IN 2014, LEICA CAMERA AG WILL BE CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY
The year 1914 saw the birth of 35 mm Leica photography as we know it today. Oskar Barnack made the Leitz Camera, the very first Leica, 100 years ago. And now, in 2014, Leica Camera AG is celebrating the centenary year of this occasion with numerous events, exhibitions and exciting new products. The slogan for this centennial celebration is ‘100 years of Leica photography’. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the headline celebration with most of the Leica brass for their Hollywood, California store event kickoff, where I made these portraits using a 44 year old Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron lens.
Oskar Barnack, an employee of the Leitz Werke Wetzlar and a pioneer of photography, invented and constructed the first still picture camera for the 35 mm film format (24 × 36 mm) in 1914. The construction of this so-called Ur-Leica according to Barnack’s philosophy of ‘small negative – big picture’ revolutionised the world of photography with vastly increased creative scope for photographers who, up until then, had had to rely primarily on cumbersome plate cameras for their work. Barnack therefore originally gave his compact and highly portable prototype camera the name ‘Liliput’ as is noted in the company archives in a document dated March 1914: ‘Liliput camera completed’. The original is still in the possession of Leica Camera AG, together with the negatives and prints of the first exposures captured with the Ur-Leica – including pictures from a trip Ernst Leitz II took to the United States in the summer of 1914.
In 1925, following inevitable delays as a consequence of the First World War, the Leica finally set out to conquer the world of photography and founded the legend of the brand with a multitude of iconic pictures that have profoundly influenced our understanding of the world. Examples of these include Robert Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’ from the Spanish Civil War, the famous portrait of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara by Alberto Korda, the naked and burning young girl Kim Phúc, photographed by Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Út during the Vietnam War, and the photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt which captured the celebrations on VJ day in New York’s Times Square in 1945.
Dr Andreas Kaufmann, chairman of the Supervisory Board and majority shareholder at Leica Camera AG, summarised the history of the company as follows: ‘No other brand has so crucially shaped and influenced the past 100 years of photography like Leica has – by continuing to provide photographers with the best tools and superb lenses to match them. For this reason, it is only logical that we will be celebrating our centennial with numerous renowned photographers from around the globe and shining a spotlight on their work.’
Thank you Dr, Kaufmann for kicking that celebration year off with me. It was a true pleasure to meet you, to photograph you photographing me, and to feel reassured from our discussion that the class, style, superior craftsmanship and history behind the Leica brand is in such good hands once again. May you continue your excellent course, and I look forward to seeing you again at Photokina if not before!