s vi­sion to cre­ate a World of Le­ica and it in­cludes a bou­tique 129-room Ar­cona Liv­ing Ernst Leitz Ho­tel; Café Leitz (best home-made desserts in Wet­zlar); a con­tem­po­rary of­fice tower for Le­ica em­ploy­ees; pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties of Le­ica’s sis­ter com­pany CW Son­derop­tic (al­ready fa­mous for pro­vid­ing the Sum­milux-C lenses to film the movie Bird­man that went on to win four Acad­emy Awards, in­clud­ing Best Cin­e­matog­ra­phy); a new fac­tory mu­seum; and the Ernst Leitz Werk­stät­ten (the work­shop for the new ‘Made in Ger­many’ Le­ica watch that was launched in con­junc­tion with this third stage of Leitz Park). As you can see, Le­ica is, once again, branch­ing out from its orig­i­nal prod­uct of­fer­ing.

Fresh from tuck­ing into a doughy pret­zel (when in Ger­many, do as the Ger­mans do?), I speak to Karin RehnKauf­mann—art di­rec­tor of Le­ica, chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Le­ica Gal­leries In­ter­na­tional and wife of Dr Kauf­mann— about the Le­ica dif­fer­ence, what makes for a good pic­ture and why Leitz Park is the new must-visit des­ti­na­tion for pho­tog­ra­phy en­thu­si­asts. Pil­grims, your photo mecca awaits.

ESQ: So Karin, in your opin­ion, what makes for a good im­age? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: The first thing for me is the emo­tion. Be­cause when you look at the pic­ture, it has to strike you. This is very im­por­tant for me. The sec­ond thing to con­sider is whether the pic­ture has a story to tell. Some­thing that is in­ter­est­ing— some­times it is shock­ing, some­times it is po­etic. Of course, you have to con­sider the struc­ture and com­po­si­tion of the pho­to­graph. I per­son­ally don’t like it when there is too much har­mony; when ev­ery­thing is too struc­tured and too per­fect. Fi­nally, the light and shadow is also very im­por­tant be­cause the word pho­tog­ra­phy comes from γραφή (graphé) that means to draw; so it is all about light and shadow.

ESQ: On the spectrum be­tween tech­ni­cal skill and cre­at­ing an evoca­tive im­age—that is, some­thing quan­ti­ta­tive ver­sus some­thing qual­i­ta­tive—where do you lie? Are you more on the qual­i­ta­tive side? Do you care less about the tech­ni­cal as­pects of pho­tog­ra­phy? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Yeah, that’s right. When I’m in the jury for the Le­ica Oskar Bar­nack Award (LOBA), for ex­am­ple, and I see a pic­ture that is highly pho­to­shopped, it is of no in­ter­est to me. When you take a photo with a Le­ica, you are not just shoot­ing. You are look­ing with a Le­ica. Be­cause you are the one who shoots. Not the cam­era.

ESQ: Do you think pho­tog­ra­phers to­day are ‘look­ing’ or just ‘shoot­ing’?

KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: I think nowa­days, less is more. Be­cause when you look at pho­tog­ra­phers to­day, they are all over­done. They have so much to do be­cause they have too many shots. And they have to se­lect their im­ages. They have to de­cide. They do the work on the im­age. Nor­mally, in for­mer days, they just send the film to the news­pa­pers and they se­lect it and they do the work on it. So, I would rec­om­mend pho­tog­ra­phers to shoot less but to shoot bet­ter. To have an idea in mind what you would like to shoot be­fore they take the pic­ture. Oth­er­wise they tend to shoot hun­dreds of pic­tures and per­haps only one will be good.

