Archive for Leica M10

On Marrakech and Street Photography: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron, Version IV

This being an unusually lucky year for travel opportunities, I recently went to Marrakech and spent several days in and around the Medina, the old city with its warren of narrow passageways giving way to pedestrian squares. I had read about the difficulties of taking photos in the Moroccan street, of the active hostility of people to having their picture taken. My response was to travel with the compact Leica M10 rangefinder and a 25-year old lens, the 35mm Summicron, which is small and unobtrusive, and to shoot “from the hip,” camera held in the palm of my hand and raised to the eye only when taking pictures of inanimate objects.

I’ll tell you more about how I took the pictures posted here, but I also want to get into the why of it, into what it means to be a privileged Westerner who, against the wishes of the people whose lives he’s capturing would go ahead and take their picture. First, let’s set the scene.

The old city is punctuated with palaces and museums, among the most beautiful of which is the Dar El Bacha with its incredible tile work and architecture.

These images show off the legendary King of Bokeh, Leica’s last pre-Aspherical 35mm f/2 lens before the Summicron Asph was introduced in the late 1990s. Wide open, the out-of-focus areas drop off quickly, and to my eye pleasurably, even as it can be softer at the edges and corners than a modern, Aspherical lens. All of the above images were taken the conventional way, with the camera lifted to my eye. As were the two pictures below — the first (actually taken with the 75mm Noctilux) because the beautiful waiter didn’t object to her picture being taken, the second because I was far enough away that the father and daughter looking at the exhibition didn’t see me taking their picture.

Out in the street, though, it was a different matter. I walked casually with the camera at stomach level, ISO high enough to support an f/5.6 – 8 exposure, focus set to the hyperfocal distance of approximately 25 feet, and took pictures of people in the Medina’s full cacophony of sounds and riot of smells, the motorcycles pushing through, the donkey carts trying to get by. It was, as they say, a target-rich environment. Over several days wandering through the Medina, only occasionally did I raise the camera to my eye, and only a few times was I called out for taking a picture.

When you take pictures of people who don’t want their picture taken, what are you doing? Susan Sontag and others have written about the power relationship between the photographer and his subjects, between the observer and the observed. This imbalance exists even in your home city among people of comparable class and stature. But an American going, camera in hand, to a city like Marrakech turns up the amp to 11.

What I wanted to do was to make pictures that conveyed a reality that neither I nor many of the people who would see the pictures — you — have ready access to. It’s a conceit that what I was going for was art — though it’s always an intent — rather than mere tourism snapshots. As with all street photographers, I was focused upon taking pictures without asking permission of the subjects, and in fact had equipment and a technique deliberately designed to keep people from knowing I was “taking their picture” (which under these circumstances is a loaded phrase.) I’m not a documentarian or a photo journalist, and I’m also not an in-your-face, Bruce Gilden-style bully; the photographers I most admire are the humanists — Sebastiao Salgado, Alex Webb, Rui Palha — the people who care about other human beings and use their camera to tell their story even as they allow them — the subject — to provide the art through their interactions, movement and activity. But was that what I was doing in the streets of Marrakech?

Each of the pictures above were met with some protest, including the visibly raised arm of the shopkeeper in the bottom right. (I brought the camera to my eye for that one, thinking I was far enough away to do so unobserved, and only later saw the the shopkeeper’s discomfort.) In a favorite image made there, the local Surete protecting a palace let it be known in no uncertain terms that I should cease and desist. And in so doing, they made the picture!

As a privileged visitor, you make assumptions. I assume that part of the reason why people in Marrakech don’t want their picture taken is that we foreign tourists are invaders in their community. Even though the local economy is dependent upon tourism, tourists don’t have the moral “right” to take their picture without their permission, which they’re unwilling to give. The Moroccans try to preserve their personal rights and autonomy even as, for hundreds of years, Unbelievers — in some cases, colonial subjugators — have tromped clumsily through their neighborhoods. Moreover, Muslims have a religious edict against human and animal images, against a human representing things invented by Allah alone. A street photographer from the U.S. enters the Medina with a history as complex as the culture he or she wants to turn into two-dimensional pictures.

And yet, one of the things we all do when visiting an exotic location is try taking home with us some visual representation of it, a remembrance and relic of the visit. A century of film cameras, the economy of Rochester, New York and at least some portion of the current mobile phone economy has ebbed and flowed on this marketed presumption.

Perhaps street photography of the sort I was attempting can be justified by its knowingness, its flouting of the subject’s desires by subterfuge. Perhaps it’s deliberateness ennobled what otherwise would be seen as callous indifference to people’s autonomy. Even under this rationale — and I’m aware that’s what it is, a justification — what I was doing was still the act of a privileged Westerner who, against their wishes, made pictures while ignoring the subjects’ rights, their dignity. Because I could — at the end of the day, I was less likely to be punched for taking someone’s picture in Marrakech than I would be in streets of D.C. where I live.

But if my motives were driven by artistic purpose, wasn’t it okay? Don’t artists have superseding rights? Or is it all just exploitation, the pressing of a power relationship that at its core is my ability, as a Westerner, to afford to come to a place like this with an expensive camera hidden in my hand?

I wrestled with these thoughts. But I didn’t stop taking pictures.

I have never spent days on end shooting from the hip, but I quickly learned to capture, if not the perfectly framed shot, at least one that had authenticity and the sacred quality of the observed living in innocence, unaware their picture was being taken.

