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Wednesday, 23 October 2019


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And lest we forget... "Corporations are people, my friend."

No. compamies don't have 'souls'. but, no matter how big or small, they do have cultures,. And these cultures usually have a major effect on the quality of company product. They can change over time, to the benefit or detriment of the company. In big corporations, different divisions and even different locations or offices can have different cultures. Frequenty the culture can be detected by (potential) customers. Cultures are also subject to many internal and external influences which can change them. Perhaps this has happened at Leica. It could account for changes which resulted in a disabused former fan.

Oh, come on Mike. Since corporations are 'persons' surely they have souls. (Sarcasm alert)

Thanks Mike,
Agree that companies don’t have ‘soul’ (in a secular sense, at least for me). Same re concepts of company loyalty and brand loyalty. I’m loyal to people, not things or human constructs. Loyalty to a nation is somewhat different (I see it as an expansion on tribal loyalty, but happy to be corrected).
Re poetry - would a photo/image be closer in concept to a haiku?

I don't know if organisations can have souls: I do know that machines can. I have a guitar which just has soul dripping from it. I don't mean 'soul' in the 'soul music' sense, I mean soul in the sense of 'if you play me you are not just going to be playing a guitar, you are going to be playing this guitar, and that is going to influence how you play in many complicated ways: you will be aware of the other people who have played my siblings and more distant relations, of the other people who have played me before you; you will be aware of the people who made me; you will be aware that you may not really be good enough to play me, and that I will still be here when you are in the ground; on a good day you may understand that I am the best guitar'.

For years, I used to look for guitars without souls: guitars which did not have strong opinions but would just get out of the way and let me do what I wanted to do. Professional, competent, flexible guitars that would fit with whatever mistaken idea I had on a particular day: 'heavy metal, I can do that; jazz ... OK; abstract noise, sure, just adjust this thing over here'. This was a mistake for me as it is a mistake for most people: playing music is a dialogue between a human and a machine, and the machine should have a position from which it is arguing or what's happening is not a dialogue, it's a tirade.

Photography, for me, is the same: it's a collaboration between one or more humans and a camera, and the camera should have an opinion and a part in the dicussion, and in particular should play a part in the topic. If the camera has no soul it has no opinion and, for me, it's just worthless: even wrong opinions are better than none.

It's not that the photos have nothing to say, it's that the camera-pointers don't.

Same as it ever was. Three percent of the people who own cameras are photographers, the other ninety-seven percent are camera-pointers. But that's OK, if it wasn't for camera-pointers their never would have been any camera-sales business.

Companies don’t have soul. But companies are made of people. And it makes a huge difference what kind of soul the company leaders have.

Seriously? Puts says Leica lost its soul and now there is all this hand wringing. Who is Puts anyway? Kidding, but you get my drift. Leica is making money, finally, ‘nough said. That’s what companies are supposed to do. They never had a soul, they have a business sense, hopefully.

One of my experiments with cameras involved using haiku and a Chinon CE-5s with an Infoback 2. On a walking shoot, I would input a correctly numbered line of the haiku thought, using the button input on the back. I would then try to find a shot or two that felt it matched the phrase. The Infoback imprints the phrase onto the film frame of the image in real time, so you have to juggle a bunch of mental and physical things to get something that works. Sort of like searching for the “soul” of an image?


I can't even begin to define poetic in anything. I've never liked poetry, I realize now, for the same reason that I cant abide twitter. The very idea that something can be reduced down to short sentences and a short text just don't do it for me.

But soul, that's a different thing. As a lifelong jazz lover, and a music school graduate where my favorite form was early music, I get soul in music. And I get soul in photography, it's something that speaks to you and goes straight to your heart. for me, that's Jimmy Smith, Grant Green, Al Cohn and Cannonball Adderley just as examples. I'll bet you get that too.

I see soul in photography, In Migrant Mother and strangely in WeeGee too. But here's the thing that really gets to a lot of photographers. I was in Santa Fe a number of years ago, and was walking by a sales gallery. I stepped in because they had for sale a lot of Ansel Adams. They were prints, mostly 8x10, and I was supposed to believe the prints were made by AA himself. They were fine prints, wish I could print as well, but the photos were cold as ice. They were totally lacking in soul. My thought was, why would I pay this amount of money for things that are a memorable as the prints on my dentist's office walls? There was no soul. Good for my wallet, bad for teh gallery. But I would bet they made a bundle.

Bill Pearce

An interesting take Mike, but another one could be that Leica lost its soul when it was no longer Leitz.

I have noticed that entrepreneurs and their families are so much better at creating than accountants, who are only interested in accounting.

Very interesting points, Mike.
I think we recognise when a photograph is sincere and is more than the sum of its parts -- when it tells us something (about our humanity or our human condition?).
There is an interview with Alec Soth on the Magnum site where he talks about authenticity, perhaps there is a link there to your thoughts.

To me companies reflect and express the soul of the men (it's mostly men, isn't it) who run them. Here is what I mean.

My first serious job was in aerospace. The men who ran those companies did so with the highest regard for protecting the country. You could see and feel it just by knowing a huge American flag hung on the wall in the aircraft manufacturing facility.

Soon after I worked in various software/hardware engineering firms. When leaders were or had been engineers themselves, the excitement of researching a creating new things was palpable.

The last company I worked for had been one of those exciting engineering firms. But they were acquired by an asset-stripper roll-up company whose leaders had eyes on "free cash flow" that would help pump their stock option valuations and finance the purchase of their next victim while shipping American middle class jobs to China.

