Apropos the Leikravitz...you'd think I'd like it, because I have a weakness for the look of brassed Leicas and I even took a nickel to a pristine OM-4T once and took some of the paint off the titanium*. Back in the days o' film I used to covet black-paint Leicas, although I never owned one.
I once would have liked a pristine, perfect black-paint Leica with brass underneath...so I could use it hard and allow it to wear naturally. It's like having solid wood furniture. Or a leather suitcase (I just threw out my grandfather's old Hartmann when I moved. It must have dated from the 1960s at least, if not the '50s. It showed all kinds of wear. Alas, it had finally gotten too sorry).
Here's where I come down on the aesthetics of wear and tear and weathering: what I like is not so much objects that are worn down, but objects that can wear down. That is, objects that have integrity, such that they look as good or better when they acquire wear as they do when they're new. That's the nice thing about well-made objects in my opinion.
Also, well-made things last long enough to get worn down. That's one reason why we value the look. Cheap crap breaks, and is thrown away. It never gets to look old.
I've always liked the idea of keeping a car for a very long time. I had a chance in college to buy one of these for $500:
...And I think if I had, I might still be driving it. It's possible.
I think the thing that offended me about the Leikravitz is that it presumes to co-opt and make a commodity out of a style that, when real, can be a legitimate badge of honor. Real correspondents have gotten shot at, and their cameras get worn because they're used hard under grueling conditions. To reduce that to mere fashion is uncomfortably close to a dishonest credential. It's like putting a fake Oscar on your mantlepiece to try to make people think you actually won one.
Or it's like pretending to be a war veteran when you aren't. Would you display a fake Purple Heart? What would that say about your attitude toward people who had earned real Purple Hearts legitimately?
A Purple Heart is a medal given to people who suffered wounds in combat
To me it feels like Leica is disrespecting its own heritage for the sake of its more recent allegiance to making fashion accessories for non-photographers**. The proper response, when Lenny Kravitz proposed his idea to them, would be for them to say "No. Real Leicas earn their wear honestly." Obviously the people running Leica now do not see it that way.
But it's not a big deal. It's a debasing of the old Leitz tradition, a traducement of its honor, but it's minor, and it's not something that hurts anybody. As David Vestal used to say, "So, okay."
*Seriously, I did—but my motivation was psychological. I was having "first scratch syndrome" (you know, where you're dreading the first scratch on the perfect finish of your new car) and having trouble letting go of the obsessive/compulsive desire to keep my baby in perfect condition. So I took a deep breath and put fake wear on it. It worked; I stopped worrying and started using the camera. The really weird thing about the experience was that it didn't diminish the value of the camera. When I eventually sold it, it fetched the same price as an un-fake-worn example.
**Most people who use Leicas—I would say 90% of the Leica users I've known, and I've known many—use them because they fit the bill as the proper tools for their work. Most Leica users, it's important to keep in mind, are neither poseurs nor jerks. Those who are are just a small minority.
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Featured Comments from:
Omer: "Comparing a fake Purple Heart to a purposely distressed camera is way off base. You need to re-consider that analogy. Seriously, a purposely distressed camera is just a *#&! camera, even if it is a Leica. Frankly, I like that look though the price of the LK is beyond my means."
Mike replies: You're not getting the analogy. I'm comparing war veterans to war correspondents. I'm asking you to assess the message that's being telegraphed to the latter. And comparing correspondents to Purple Heart recipients is not off base at all—photojournalists often put themselves in greater danger, more often, than many (not all, but many) soldiers do. Just look at the rate at which they are wounded and die in the line of duty.
Wayne: "I can't wait for the Victor Wooten model. I love Victor Wooten."
KW Leon: "You could outdo the 124 owners if you sent the camera back to Leica to be repainted."
Winwalloe: "I was amused to see a little bit of paint had come off on edges of my sony A900 after years of use and thousands of miles of travel and thousands of pictures. But magnesium doesn't have the warm color of brass."
Ed Hawco: "Your thoughts on wear and tear remind me of the Japanese idea of 'wabi-sabi.' (侘寂) It’s an aesthetic concept based on the acceptance of transience, or 'imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion' as natural and beautiful. It comes from Buddhism and its teaching of the three marks of existence (impermanence, suffering, and emptiness—or absence of self-nature). Wabi-sabi aesthetics include asymmetry, irregularity, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the integrity of natural objects and processes. It’s also where the idea comes from that a broken and repaired object has more aesthetic value than one that has not broken."
Simon Griffee: "Around a year ago I sent Leica my well-worn M9 to be adjusted and have its sensor cleaned. They sent it back with the brass top completely replaced, as new. I was pretty pissed off, but needed the camera and didn't bother to complain."
Hans Berkhout: "Lenny Kravitz was photographed by Jim Marshall. The nicely used/aged cameras of Mr. Marshall's must have left a lasting impression on the musician."