The exhibition “EYES WIDE OPEN! 100 YEARS OF LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY” opens at the Haus der Photographie at Hamburg’s Deichtorhallen on October 24. In addition to showing 500 photographs, there are technical exhibits, films and much more to attract photo enthusiasts to the city. German publishing house Kehrer has produced a book in German and English of the same name in conjunction with the exhibition and LFI talked to the curator Hans-Michael Koetzle.
Q: How did the concept for the exhibition come about?
A: First there was the simple fact that Leica celebrates its centenary in 2014. We know that in 1914 – just before World War I – Oskar Barnack conceived the Leica’s main features, defining it as the ‘Lilliput’ camera. Shouldn’t this jubilee year be a grand celebration of Leica history? This was the basic starting point. Of course, we’re not only talking about technological history; however, we’re not ignoring the technical aspects and the exhibition includes cameras as well as early enlargers and projectors. But, for us, the pictures are the main feature: to show what the Leica camera made possible and how it has marked and enriched visual culture over the last century. The key question was: did the Leica, this new, mobile little camera really give rise to a new way of seeing and to a new type of photography? The idea was to prove this theory.
Q: What strategy did you apply in selecting the pieces for the presentation?
A: The first question was who took photos with a Leica? There are names that, up until now, people don’t necessarily associate with Leica. Another criterion was the form and aesthetic quality. We looked for pictures with a recognizable signature that follow a particular approach yet are thematically and stylistically different. Confirming our hopes, this has resulted in a photographic history of Leica with outstanding images that underline the special value of this camera system. The Leica was and is small, handy, discreet, fast, and can take pictures in quick sequence. It was bound to produce another type of image. We want the exhibition to make this clear. Of course, it’s not just about choosing the pictures. You also have to be able to get them for the exhibition. In these times, when auctions – specifically photography ones – are breaking all records, that’s no easy feat. Without the support of collectors such as F.C. Gundlach, Christian Skrein, Andreas Kaufmann and Peter Coeln, it would have been impossible to realize this project of the century.
Q: Did you make any special discoveries?
A: After months securing, digitalizing and sorting the inventory, it is now exhibited at the Leica Camera AG’s company headquarters in Wetzlar. Günter Osterloh and his team did an incredible job. Archives basically means cameras and accessories, magazines, specialized literature, delivery books and historic company records. The delivery books kept since 1925 represent a valuable resource and some of these precious items are part of the exhibition: the very first user’s manual for example.
Q: What parts of the exhibition are particularly important to you?
A: We deliberately paid attention to photographic cultures that, to date, have been presented and discussed only under exceptional circumstances. What do we know about the Spanish or Portuguese photography of the fifties and sixties? Despite the political restrictions, Leica Clubs did exist in those countries. They were well informed about developments in photography around the world and so were able to link national themes to modern imagery and a unique perspective. I’m thinking of photographers such as Ramón Masats, Ricard Terré and Gerard Castello-Lopes – Leica photographers of the first order who have probably never been exhibited before in this country. British photography from the fifties and sixties: names like John Bulmer and Humphrey Spender will also surprise many. Leica photography, good photography is always about form and emotion, aesthetic daring and curiosity, involvement, being there, interest – in the literal sense. For me, a photographer like Bruce Davidson is a perfect embodiment of these principles. He was a political photographer who, in addition to the message, looks for and successfully applies aesthetic formal challenges. His essay on a New York youth gang is, in my opinion a highpoint of recent media history and once again, taken with a Leica – up close and discrete. Of course, I continue to consider René Burri with “The Germans” and definitely Robert Frank with “The Americans”, as outstanding examples of style-setting photographers.
Thank you for your time, Hans-Michael!
– Leica Internet Team
Learn more about the exhibition here. Purchase “Augen auf! 100 Jahre Leica” in German and English.