« P.S.x3 | Main | Wanted: Mastah Potatochopper »

Monday, 24 March 2008


Mike, you do know any mention of Leica is definitely controversial :)

I believe a number of recent photos in the book (those of animals and wildlife) were taken with a Pentax 67 medium format camera, hence the quality. They were part of SS's latest project Genesis on untouched parts of the world.

At the back of the book, he has a statement that the photos in the book were taken with Leica M, R and Pentax cameras. In his previous books Migrations and Workers, he listed only Leica M and R. I do believe from what I have read he used his Leica R reflex cameras a lot more than his Ms. He carried 3 Leica Rs with 28, 35, 60mm lenses and uses Tri-X 400 and Tmax 3200.

As you can see, I'm a fan of his work and owned most of his books :)

I'm at the stage of life where I'm (happily) getting married in a few months time and (sadly) selling off my Leica gear for the money. (Weddings are expensive!) No matter how good my Leica M and lenses are, the sad truth is digital has taken over the world, and that gear has been greatly underutilized, and the M8 is too unreliable for my wedding work.

I console myself I can pretend to be SS with my current setup of a 24mm, 35mm and 85mm plus a Canon 5D with ISO capabilities from 100 to 3200 :P

Actually, I think the Pentax 67 pictures in the book (it's fairly obvious which ones they are) are the weakest pictures in it. (But then, you know how Pentax fans go into a wild, unbridled lather when you say anything like that [g].) Then again, he's not known as a landscape or wildlife photographer, so perhaps that's to be expected.

But ahhhh, a Leica R and Tri-X...so many of those pictures are so lovely, just lovely. I think I'm just going to have to get this book too.

Mike J.

There was an exposition of these works in Madrid last year and it was most impressive. Most of the photos were very large- 24x36 or bigger.

I guess every brand has a cult following :P

Yes, the book is a keeper. For me, it's an inspiration and a reminder of how a guy with a passion for his subjects, using rudimentary equipment (as good as the glass, it's all manual everything operation for the R6.2 he is using), working under harsh conditions can still produce great work.

Everytime I get new gear lust, I remind myself that I don't need faster autofocus, don't need a better meter, or faster CF write speeds by flipping through Salgado's work :)

I've got Frank's book on back order through Amazon, can't wait for it to arrive.

Having spent a regrettably brief time poring over "The Americans" in the library, I've been drooling over the prospect of a reprint and the chance to get my own copy. There's a nice feature on the new edition and Frank's involvement with it - likely to be the last time this happens given his age - at the Steidlville website: http://tinyurl.com/2aq93t (PDF). (In the meantime, I've been warming up to it with the reprint of his "London/Wales".)

Seems to be a better tag line for this post would be "What Salgado Does"...

Salgado has been using Pentax 645, not the 6x7.

Ok, so I'm really curious now. I've read a lot about Leica. Never used one, so I have to rely on what I read to understand what it is about Leica that gets everyone moist. I was pretty interested when I saw the title of this article, but then pretty disappointed with the content. What do Leicas do that the same photographer, in the same setting, at the same moment, could not have done with another high quality camera loaded with the same film??? You've highlighted some beautiful work, I'm sure, so what I'm saying is, why is the headline What Leicas Do, instead of, What Salgado Does?

A camera, even be it a Leica, is a tool, and while that tool may be admired (worshipped even) for it's craftmanship, history, and the legend that had built up over the years, it remains, nonetheless, a tool and only a tool (how many commas can I fit in a sentence?).

Unfortunately, you could give me a Leica and I would likely produce pictures that were marginally better at best, or, more likely, even worse. I've had better cameras in the past and it did nothing for my photography. What I believe to be important is to pick a camera and lenses and stick with them until you know them inside and out. I just saw some of Lee Frost's new work using Holgas or other "toy cameras" and I found it impressive despite the technical imperfections.

I think I remember him using Hassleblads too, in the article about him in the New Yorker a couple of years ago. I believe the reporter mentioned him keeping them wrapped in socks (?) But I might be wrong.

Mike I was hoping you might talk about how these pictures are Leica pictures specifically. I know that a viewfinder camera can bring a different way of working to a documentary photographer, but I've also heard you mention that Leica lenses are not all that different from, say, Canon lenses. Or that high quality lenses are all pretty similar. Do I have you wrong? Could he have taken these pictures with Canon L primes and a EOS 1?

Salgado's Pentax is a 645, not a 67.

For those who'd like to see some of Salgado's work on the web, here's a link to a good gallery: http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/legends10/

[[Many of the pictures (maybe not all, but easily a majority of them) show what Leicas do and what all the fuss is about. Just so photographically beautiful. All I can say is...wow.]]