With these things in mind it sounds as if Leica's current management team are not themselves photographers.

Thanks for this, Mike. I think that perhaps 'poetic' in reference to a photograph may mean that it calls up a wealth of implicit associations, which is after all one of the defining features of modern lyric poetry. Of course it would be open to the viewer to call that 'soul', and so imply some depth of spirituality, but we, or at least I, tend to feel safer sticking to the aesthetic/poetic vocabulary, whereas 'soul' may schlepp in a far heavier and far vaguer baggage.

"...a whole generation of vital and vigorous yet penurious young photographers... found good solid sturdy castoff Leicas for sale on camera store shelves... because people like thee and me who wanted the latest and greatest thing had all moved on... and shucked off their limited and limiting once-expensive 1950s rangefinders."

I hope this is a hint that a timely "best used gear ca. 2019" is on the way!

Poetic license?

I print about 0.01% of the pictures I take, (the rest suck, or are documentation). (Yes, I "take pictures." "Capturing images" is something that surveillance cameras do.) Surprising for me to hear, but when I enter those prints in local art club shows, other artists know that they're mine. So, I guess something of "me" must transfer to "them." Is that "soul?"

Werner Bischof


Wonderful to see you tackling such a slippery subject. Your "99%" rings true for me too. And nice comment, Tim Bradshaw, from a fellow musician and photographer. The last time I restrung my Martin D-35, I swear that it was playing itself, the response was that instantaneous. Don't quite know what to make of that.

But back to the poetry: I was invited by a longtime poet friend to provide the photographs for one of his projects(which eventually led to a book, "Vermont Exit Ramps", found on Amazon etc.) We wandered around the state of Vermont, to which we are both intensely connected, riffing - both in words and photographs - on what we were seeing and thinking and feeling.
I think there's some soul in that book, perhaps a simple reflection of the love and respect we had for each other, as well as the state. But mostly I don't think much about soul in my photographs, and believe that such things tend to take care of themselves, with or without conscious work on the part of the photographer/poet/musician.

Larry Towell, Rebecca Norris Webb and Alex Webb have all put their fingers on something with regard to poetry in photography. I think it was Larry who said that pictures are more like poems than prose, and that poems are just prose with all the water wrung out of them. I love Alex and Rebecca's notion that pictures can rhyme, and rhyme slant, that there's feeling and meaning between them. That combinations of words ... symbols ... whatever can be made that catch us off guard in if combined in just the right way and open up a crack in our perception that touches us.

Another author whose name I've long forgotten, writing about landscape photography, noted that it was far more common to see an impressive landscape than one which leaves an impression.

Leica are an an interesting impasse. Waiting for the M9, the biggest concern people seemed to have was that Leica would add features or ruin the camera with features or unnecessary specification. There was a collective sigh of relief at the camera being full frame, not because it was an advancement in resolution, but because it brought lenses 'back' to their original focal lengths (after the M8).

When I look at how consistent the company has been with the M, which is what people are mostly talking about when they talk about the soul of Leica, I'm impressed by how much they've stayed within the boundaries of simplicity and tactility. The company has produced whole new lines of camera to avoid touching the M. That, the Monochrom, the continued production of the MP and M-A all suggest to me that the dedication to what matters (and only what matters) remains. I agree completely with the point that soul rubs from camera pointer onto the camera (and maybe back around again ... maybe).

If Leica had that soul rubbed all over it, the only thing it's guilty of is selling it. If you want to keep the product the same in an era when everybody wants better test shots, what else should they do to survive? The big risk is all the new buyers rubbing the accumulated soul off the old company.

Re Aaron C Greenman's two linked adverts: I think this one is more accurate on what goes into complex machines...
Rocket 3 ad


I think that Leica (or E. Leitz Gmbh, as was then) lost its soul inn 1954, when the M3 was introduced, replacing the small watch-like Barnack design with an oversized monstrosity. And that film-advance lever that replaced the knob, allowing photographers to thoughtlessly take pictures at speeds up to 0.2 fps! And without having to squint through a tiny viewfinder (and switch to the equally tiny rangefinder window), no wonder sloppy photography has taken over the world since 1954.

Or, maybe it was really in 1930 when the soul was lost, with the introduction of interchangeable lenses. This was obviously a crass commercial tactic to sell lots of lenses, which set off the whole phenomenon of photographic GAS. Before then, one-camera/one-lens was automatic with a Leica, and it was very likely for more than one year!

Or, maybe it was 1932, when the coupled rangefinder was added . . .


Just got an eyefull of poetry, and soul, at the Roy Decarava retrospective at Zwirner galleries in New York.

I was also impressed with the reproductions in the print catalog, as well as in the online preview (considering):


On second thought:

A few years ago, I realized that Manhattan, and parts of the other boroughs, had turned into a theme park version of the New York City I'd been familiar with for most of my life. One that resembled the NYC of books and movies and postcards more than "the real thing" as I knew it. Yet, under and around the new consumer-friendly theme park, there is still a functioning (arguably) city, a functioning cultural, social and business mecca and crucible, and so on.

I think something similar happened to Leica. There's the well-packaged luxury brand built on the Barnack and later M mystiques, and beneath and alongside that there's still a producer of high-quality, specialized, super-reliable professional tools.

Is one of those the "soul", or the "heart", of Leica, and the other not? Maybe it's just a question of maturity. Maybe Leica is the aging 60's rock legend of the camera world, trying to navigate its own life changes, as well as generational changes in the art and business it helped create and define.

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