To mark the 60th anniversary of their iconic M camera system, Leica asked a number of photographers why they shoot with a Leica M. The most recent entry features In Public’s Matt Stuart and it’s interesting to hear this soft spoken man’s perspective on what many Leica shooters already know. Hit the jump to watch the video.
Matt Stuart On Shooting With A Leica M
Matt Stuart is part of the international street photography collective In Public, and is one of my favorite street photographers working today. His street work is often messy but like Meyerowitz a calm order presents itself upon inspection. The images aren’t simple compositions but speak to the larger human condition with a lot of humor and emotional impact. His work (along with the other members of In Public) has helped define the very look of modern street photography.
Matt uses digital (Leica M 240 or Canon 5D mk III) for commercial jobs but prefers a Leica MP loaded with Fuji Superia 200/400 for his street photography. He lists Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson as a few of his influences but his work is uniquely individual.
Here’s the full transcript of the video:
I’m a street photographer. I need to be discreet, I need to try to be invisible. And using big SLRs with huge lenses gives you away. With a Leica, I use a Leica MP, it’s very small, very discreet. I can put it on my shoulder every day and you almost forget it’s there. And for what I do there’s nothing better than a Leica.
I have lots of favorite images. Generally the most recent one is my favorite, however a picture that I’ve chosen to show you I think absolutely exemplifies the M and how quick it is, and how responsive it is. And it’s this picture of a boy doing a somersault at Trafalger Square. He’s completely upside-down. The moment I saw him upside-down I pressed the shutter. If I had been using an SLR or any other camera I probably wouldn’t have got it as exactly as I did. And I’m really proud of this picture. I think this is a prime example of decisive moment and it’s one of the things the Leica does better than any other camera.
I wake up in the morning thinking about photography. I go out of my door thinking about photography. I come home in the afternoon and look at photography. And so to me it’s an obsession but it’s a healthy one.
I have this saying that value equals happiness and every time I use the camera it makes me happy. So it was pretty much the best investment I could have made.
You can see more of Matt Stuart’s work online at:
Matt seems to imply that the Leica MP alone was capable of capturing his subject in mid-somersault and I think that needs some clarification. From a technical perspective, any camera could have captured that shot. But not every camera would have allowed Matt to be there ready to shoot at that instant. The Leica M really becomes an extension of the photographer and allows him/her to respond naturally and capture scenes that might otherwise be lost to history.
You can tell this particular image was captured in a hurry – the horizon is slightly askew and the composition isn’t as perfect as some of his other work. But his ability to be present without influencing the subject and to respond as quickly as if he was simply looking at the scene was enhanced by his Leica MP. Anyone could have taken the shot with any camera but Matt Stuart did.
No fumbling with auto-focus or modes or dials. The all manual Leica MP simply lets a photographer be in control and ready to shoot. Taking that idea further an all analog Leica MP doesn’t have to be turned on. Provided the shutter is cocked you’re ready to shoot in an instant. You see a scene developing and bring the camera to your eye confident it will behave exactly as you need.
At that point, the camera becomes a reliable tool that just sort of gets out of the way.
What’s your take on Matt Stuart’s video? Are you a fan or do you think Leica users are delusional and any camera can do just as good of a job? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!