And here I thought it showed what Salgado can do with a camera.

Several (small) spreads from the Salgado book are up at the publisher's site:


As if from a distance, but it looks like a beautiful book. Thanks, Mike.

ah, yes, The Americans, i have the '2000' edition. It was already out of print two years ago when i bought it for $145. Hefty price i thought at the time. The soul burning inspiration i derive from its pages? priceless.

Interesting to read about Robert Frank and Salgado in the same post. I saw and did not buy the latter's book because it seemed so sort of overblown (just my take), too 'in my face', whereas Robert Frank's considerably smaller tome felt so deeply personal, an intimate treasure in my hands. The exchange of mere money for an experience that was so rich and tangible was a privilege to me. I wouldn't let that book out of my sight all the way back home to CR and fingered its pages with such reverence you'd have thought it was the original Gutenberg bible. heh.

"Seems to be a better tag line for this post would be 'What Salgado Does'..."

Except that that hardly covers Robert Frank's book, eh?

Mike J.

I feel like a publisher's agent or something today, but someone ought to mention that reprinting The Americans is part of Steidl's ambitious "Robert Frank Project".


The pdf linked on that page has a piece on Frank's direction of the reprint, as well as a short but fascinating history of the book's several editions. If I read correctly, Steidl intended to closely reproduce the original Delpire edition (with the English text from the Grove Press edition) from newly scanned original prints, but Frank decided to revise some crops and include some full frames, and in two cases chose a different negative.

Steidl should quote that "photography's Kind of Blue" line for its promos.

"What do Leicas do that the same photographer, in the same setting, at the same moment, could not have done with another high quality camera loaded with the same film??? You've highlighted some beautiful work, I'm sure, so what I'm saying is, why is the headline What Leicas Do, instead of, What Salgado Does?"

Are you looking at the book when you ask these questions?

The headline is what it is because I didn't want to make two similar posts for the two books, the Salgado and the Frank. Most of the photos in each were made with Leicas. What does it matter what the headline is?

As far as "Africa" is concerned, please, don't make the mistake of merely *thinking* about this as if it were some sort of philosophical exercise. You need to use your eyes, to look at the book, carefully. This is complicated somewhat because I've now learned that some of the pictures in the Salgado book were taken with a Pentax 645 (the landscapes and wildlife shots, and they really do look different. Again, look, and you'll see). But it's a compilation of many years of work, and for most of his career Salgado has used M and R Leicas with three lenses at a time and Kodak Tri-X, T-Max 400, or P3200 film.

Once you LOOK at the book, if you still have these questions I'll be very surprised.

Mike J.

Well I'm a photographer too. I'm working with a Leca M7 besides others. Using the Leica for my free Projects. And i have to say that the Leica is the best Camera for my way of taking pictures. It gives all the space and freedom i need need for my kreativity. No computer that tells me how to take the picture and so on. I mean it fits my needs. But don't have to meet the needs of all photographers. But the quality of the whole M-System is unique. You'll never find a System that will live and grow with your work as the Leica M-System.

Mike, I treated myself to a copy of 'Africa' while at Focus in Birmingham UK Last month. I try not to look at more than one or two image per day from the book, for fear of visual overload. The photographs are truly astonishing, and the printing is phenomenal. Yes, there is grain like nothing on earth and yes, a lot of the time you can clearly tell what has been burned in, but it is doubtful that the sheer magnificence of this work would be achievable with any other medium. Very few photographers are capable of achieving the quality or consistency seen in the pages of this book. As well as demonstrating Salgado's genius, the pictures illustrate the importance of using a master printer to maximise the impact and quality of the initial image. Buy the book and look long and hard at the photographs, one by one. You are looking at an entire continent in these pages and you will want to be there as you are touched by the photographs. If you would rather use these images for the now too common trend of wishing that the photographer was doing this or that, or should have been using different equipment, then I think you may have problems which you should consider addressing.

"...and yes, a lot of the time you can clearly tell what has been burned in..."

Yes, it's one of Salgado's idiosyncrasies that he, or much more likely his printer, burns and dodges like an old-timey newspaper darkroom guy. That excessive, unsubtle, gonna-end-up-in-newsprint-anyway look. It's been in his pictures from the first ones I ever saw. I "look past it" now, but it's an oddity in such big, luxurious museum prints as his.

Mike J.


Are you saying there's an actual objectively observable "look" from a Leica that wouldn't be achievable with, say, an F2 or a Hexar that can't be described with words? I think that's what the folks here are wondering.