ESQ: You men­tioned that you’re a jury mem­ber for LOBA, which is a pho­tog­ra­phy com­pe­ti­tion rooted in sto­ry­telling. Kind of the Os­cars for pho­tog­ra­phy, re­ally. And it re­quires pho­tog­ra­phers to sub­mit a se­ries of im­ages. Have you no­ticed a change in the type of sub­mis­sions over the years? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Right, it’s 10 to 12 pic­tures telling one story. I would say yes. In for­mer days we had more re­portage pho­tog­ra­phy. Nowa­days, it’s more about sto­ry­telling in an artis­tic way—how the pho­tog­ra­phers see life or how they view spe­cial sit­u­a­tions. ben­e­fits some cul­tures more than oth­ers? For ex­am­ple, how have Asian pho­tog­ra­phers faired at LOBA his­tor­i­cally? Do you think they strug­gle with telling a good con­sis­tent story with the se­ries of im­ages com­pared to Western pho­tog­ra­phers? Have you no­ticed a dif­fer­ence in the way they tell their sto­ries? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Maybe. I mean, you can have one pic­ture that is re­ally nice but telling a story in 10 to 12 pic­tures is ab­so­lutely more dif­fi­cult be­cause you have to take care of the en­tire lay­out. We have a lot of peo­ple com­ing from China this year. And they have a re­ally spe­cial po­etic view; some­times it feels like Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy in the way they shoot their land­scapes.

ESQ: What do you think sep­a­rates Le­ica from other cam­era mak­ers?

KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: The first thing is that we have a Le­ica fam­ily around the world. And I think you can feel this. At this open­ing of the Leitz Park here in Wet­zlar, there are peo­ple from 41 coun­tries. So this is re­ally some­thing amaz­ing. Also, there is al­ways a hu­man touch to our pro­duc­tion. A lot of things are still done with hu­man hands.

ESQ: There is an amaz­ing love for Le­ica world­wide. In­clud­ing many of the world’s top pho­tog­ra­phers…

KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Yes, we also have amaz­ing am­bas­sadors. We don’t pay any­body. If they love Le­ica, we sup­port them with cam­eras, but not with money. We give them a chance at our 19 Le­ica gal­leries to be ex­hib­ited. We have the LFI Magazine to pub­lish their work and, some­times, we also sup­port them with a spe­cial pho­tog­ra­phy project. But it all cir­cles back to that hu­man touch, emo­tion and, of course, the qual­ity. And

we also em­pha­sise ed­u­ca­tion. We have acad­e­mies pro­vid­ing dif­fer­ent cour­ses to pho­tog­ra­phy lovers world­wide. ESQ: Le­ica has col­lab­o­rated with Huawei for three years now. Is it pos­si­ble to take a beau­ti­ful pic­ture with a cam­era phone com­pared to a Le­ica cam­era? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: You mean the same qual­ity? No. Of course you can make won­der­ful pic­tures, but when you com­pare the smart­phone to a Le­ica cam­era, there is a big dif­fer­ence. You no­tice the dif­fer­ence when you print out the pic­ture—the smart­phone pic­ture doesn’t have that feel­ing of depth. It’s more flat.

ESQ: But if peo­ple are print­ing pho­tos less, is there a need to buy an ac­tual cam­era? Be­cause now ev­ery­one takes pic­tures just on their phones and they share it online. How do you com­bat that? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: We al­ways say: ‘a pic­ture is not a pic­ture un­til it is printed out; oth­er­wise it is just data’.

ESQ: (Laughs) Do you en­cour­age your chil­dren to print their pho­tos? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: I have three kids and they all pro­duce photo books or cal­en­dars each year. They also have in their apart­ments one spe­cial wall for their Le­ica im­ages. I think this is the new way; they don’t just look at their pic­tures on their screens, but they cre­ate some­thing out of them. And this is not only my kids. So I feel that young peo­ple are com­ing back to the printed im­age. It is more in­ter­est­ing to have a book, some­thing you re­ally look at, be­cause when you want to look at a trip from, I don’t know, 10 years ago, you won’t do it on the lap­top. You will take out your book and you will turn the pages and re­live the mem­o­ries.

ESQ: There’s some­thing about en­joy­ing the moment when you print out the pic­ture as well.

KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Yes.

Ex­actly. ESQ: Be­cause when it is online, you just scroll past it. You’ve en­joyed it for less than a sec­ond and it’s gone. KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: And you for­get it. Also when you have a printed pic­ture, you take it in more. Like at­tend­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion. You may step closer to the im­age or de­cide to walk fur­ther away, but you are re­ally con­sid­er­ing the im­age. That’s why I hate ex­hi­bi­tions pre­sented only on the screen; some­times I want to look longer at a pic­ture, but the screen has changed the pic­ture to the next im­age.

