When Huw John gets his hands on an M10, he experiences a real adrenaline rush. The British photographer is not interested in highly complex menus and technical gimmicks; he wants to be able to fully concentrate on his work.
Over recent months, the avid Leica photographer has had the chance to thoroughly try out the M10-R, and has produced an enormous amount of material in the process. After taking thousands of pictures he concludes, “The M10-R is the exact camera that I’ve been waiting for – as much for my commercial clients as for my creative photography.” In an interview, Hew speaks about how his passion began, how it was to work with the M10-R, and about completely new, visual impressions during the lockdown.
At which point in your life did you start with photography and how did your passion develop over time?
I started photography at the age of 8, when my father bought me an AGFA 126 camera as a birthday present. I got more and more interested in photography, and then took a photography exam in school; for this, I was mentored by a well-respected, UK press photographer, Dennis Stephens, who ran a news & sports picture agency. So at the age of 16, I had my first big sports image published in The Sunday Times newspaper, while I was still at school. I then spent about five years learning how to shoot images for the national press, but also learning all about darkroom operations such as processing black and white, and colour films, and also how to frame and print them too, before they were transmitted to national newspapers.
How did you get into the world of Leica cameras? Could you describe your previous experiences with Leica cameras?
I used the Leica M6TTL film camera with 35mm lens, and absolutely loved the feeling and ergonomics of its body, and I remember the anticipation while waiting to see what I’d shot, once the film had been processed. It was the most exciting part of the photography process. Then cropping and framing in the enlarger, and dodging and shading, and making the prints. When the first Leica Q arrived, I didn’t have any compact-style digital camera, so I decided to give it a go, and was amazed by the results of the 28/1.7 Summilux. Of course, once you have a Q, you’re then drawn into the M family, as I wanted a longer 50mm lens. So next came the M240, and so it continued up to the M10-P. Great cameras for quiet, considered shooting on film productions or events.
Out of curiosity, I bought Matt Stuart’s book All That Life Can Afford in 2016. I was then fortunate to be on a workshop with Matt, and then one with Jeff Mermelstein. The technique and joy of using the Leica reminded me of the freedom and simplicity of how I looked at life and took photographs when I was that 8 year-old boy; and that set me down the Leica pathway for good.
You took all of the pictures during the corona lockdown. How did it feel?
Covid 19 meant that my editorial photography work stopped. Unprecedented global upheaval. Such things none of us have ever experienced before. Everything felt very odd indeed. During the first month of the UK lockdown, I noticed an environmental change. The streets went silent. The roads went silent. There were no people – but the birds seemed to be around in greater numbers. Amazing hot sunny weather, day after day. The air quality appeared to be cleaner. The sky went blue. Really deep, azure blue. The type of blue I remember from the beach holidays of my childhood. Was this down to the lack of aircraft in the sky? The lack of cars, buses, trains? The lack of industrial manufacturing emissions? Who knows? All I knew was that I needed to photograph this change.
You were one of the first people to test the new M10-R. Do you remember your first impressions? How did it feel like to take the first images?
At a first glance it appeared exactly the same as the M10P, apart from the added red dot on the front and the removed Leica script on the top plate. Was it harder to focus with the greater pixel count? No. Did I need to be on very fast shutter speeds to hold the camera steady enough? No. For the sparkly sunny days, it gave me the best colours I have ever had. The resolution of the detail was super impressive and crispy sharp. You can often even read text detail at 300% in Photoshop. Using Fotos App on my iphone, the new simple quick gallery creates a speedy selection of the images, and worked well.
Your images are very colourful and bright. Is there a certain mood you want to evoke in the viewer?
I knew I didn’t want to photograph empty city streets and people in shops with masks on their faces: I wanted to show simple, maybe ambiguous, images filled with strong colours. I love vibrant colours, like in Robert Walker’s book Colour is Power. I wanted to create a positive series of images showing the simple beauty of what was around me, and how even the most basic elements, such as a cloud in the sky when added with a tree, can make an uplifting image. I found I was replacing the connection that people give to the image, with mannequins, murals, sculptures, to give the image some emotion. The M10-R produces beautiful colours – strong, bold and vibrant. I didn’t have the correct profile for Adobe Camera Raw, but no matter, I didn’t need it. I barely touched the colour settings.
How did you have to change your usual photographic approach during these times, and in what way did the M10-R help to accomplish your goals?
Keeping my distance from people and wearing a mask were important. So the majority of images were shot on a 50mm/1.4, as I looked for scenes that did not need wider framing.
You took around 17,000 pictures. Which criteria did you use to select the images?
That was quite difficult. But in the end 17,000 were whittled down to 700, down to 100, down to 50. The images needed to work together to show the story of the positivism I was getting from the vibrant, saturation of the colours.
What is the biggest difference between the M10-R and other Leica cameras you have worked with in the past?
The higher resolution, new sensor, gives the option to crop into the middle of an image with no problem at all. Super impressive, crispy sharp resolution in the detail. It’s so very good at the highlights – much improved from the M10. It’s superb for shooting portraits using natural light, with the lens wide open. The increased dynamic range got me to the point where I didn’t care too much about the exposure being exact. The large DNG files are just beautiful.
Are there any future goals you want to achieve, any places you want to visit when it’s safe to travel again?
I have many places I would love to visit. One of the first on my list is the Wetzlar factory. My passion for photography has been further increased by the Leica rangefinder. It’s my one way to remain focused in a chaotic world, allowing me to loose myself in my surroundings and simply be ready to accept whatever is offered up to me. Someone once told me, that the real world is as fabulous as anything we can fabricate. I take that with me, and my Leica M, as I wander through life…
Huw John is a full time photographer based in the UK for over 30 years, working in film & TV, editorial, and corporate PR for brand leading companies and organisations. Regarding his passion for photography, he never goes looking for pictures: he simply observes; and if something catches his attention, he takes the picture. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram, as well on his brand-new showcase-page, where you can enjoy the most beautiful images taken during his M10-R field test.