Rodrigue Zahr was born in Kobayat, Lebanon on May 16, 1970 and lived part of his life in Venezuela. He came back to Lebanon in 2000 where he has lived ever since. He has performed freelance work as a documentary maker and editor to clients such as Monocle magazine, Bank Audi and Louis Vuitton ME. He also works as a photographer/videographer and production manager for ELLE Arab World magazine.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: Sensible. Spontaneous. Joyful.
Q: Are you a full-time photographer or would you describe yourself as a serious enthusiast?
A: I’m a full-time photographer and videographer at ELLE Arab World magazine, but I also do freelancing jobs when possible.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form, a profession?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by optical instruments. I can afford to live without many things, but never without a camera. Photography had always been a way of expression for me. Eight years ago, someone I barely knew at the time, saw some of my work and decided to hire me for his future business project. That business project turned out to be ELLE Arab World Magazine; since then, photography has become everything to me.
Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
A: I had had many media-related courses but basically I’m a self-taught photographer. I don’t think I’m influenced by one photographer, at least not on a conscious level, but I do think that my uncle and sister’s passion for photography had a huge impact on me during my teenage years. If I take pictures today, it’s probably because of them.
Q: What genre are your photos?
A: It’s difficult to describe my style of photography. From a professional angle, I can say it’s about documentary, portrait and fashion, but from a personal angle of view, I’m always taking pictures. I’m a street photographer when on the streets. I’m a sport and landscape photographer when hiking or back country skiing. I’m simply a photographer of everything my eyes perceive as beautiful.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: Spontaneity. I’m always seeking spontaneity and un-paused moments. It’s not easy because people are becoming more and more paranoid about their appearance and where their picture could be shared, so they lose their serenity and that kills spontaneity and makes human subjects look less and less photogenic. My approach is always that of backstage style, where I try to distract my subjects with other people, other photographers, if available, or whatever makes my presence less omnipresent. It’s then when I start getting the shots I want.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: I’m a huge fan of clever and simple design. When I look at how camera makers race to raise the list of insane options and features their cameras can have, I feel dizzy. Cameras today are becoming almost everything but cameras. Leica called to my attention with the introduction of the X1, then, it grabbed my attention big time with the introduction of the M Monochrom. Here are two product examples where Leica sailed in opposite directions and came up with something as simple as a camera, just a camera. That was brilliant. When Leica asked Jonathan Ive to design a special edition M, I smiled. Philosophy wise, Leica and Ive are born for each other.
Q: Where and when did you first try the Leica X Vario? Can you tell us about this experience?
A: It was during a trip to Los Angeles in October 2013 where I had the chance to drop by the Leica Store LA. The store itself turned out to be a very interesting landmark, definitely worth visiting when in town. The camera was brought to me on a cushioned red velvet jewelry style tray, and it deserved such a presentation since the camera turned out to be just that, a jewel! Perfect build, beautiful materials, a rock solid photographic instrument. I just couldn’t let go of it! Minutes later, Mr. Tom Smith from Leica Akademie North America came to invite me to a special X Vario Discovery Day scheduled for the next day. I registered. The event day started with Tom briefing us about the camera’s functions and setups, but soon after we were invited to start putting our cameras to their paces. We were a group of seven, each with an EVF equipped X Vario. Obviously, our very first shots were all taken inside the store, which itself is a heaven for architecture and detail photography. Once done indoors it was time to leave the store and go out into the surrounding streets. I still remember every shot taken out there. My camera was set to shoot High Contrast B&W, a setup I had never used before on any of my cameras. I enjoyed that camera so much I didn’t want to return it to the store!
Q: What interested you about the Leica X Vario initially to try it?
A: I had never felt at ease using compacts. I tried many types and I even bought some of the best brands; but ended up giving them away or leaving them behind and grabbing my DSLR instead. I almost gave up on compacts until the day Leica introduced the X Vario. I started reading reviews, initially they were almost all bad reviews from people who had never even seen the camera in the flesh or used it, then some reviews started to appear all over the net with picture samples. Those pictures spoke to me better than 1,000 words. I stopped reading and planned to test it out myself to make my own judgment.
