An exhibition of iconic photographs from the revolutionary camera that made them possible – the legendary Leica

The sailor kissing a girl in Times Square, Che Guevara in heroic pose, Vietnamese children running screaming from a napalm attack – indelible images of the last hundred years. And all captured by a revolutionary concept from 1914, the Leica compact camera. A stunning show, the current exhibition at Westlicht (7th district, 5 or 49 tram almost to the door) documents with a stunning show how the little Leica enabled a new visual language, taking photographers out of their studios and their static set-ups, and into the wide world of beauty, horror and everything in between.

Oskar Barnack was an engineer at Leitz in Wetzlar, manufacturers of microscopes, field glasses and movie cameras. He was also a passionate amateur photographer who longed for a simple camera small enough to slip into his pocket. The break-through idea was to use the new 35mm movie film, enabling a uniquely compact construction rapid shooting without reloading film.

179px-Ur_Leica
(photo: Leica/CC)

Photography joins the arts
The arrival of the Leica coincided with the post-1918 central European revolution in the visual arts, die Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity). The photographic interpretation demanded that the artist distance himself from the subject, not trying to re-interpret what he saw, but capturing whatever was in front of the lens, shooting opportunistically as the moment presented itself. Sometimes this led to unfiltered documentation of violence, poverty and social realities; sometimes to the stark abstract
beauty of architectural shadows or rail tracks glistening in the dusk. It was the moment when the newly unfettered medium of photography joined the established canon of the arts.

Alfred Eisenstaedt VJ Day, Times Square, NY 14. August 1945 © Alfred Eisenstaedt, 2014 / Leica Camera AG, Courtesy Skrein Photo Collection

That’s just the beginning, though. The exhibition documents much, much more, through the subjective photography of the 1950s (consciously reversing the objectivity of the 1920s) and up to the present day. The Leica was the weapon of choice for many of the legendary Magnum agency photographers like Robert Capa and Alfred Eisenstaedt, artists of the magic moment like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Alberto Korda and many more. Cartier-Bresson put it succinctly: “The Leica is the extension of my eyes.”

WestLicht is also the auction house for valuable photo prints – and cameras. Life photographer David Douglas Duncan’s trusty Leica M3D recently sold here for €1.68 million ($1.8 million) – not bad for a hobby photographer’s whimsy.


EYES WIDE OPEN! 100 YEARS OF LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY

(AUGEN AUF! 100 JAHRE LEICA FOTOGRAFIE)

PART I – THE CLASSICS
WestLicht Museum for Photography
Through February 21, 2016

Tue, Wed, Fri 14:00 – 19:00
Thu to 21:00 pm
Sat, Sun 11:00 – 19:00
Mon closed

PART II – THE CONTEMPORARIES
OstLicht. Gallery for Photography
Through February 13, 2016