The iPhone is the Leica of today, when you strip the encrustation of legend off the latter.
Think about it—in the early days of Leica the little cameras were a) low in prestige compared to larger, more "serious" cameras; b) technically inferior; c) not taken seriously by initiates and cognoscenti; quick and stealthy and not often noticed or given much regard; yet d) capable of "good enough" results. The pictures were often "better" in terms of being visually dynamic and lively rather than in bourgeois technical fastidiousness or perfection. Leica photography was (or could be) iconoclastic, disruptive, subversive.
It's the same "place" that the iPhone occupies in today's universe. It's the meaning of Leica that has changed in the meantime, not the original potentiality of a small, sly, subversive note-taking camera to which people tend to pay little or no attention.
(You think? Just a notion. Thinking out loud. I'm not saying I actually believe this.)
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
David Dyer-Bennet: "Certainly your characterization of the Leica's early days is spot on. 'Good enough' is so important, most especially for documentary photographs (by which I mean those whose value is significantly in what they show). Being able to get photos showing 'real' things people couldn't photograph before was a huge change for photography, and I'm pretty sure it's what made it important in the 20th century. Cell phones obviously fail in the 'quick and stealthy' area (particularly quick); however, they win big in 'ubiquitous,' which you didn't list.
"But then, each revolution pretty much must be different from the previous one."
Manuel: "No comparison. The Leica came at a time when nobody would shoot in the streets, save for Eugéne Atget, Brassaï and a few others. Today it looks as if everybody is shooting with whatever they've got on hand (especially if you live in a city plagued by tourists, as I do). The analogy is essentially correct, but comparing those pioneering times with the present age of selfies and vertical videos is a tad sacrilegous. Nothing against shooting with the iPhone—there are lots of people at it, and sometimes with surprisingly good results—but it's a matter of different times and circumstances making any comparisons impossible. The Leica became successful because it was portable and convenient (just like the iPhone, I could add), but, unlike the aforementioned smartphone, not everybody had one. What the iPhone is doing is adding to the photographic overdose we're going through today. Which was hardly the Leica's case. Some people don't like massification. I surely don't.
"And remember—there were no selfie sticks for the Leica."
Bernard: "That's funny. When I read the title, I really thought you were going with 'it's an expensive branded item that isn't materially better than the competition.'
"I get what you mean by 'iPhone = Leica' but, to me, smart phones are more like the ubiquitous Kodak cartridge cameras of the 1960s and 1970s. They are part of the background fabric of our lives, you are never far from one, and one will magically appear when summoned. Then as now, family events always involve a procession of aunts and uncles lining-up to squint into their tiny cameras, taking the same shot from the same angle (always a little too far away). The difference is that 'I'll send you a copy' has been replaced with 'I'll put it up on Facebook.'"
Bob Rosinsky: "As I walk along the beach at night, I see glowing phones. If not for the phones, not a soul I would see. The 'phones' encroach upon my field of vision and compromise my solitude."
Paul De Zan: "H. C.-B., if alive and not painting today, would be using an iPhone 5S. The 6 is too big."
Mike replies: Heh. But do you remember those early "multimedia storage viewers" like the Epson P-5000? The 6+ screen is about as big as the screens on those, and of better quality. Nice way to look at pictures.
Bill Tyler: "I'm old enough to remember when Leicas were 'miniature' cameras, and it was hotly debated whether such tiny negatives could ever be useful for serious work."