Q: What were your first impressions of the camera after you used it?
A: Besides its beautiful design and superb build quality and ergonomics, the camera allowed me to delve into a photographic experience I had long starved for. The camera is so easy to use, straightforward and simple. Getting to know a new camera so well takes days if not weeks or months. Getting to know the X Vario inside and out took me less than a couple of hours! That was love at first click.
Q: What qualities or characteristics of the Leica X Vario make it useful for your work?
A: Simplicity and versatility are the X Vario’s most important characteristics. The more complicated a camera is to use and operate, the less fluid the photographic experience is going to be. The X Vario’s lens quality match my DSLR’s prime lenses, the zoom range and its IQ combo make it a perfect all-in-one photographic instrument. It’s like having a wide angle, a 50 mm, a 70 mm and a macro lens all in one package. The camera is ideal for most of my photo shoots. It kind of freed me from the constraints of a heavy backpack and multiple lens choice when on the go. Shooting with the X Vario is so inviting and addictive. I never go out without it.
Q: What stands out to you about the Leica X Vario from a technical standpoint?
A: What really amazes me is the camera’s WB and color accuracy! I had never seen such color reproduction accuracy before. I used to spend hours in fixing color and skin tones in post. The X Vario’s DNG output is superb and needs just little basic adjustments that are usually carried out in minutes. Another thing I’ve become addicted to is the camera’s high contrast B&W output. Composing using the EVF in monochrome is a whole new experience that I’m becoming addicted to. Just fantastic.
Q: How does the Leica X Vario compare to other cameras you have used?
A: With today’s sensor advancements, even a smart phone camera can produce amazing results. What sets a photographic instrument apart from the pack is, in my opinion, the philosophy behind its design and conception. It’s more about hardware than software or electronics. The Leica X Vario is a well thought out and executed photographic instrument. I can’t really compare it to anything in its category. It’s unique.
Q: In the portfolio you submitted, there are images in both black-and-white and color. Do you prefer B&W or color? Or does it depend on the image?
A: I like both actually. But honestly, I never liked the B&W conversion results from my DSLRs. I practically discovered the true B&W potential with the X Vario. The camera produces a very natural B&W comparable to film! Deciding whether a picture should stay color or be converted to B&W is straightforward for me. If B&W acts as a subtraction of color I stay away from it. If on the other hand, it acts like an add-on, a plus, then that picture may be converted. Each picture has its own way of telling me what to do with it. I just listen!
Q: Is there any other Leica equipment you are interested in trying out?
A: Being an avid amateur astronomer for years helped train my eyes to see differently, to rely on direct and peripheral vision in order to get my target in optimum focus. It also taught me to become patient, which has had huge impact on my photography. When behind a camera, I prefer to look through something with a viewfinder and not at something via a screen. On a telescope, I’m always focusing and defocusing in order to get my target locked. In photography I find myself applying the same technique, instead of using my camera’s AF system. All this makes me feel as though I was born for rangefinder cameras. My ultimate Leica system would be a one-lens-only M setup, either a 50 mm or a 35 mm that I would use for professional and creative applications. But that delightful dream setup won’t dethrone the X Vario. She’ll remain my beloved daily companion.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over the next few years?
A: Photography evolves with every breath a photographer takes. My photography is becoming more and more simple, less and less technical. Leica is having huge impact on the pace of this evolution.
Q: Do you want to share any upcoming projects with our readers?
A: I’m working on two projects actually. Deconstructing Beirut is a project about Beirut’s old architectural heritage being demolished and replaced by skyscrapers. The other is more of a street style and is about people who still live without relying on today’s technologies and trends.
Thank you for your time, Rodrigue!
– Leica Internet Team
See more of Rodrigue’s work on Instagram, Twitter and blog.