PS: I live about an hour and a half away (or 7 hours by bicycle) from the nearest bookstore that may or may not have this book.

"Africa" is a great book. Some of the images have been printed a couple of times before (especially his work from the Sahel famine), but his reportage of war in the mid-1970's hasn't been seen much before.

The link (yesterday) to the Robert Frank piece in Vanity Fair is worth pursuing if you're a fan of "The Americans." Frank's disclaimer about the book is bit like Dylan explaining "I was just trying to make it rhyme, man."

Yeah Mike, what mikeinmagog said. I thought you had said exactly the opposite quite recently.

Salgado has a very talented printer also. His name escapes me. He is in Paris I believe.

The Leica. Its not only about handling a superbly crafted item, its the way the image is rendered via the lens.

If you have gone thro the film era - 35mm in particular, and absorbed yourself in the painstaking process of trying out the multitude of available film and developer combinations, you get a very in depth knowledge what each can do and how different an image is rendered and looks. Ally this to the use of different cameras and lenses, images take on a different but individual identity.

There is a Leica look, mostly majestic and creamy; the Nikon look - mildly gritty and sharp; a Canon look - similar to the Nikon but marginally different; the Olympus had such a smooth look not disimilar to the Leica and interestingly Olympus have continued a similar look in this digital age.

So images and cameras were about rendition allied to the film-developer combination.

It will be interesting to see if this identity of look transfers to digital over a period of years

IMHO. :-)

John L

Can you take pictures this nice with other cameras? Sure you can. But (most of) these happen to have been taken with Leicas, and I think they show off very nicely what really good lenses can do. Anyway the combination of fine glass, good films, a gifted, accomplished photographer, a skilled printer (that is, of the originals), and printers (bookmakers) who really knew what they were doing have all combined to make an exceptional product. I was very impressed with this book. I'd like to write more about it in the future.

Mike J.

I have seen the exhibition mentioned by J. Salisbury in my town, Cordoba (Spain), with large prints of some of the pictures shown in the book Africa by S. Salgado, and I fully agree: those are really impressive, deeply moving. Absolutely awesome work by Sebastiao.

I have many of Salgado's books and I cannot tell you how many times I have drooled over his photographs wondering why my own efforts pale in comparison.
He has used the Pentax 6x7 SLR in addition to 35mm, but that is not the point. His photographs are not about resolution, or any other actual/perceived/imagined lense attribute. What makes his photos stand out are empathy for his subject, sense of composition and mastery of lighting. I cannot recall visiting a museum that extolled the hairs per cubic inch or Vermeer's brush, the fibers per linear inch of his canvas or the granularity of his paint paste - so why start now by saying Salgado's prints are due to his choice of glass.

The old adage “A craftsman is only as good as his tools” may be true but that does mean that “two craftsmen with the same tools will always produce the same quality of work”.

And yes his printer deserves much credit - I believe his wife has done most of his printing - I doubt that there is a single negative that has not been improved upon in the darkroom.

Mike, the talk here actually reminds me of an article you wrote back on Luminous Landscape... I forget which one now, but you went on to compare the qualities of various primes against a much-heralded Leica (an Elmar? I forget, it's been so long.)

If I remember right, your bottom line was that you can achieve images of distinction almost in line with the Leica. I remember the 50 Nikkor, as well as a Canon one as well...

I guess what I'm trying to say is: are there extremely specific qualities that the total Leica system imparts that can't be done with just one component? Is the 28mm Leica lens on the M6 going to be fantastically better than the same lens mounted on a different film camera? Or will a different lens mounted on the M6 produce distinctly different (worse?) results?

I've never so much as touched a Leica (they're ridiculously rare and expensive in the few shops you can find them here) so I could never really follow the allure. (The closest I've ever gotten was the Digilux 2.)

If "The Americans" is such an important and controversial work, (which I believe it to be), why has it gone out of print so many times? Is this book one of those things that everyone reveres but no one buys, by which I mean to say- is the market really that small? Or is it Catch-22, and no one buys it because they can't get a copy?

For another example of "What Leicas Do" then do check out the work of the English photographer James Ravilious and his work in the north Devon countryside from 1970 - 1990's. The book An English Eye can be recommended. He used a Leica M3 with pre-war lenses for a very specific look.

Salgado uses Pentax 645 and 250mm lens besides 645 zoom lens. You can see at this link: http://www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2005/08/30/salgado_wideweb__430x345.jpg
Sebastião Salgado, brazilian photographer, do not use Pentax 67, Nando uses Pentax 67 and 67II.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007