Over 200 photographs, documentary material, camera models and publications – on March 13 the Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography exhibition will open at the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt. We talked with Celina Lunsford, the artistic director, about special discoveries, the Leica myth and the appeal of iconic images.
Q: The exhibition was on display at the Haus der Photographie at the Hamburg Deichtorhallen up until January. How will the exhibition in Frankfurt differ from the one in Hamburg?
A: Each venue offers different approaches to Eyes Wide Open. In Frankfurt we will have the chance to show some vintage books and other publications which were not on view in Hamburg, plus other photographers such as Michael von Graffenried or Gaël Turine that were also not at the premier. Although our exhibition space is smaller than the Deichtorhallen, we are showing more sections here in Frankfurt. The show will run much longer, 10 weeks, and we have an extensive workshop, tour and lecture programme to accompany the show. This can all be found on our website.
Q: Were there any particular discoveries you made whilst preparing the exhibition?
A: It has been about three years since I started the discussions with Hans Michael Koetzle about showing the exhibition in Frankfurt. At that time he was so excited about what he had discovered in the Leica archives. There are so many things to discover in this exhibition that one really has to have enough time to see the show or make several visits. When I first saw the original hand drawn designs by Oskar Barnack for the first Leica Camera it was so beautifully simple, ingenious, precise yet imperfect. The sketch of a vision, the evidence that an idea was born which would eventually change how we would see the world.
Jane Evelyn Atwood was a great discovery for me in the exhibition, so much that we have invited her to Frankfurt to lecture and give a workshop. She has photographed many remarkable series about women, who are living on the edges of society. The British photographer, John Bulmer and his colour street scenes from Halifax, Liverpool and Manchester were also a special discovery.
Q: Which pictures are you particularly excited about?
A: All of them. Some we have exhibited in the past, so it will be like having good friends coming to visit again. I am sure that with Eyes Wide Open, however, Frankfurt has never had such an important and in-depth overview of photography in one exhibition, with so many different image makers, who have been responsible for communicating historically significant moments and influencing how we see and discover the world in which we live.
Q: Does the proximity to Wetzlar add a special appeal?
A: Naturally the location of Eyes Wide Open in Frankfurt gives the photography enthusiast the perfect opportunity to visit the exhibition at the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, the new Leica Gallery space (just ten minutes away) with works by other photographers, and then hop on a train to Wetzlar to visit the new Leica Centre, which is an enchanting cultural space dedicated to technology and Fine Art Photography, which Barnack would have loved.
In April the DGPh (German Society of Photography) will have a conference in Wetzlar and Hans Michael Koetzle will bring members here to Frankfurt for a public tour.
Q: What does the Leica myth mean to you?
A: The camera incognita, the best lenses, the lean shape, the quiet shutter release. All of these things enabled photographers and amateurs to work quickly and in low light conditions, strolling down the street or to capture a fast motion. The chance to grasp life passing by the split second, capturing forever in one frame.
Q: Many of the pictures are iconic – do you consider the exhibition as a retrospective or as a cross section?
A: It depends on how you look at it. In the 30 year history of the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt we have shown many of these photographers in solo retrospectives, such as Güler, Cartier Bresson, Gilden, Burri, the list goes on. It is intriguing to be able to compare the individual styles and themes, that the photographers had in common. How do Rudi Meisel, Barbara Klemm, Ulrich Mack, Will McBride and René Burri approach urban scenery? The visitor has the opportunity to experience this. Most importantly, however, is that there is a new generation of photography enthusiasts who have never had the chance to view most of these international 20th and 21st century masters. How often do we have the chance today to see Gianni Berengo Gardin, René Groebli, Susan Meiselas, Christer Strömholm (key visual, Nana, Place Blanche, 1961), Jing Huang and Paula Luttringer, for example, in one exhibition? There are several thematic sections that make up a grand retrospective of the last 100 years of photography in itself. Undoubtedly, the street photography from around the globe, the authenticity of each photographer’s style, and the great time-span covered in this exhibition, make it worth its weight in gold.
Q: Who should have photographed with a Leica?
A: This is an interesting idea to fantasize about. I would have to mention a few names from among the 19th century pioneers, such as Julia Margaret Cameron, a women photographer who was a brilliant portraitist. She lived in Victorian England and India and could have done well with a Leica to venture out onto the streets like her contemporary John Thomson who also would have liked a Leica to take his street portraits, also while travelling throughout the world. I would also be interested to see what the contemporary conceptual photo-artist, Penelope Umbrico, would photograph with a Leica, as she produces series based on forms and colours, like sunsets based on appropriated photographs found on the internet.
Q: What is the particular appeal in exhibiting many well-known pictures once again?
A: It is not about being famous, but about a collection of great images – well known and lesser known – that makes this exhibition spectacular. Yes, there are icons in this exhibit and it is very special to be able to enjoy them in their original form, but it is also a fact that we have already seen many of them in a published format. And this too is a unique experience in this exhibition: Hans-Michael Koetzle’s vast knowledge of how the photograph defines a publication or is altered for the printed page, in magazine or book form. In addition to framed originals, visitors will see exquisite examples of rare magazines and books filled with photographs taken by Leica photographers.
Q: From René Burri to Joel Meyerwitz, from Barbara Klemm to Araki, apart from the technology, what creates a link between the pictures?
A: The passion which all of these artists have for their subjects and their unique, visual languages.
Q: What do you wish for the future of Leica photography?
A: No compromise in quality. I hope that Leica will continue to support more exhibitions like this one, which can help inspire and teach new generations to break boundaries in future visual cultures.
Thank you for your time, Celina!
– Leica Internet Team
Read the interview in its original German here. Learn more on their website.