ESQ: The Kauf­mann fam­ily has been part of the Le­ica story for 14 years now. And now with the com­ple­tion of Leitz Park, this world of Le­ica that you and your hus­band, Dr An­dreas Kauf­mann, have en­vi­sioned has fi­nally come to life. Do you see this venue al­most like a cam­era mecca for Le­ica lovers? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Def­i­nitely. But it is not just for Le­ica lovers, it is for ev­ery­one. So ev­ery­one who is in­ter­ested in pic­tures, in cul­ture, in telling sto­ries, in his­tory. We also have a huge Le­ica acad­emy here to teach pho­tog­ra­phy.

ESQ: Leitz Park re­ally has it all. As you men­tioned, there is an acad­emy, but there is also a ho­tel, gallery, cin­ema, mu­seum, even a café and restau­rant. It’s a place that might be­come a bit of a pil­grim­age for photo lovers, I feel. What is your favourite part of the park? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: I re­ally like the foun­tain with the na­ture and trees.

ESQ: That is sur­pris­ing be­cause I thought you’d say the gallery given your cu­ra­to­rial role at Le­ica. But it is in­ter­est­ing that you said na­ture, where you can have that quiet re­pose. It speaks a lot to your char­ac­ter. KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: (Laughs) Of course I like my gallery as well. But this gallery is more like an en­trance hall. It is the en­trance hall of the head­quar­ters. So it is be­tween an en­trance hall and gallery. We will al­ways have pic­tures there, but it is not re­ally a gallery, if you know what I mean? It’s just show­ing pic­tures of what we have at Le­ica head­quar­ters.

ESQ: Talk­ing about pic­tures, you have the

Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Le­ica Pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion now on show here at Leitz Park. What would you like peo­ple to take away from the ex­hi­bi­tion? I know you didn’t cu­rate it, but hav­ing seen the pic­tures your­self, what mes­sage would you like peo­ple to leave with? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: To leave with a lot of emo­tions about dif­fer­ent coun­tries and dif­fer­ent sto­ries. The whole ex­hi­bi­tion is full of sto­ries. And not only of sto­ries from Le­ica, of course. They are deeply hu­man sto­ries; sto­ries of the whole de­vel­op­ment of pho­tog­ra­phy from the last 100 years. I think it shows how our pri­or­i­ties as a so­ci­ety have changed. It’s a story of the world.

ESQ: And the story’s not fin­ished, of course.

KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Of

course, it’ll go on (laughs). ESQ: What do you think is next for Le­ica? The com­ple­tion of Leitz Park is such a mile­stone, but with in­no­va­tion at the core of the com­pany, what’s on the hori­zon? KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: So we are a cam­era pro­ducer and we come from cam­era pro­duc­ing, but we also want to be­come a life­style brand. One part of this is the launch of the Le­ica watch, but in ad­di­tion to that, we also have to think more about cam­era ac­ces­sories—in­clud­ing ac­ces­sories for ladies. Be­cause Le­ica has been very fo­cused on men.

ESQ: What ac­ces­sories would you like to see for ladies? What’s miss­ing?

KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: A won­der­ful bag for your cam­era. ESQ: That’s right. A bag that is both func­tional and beau­ti­ful. Cur­rently they are all back­packs, but they are not so aes­thet­i­cally driven. KARIN REHN-KAUF­MANN: Pre­cisely. Also, a beau­ti­ful soft pouch for the cam­era to place in­side your own hand­bag. We are work­ing on dif­fer­ent op­tions now. But this is one thing that we will def­i­nitely do; ex­pand­ing the of­fer­ing for women as well as men. Stay tuned. Le­ica is stretch­ing its wings.

From top: Leitz Park; Karin Rehn-Kauf­mann. Fac­ing page: Goldie by Mathieu Bit­ton, 2017.

Ur-Le­ica, built by Oskar Bar­nack,com­pleted in 1914.

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