Leica Snapshots, some thoughts about . . .



Snapshots and Leicas

John Austin with IIIc

I see my work in two parts, the formal/ist big work made with big cameras, and the snapshots, made with screw mount Leicas. Ending up with Leicas for the current snapshots has been a long process from a Leica IIIb in 1970, sold in 1972, through too many rejected cameras, finally a Leica M2 in the late 2000s. There is something special to me about the screw Leicas, ‘Though when they were cheap in Germany in the very early 1960s I rejected them as old and awkward. They are old and awkward, but give me an immediacy I was not expecting to find. The last of the rejected snapshot cameras I tried was a FED 2 with a 35mm Canon lens I have had for years. On a tactile and mechanical level the FED is a disaster, but it was cheap and did point the way

35mm lenses

My first 35mm lens on 35mm film was a Schneider Alpa Curtagon on a Alpa Reflex 6c, a camera and lens I sold in 1975 and still miss. 35mm became an instant extension of my normal “walking” field of vision. 35mm is also close to the normal 43mm focal length for 35mm format. The logic of this is that the square root of 36 squared plus 24 squared is 43.2 millimetres, not the awkward 50mm too long length wrongly called standard. The standard focal length for a camera format is its diagonal. When I start to work I walk to the correct framing distance for 35mm, with a 50mm lens I feel the need to walk backward, but have the feeling I am pushing myself too far away from the subject. I have come to see my fjords of vision in three angles, 21mm approaches the panic awake full peripheral vision angle, and for this reason was used in my 1990s Western Australian Forest Protest work. 85-105mm is the conversational angle of vision where only a face is concentrated on. To me odd focal lengths like 24, 28 and 50mm don’t fit into these three seeing fields and I am ending up with just 35mm. However, using a 50mm from 35mm distance can be used as it cuts off bits of subject at the edges which gives an awkward tension in some images

I am currently using an old Canon 35mm f2.8 and am looking for the f1.8 version. I have been given an in-bits 35mm f1.7 Cosina Ultron lens which is in Adelaide waiting to be put back together, but I expect that to happen with the second coming. However, as I have already stated, I like the Korean War vintage roughness of the early Canon lenses, so will try to find a wider aperture one contemporary with the one I have. Canon lenses reached their pinnacle at the end of the Canon Leica copy cameras . . . The Ultron will be too sharp for the snapshot work, but may find use for other 35mm projects

(EDIT 30th Sept’ 2014
35mm Canon replaced with a 35mm f2.8 Cosina/Voigtlander Color Skopar, sharp in the middle and with a very smooth quality to the out of focus regions on both sides of the plane of focus)

Snapshot material

As well as documenting the process of the 10×8″ Naked Portraits I use snaps to record daily events, like Rae in the garden or walking on a beach. I now feel that there is a validity to snaps that I did not hold years ago when I took everything too seriously. I know the “use digital point and shoot” argument, but I don’t like them on a tactile level and the compu-electrical complexity causes me to jump up and down on them, something I enjoy doing



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