What We Learned Over One Year With The Leica Monochrom

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The first full day we had our Leica Monochrom — which arrived one year ago this past week — we took the above picture and amazed ourselves.  Not that the photo was so good, but we marveled at the strange fact that, as a lover of deeply saturated color images, we likely never would have processed the picture in black and white; we would have kept it as a color image, and toyed with white balance and tones. If anything, we would have enhanced the color.  And in so doing, we might never have discovered that this was an image that would look better as a black and white print.

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Over those next, early September weeks, it was as if we had discovered photography anew.  It had been decades since we’d developed black and white images in a basement.  We’d forgotten the joy of not simply capturing the world to see what things looked like as pictures, to paraphrase Gary Winogrand, but to see life transformed into something with more classical resonance.  We went to familiar places and, because we were thinking in terms of luminance, not chroma — light, not color — we could see shapes and patterns that once would have been uninteresting to us, and which now, because we were shooting with a black and white sensor precisely as limited as black and white film, could be seen in literally a different light.

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Those first few weeks with the Monochrom were magical, but the adventure continued throughout the late autumn and into the winter.  We learned that, shooting with a mindset that was determinedly focused on light and composition, not seduced by the garishness of color, the city that surrounded us could be seen in new ways.

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Portraits offered a completely different spectrum of possibilities.  The Monochrom had the effect of not just transforming the world we saw into black and white, it transformed the way we considered the world.  It transformed our approach to photography.  It sent us back to photography books, to see how all the great black and white photographers understood the world they set out to capture.   The history of photography became even more relevant.

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When out and about with our Monochrom, we were drawn to photograph very different people than we might ever before have asked if we could take their picture.

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We went out into landscapes we were suddenly excited to try capturing in monochrome, exploiting possibilities inherent in the season.  Once again, we saw familiar places and things anew.  Yes, dedicated black and white photographers might scoff at this journey we were on.  But, the point is, ever since we first took a picture with a Leica M7 and Fuji Velvia film, we’d been dedicated to color photography. This was something new.  It made us excited by photography all over again.

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As we waited for spring to arrive, and the landscape to erupt in color, we weren’t stymied by flat light and a limited palette.  Photography had become possible in any light and season.  In fact, in some cases, flat light was preferable.

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In March, we were fortunate enough to acquire a Leica M (typ 240), which was a step up from our beloved M9.  But even as we went on vacation in the Yucatan, and and drank deeply from the rich colors available in that tropical light, we knew for certain which images would be better off taken with the Monochrom.  We retained that sensibility that black and white photography was a superior approach, sometimes.

Uxmal Portrait

As summer arrived, we went out with a different expectation of what we could record with our camera(s).  There were days when we deliberately set out to find images that lent themselves to a kind of classical photography that just a year earlier, we wouldn’t have considered.  Or would have taken in color and not have had the sensibility to exploit in the more dramatic medium of black and white photography.

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Our time out West this past summer was spent in a possibly schizoid contrast between taking photos of the natural environment with as much appreciation for the color palette as possible and then deliberately desaturating what we saw in our mind’s eye so as to capture timeless images in black and white.

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As the full year with the Monochrom came to a close, and an event like the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington arrived, we went out in the streets with our Monochrom, because now it simply appealed to us to capture such an event in black and white.

New Jim Crow

A camera is a tool.  But one year with the Leica Monochrom not only enabled us to view images in a wholly new way.  It opened our eyes.  It is more than a tool.  It is magical.

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Follow John Buckley on Twitter: @Johnbuckley100.

16 Responses to “What We Learned Over One Year With The Leica Monochrom”

  1. […] black and white film will relate to what a profound influence the Monochrom imparts. Cheers, JB What We Learned Over One Year With The Leica Monochrom | Tulip Frenzy __________________ http://thegeographylesson.com/ https://tulipfrenzy.com/ […]

  2. Some stunning photography here. As the (new) owner of a Monochrom I am beginning to explore its possibilities and your album shows there is a lot to learn. Congratulations

  3. johnbuckley100 Says:

    Thanks so much, Mike. Enjoy it, as I know you will. JB

  4. Some of the best Monochrom images I’ve seen. I would still give much credit to the lenses used just as much as the camera (I’d be interested in knowing). As we know, even more than the camera and lens together, it’s the photographer. On that note, thanks for sharing.

  5. johnbuckley100 Says:

    Dan, thanks so much. I’d credit the lenses, a lot, for the look of the images. But I really want to credit the concept of a monochrome sensor for forcing me to go out “in black and white mode.” Ad the camera itself — his ISO performance in particular — is great, I think.

  6. Leica MM is exactly the same camera as the Leica M, minus the Bater array. Leica M $7k, Leica MM $8k. Oh yeah, less is more!

  7. Magical definitively but both, the MM and the artist 😉
    Thanks for sharing such an outstanding artwork !!
    Jorge

  8. Grab some film and develop and scan it with an old Nikon or Epson scanner.
    You get the true feel of black and white film. I had one of these and sold it in favor or a Hasselblad V film camera. Digital has ruined Photography as an art form. There is no soul or deep meaning in digital, it looks as it came from a hospital X-Ray Lab.

    • johnbuckley100 Says:

      Sorry, but in the modern age I don’t have the inclination to spend thousands of dollars annually on film and processing, to wait for the film to be developed and return from whomever still develops film, etc. With digital, you can get your pictures to look as you would like. The Monochrom and M-240 are excellent cameras.

  9. […] an M8 and then an M9, I loved Leica’s rendering of color images. But as I explained after one year of shooting with my Monochrom, the shift to using a black and white-only sensor brought me back to my roots as a photographer. […]

  10. […] we realized after shooting for one year with the M9 Monochrom, it is liberating to abandon thinking in terms of color and purely in terms […]

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