On Taking The Leica Monochrom On Vacation

Fireworks 2015

Vacations are in Kodachrome, bright with light and color.  From northern climes, we go to the vivid tropics in the winter.  And if we are lucky enough in summer to be able to go to the Mountain West, to the beach, or to cities to which we have always wanted to visit, of course we remember what we’ve seen as we saw it, in saturated color.  But with the release in mid-May of the Leica Monochrom (typ-246), our hankering to shoot in black and white meant we looked forward to an annual visit to the Tetons with a slightly different set of intentions, a different eye.

Jenny6 Brighter

Yes, we brought an M that shoots in color, too, and we have used it.  But to see a familiar environment through the sensibility that shooting with the Monochrom forces upon you is to open yourself to a certain poetry, or said with less grandiosity, to an historic way of seeing.  (Historic here referring to Ansel Adams, Edward Weston.) Now, the image of fireworks in Jackson Hole on the 4th of July could not have, I believe, been taken with my M — I was shooting at 10000 ISO.  The picture immediately above could have, of course, been converted to black and white, or shot with black and white film.  But here’s the thing: if I hadn’t had the Monochrom with me, would I have thought of that scene — with its soothing blues and greens — in black and white?  Is the greatest value that having the luxury of being able to shoot with a camera that only records images in black and white the effect it has on your sensibility, your eye?

Gros Ventre Moon

We know we wouldn’t have been able to shoot the above image with the M9 Monochrom, because it was taken with the Elmarit-R 180 f/2.8, which we could for the first time use with our Monochrom, as the new one operates on the same platform as the M-240, which takes R lenses.

Jenny1

It is an expensive mechanism to enforce discipline, as surely it would be cheaper to shoot Tri-X with a film camera, or to convert images from color to black and white.  But the image above was taken on a day when it was so overcast, we wouldn’t have been motivated to drive up into Grand Teton National Park to capture it; the notion that while a dreary day in the valley, and a day you wouldn’t likely consider going swimming in a lake or hiking in a canyon, this would be a perfect day to go shoot black and white images, was a motivator.  Wanting to take a picture in black and white literally got me in the car to go find the right clouds and light.

Plowing

In fact, if you begin thinking of your Monochrom as your primary camera, and the one that shoots color the backup, it opens a world of possibilities.  Ordinary images appeal because of the glorious unreality that is black and white — something photographers have understood for a century, only reluctantly giving way to color as an artistic medium.

Teton Sunset

As 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 of light.  The usual way one thinks of capturing a sunset is how to attain the colors in the sky.  But what if the colors don’t matter, and what does matter are the tones of grey, the light in the sky, the outline of the mountains, the richness of the sagebrush?

Schwabacher3

No one is going to want to see our vacation pictures as a depiction of the time we spent out West.  And yet somehow, by shooting more with the Monochrom than with the M, we suspect these vacation images will have a permanence in our own memory that the color images may not have.

2 Responses to “On Taking The Leica Monochrom On Vacation”

  1. I did see your photos in B&W…and I enjoyed it!
    I will also be using my 246 Monochrom in October…and let the ladies bring some technicolor snaps back home.
    I feel I closing the circle and returning to the origins: Leica, a 50 and B&W…and I’m perfectly happy with it!

  2. Great shots!

    While I still shoot by default in color (not having an M246, or unfortunately any Leica yet, working on it), almost all my best shots during vacation are at their best in B&W. This is anyhow my preferred “color range” 🙂 So I totally understand, and agree, on your last sentence!

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