Pictures can be made with poignancy, with respect. The element of humanist, Family of Man universality could enter into the equation. The exotic could be captured with the excitement inherent in traveling far from our homes. And every once in a while I would capture something that I deemed really special.

Widening the frame a bit: a brilliant and brave street photographer like Mark Cohen can shoot incredible photographs of his fellow citizens in the risky intimacy of a small city like Scranton, but for many of us, going to a place far from home, camera in hand, relieves us of fear and inhibition. Our passport lets us take pictures we wouldn’t dream of taking in our city’s streets.

Even unleashed in the street, I punctuated my photography with more formal captures of the architecture and art, the scene, the tourist’s bounty.

It’s an incredibly beautiful city, in its alternating rough but delicate way, but still, pictures devoid of people are not what I love. This is not what gets me going. This is what gets me going.

Taking pictures of inanimate objects, whether in landscape photography or just capturing a beautiful tile floor, is dependent on light, on weather, on simply being there, on showing up, far more than on action and incident. Joel Meyerowitz, who is both a brilliant street photographer and a documentarian of moments dependent on light, not action, talks about taking “tough pictures.” Inherent in this is the notion that street photography has an admirable, testing degree of difficulty, that finding the kismet in human interaction is where the treasure lies.

There are no decisive moments taking pictures of tile on a Marrakesh palace’s floor, ah, but just outside in the street something might be happening. Weegee’s dictum was “F/8 and be there,” emphasizing the showing up, the getting out there. “Out there” being defined as the street, where things happen. Things happen out there because that’s where the people are.

When Joel Meyerowitz co-authored Bystander: A History of Street Photography, I don’t think his title meant the photographer is a bystander, at least not in the way we use that term to refer to someone who does nothing. Who lets life go on without him. Because the photographer very much does something. Whether he takes the picture, as Garry Winogrand famously said, to see “what something will look like photographed,” or for some other, possibly deeper motivation, the street photographer is intimately engaged in the scene, even as he remains distant from it. For me, that’s an intense way of being, a way of genuinely connecting with my surroundings — and a greater motivation to go somewhere than simply “being there.”

Back in Marrakesh, there were moments when it all came together. The first picture on this post is an example of the Medina in perfect street photographer’s dream light.

The photo below is the kind of image that really keeps me going. The kismet of the parts assembling themselves in front of the camera lens, the practice and skill of having the camera ready to go at close to the right settings — well, it’s why I show up, f/8 or whatever.

I may not have perfectly nailed the focus on the little Moroccan boy responding to the European girl in the tiara, but that’s okay. (As Winogrand also said, photography is incredibly forgiving — you can botch the focus and still get the picture.) The action of the mother — what is she doing? — and all the unknown elements contained in this short story are the kinds of things that as a photographer I live for.

I really don’t know what’s going on in this picture — I was too busy snapping the shutter. I remember standing in the foyer on my way out of a small store in a small town outside of Marrakech where crafts are made by a collective of artisans and seeing, first, the blue transom light, and next, some action in the street. I instinctively brought the camera to my eye. My settings were what I had most recently used on the street — approximately f/8, ISO 400, probably 1/250th of a second (I’ll check the metadata later to see.) All I know is that in capturing this incident in which Europe meets Africa/Christianity meets Islam, two children engage though a mother intervenes, the full story is unknown and gone in a split second. It is … the reason to carry a camera. To be ready, you have to be comfortable making pictures of people, permission given or not.

On the last day of our trip, we went to the village of Aghmat, for the Friday morning market. It was agreed among our friends that others would keep their cameras down and I’d wander through shooting from the hip as unobtrusively as possible. I’d share with our friends whatever pictures I took, but they wouldn’t trigger a reaction by everyone holding up their iPhones.

Looking at these pictures, I’m reminded of the roots of tableau painting, the cast of characters arranged by the artist to tell some story out of the workings of a given day. In street photography, the artist is, well, a bystander, without the power to choreograph movements. It’s joyful to see just what the camera can record in what Daido Moriyama referred to as “fossils of light and time.”

To me, these photos capture life in all its pungency and primal interaction. And as the trip finished, I was glad to have come to a place deemed hostile to street photography, not because it made me hone my skills but because it made me think. About what matters in picture making.

I adore landscape photography (scroll down and see the images from a trip to Iceland in August), but know that a big part of my satisfaction in taking a good landscape photograph is that to do so, I had to hike to some sublime location. Martin Parr says one thing that prevents people from becoming good photographers is… laziness. F/8 and for Godsake be there. Street photography is a little different in that it requires more than simply being there. You must be attuned to movement in the street, to subtle incidents, to the mood of people, not just the quality of light.

I was grateful to go up into the mountains and be able to take this picture in the calm late morning light in a tiny village that housed a Berber Museum run by the same people who run Marrakech’s lovely House of Photography.

I was glad on our final morning to take a photograph of the fountain in our small hotel with its lush flowers in the water. Most of all, I was grateful to have come to Marrakech, an intriguing, fascinating city reputed to be hostile to street photography and be able to walk away with some images that I hope others besides me will find hard to forget.

John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy

The Alhambra by Night and Day: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All color images Leica M10; all black and white images Leica Monochrom

As everyone living in the continent he sailed to knows by heart, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Less well known to some of us is that, in that same year, the Christian Reconquista of Spain was completed upon the defeat of the last Moorish sultan. The Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella was peacefully handed the keys to the Alhambra, which the Nasrid emirs of Granada had built over the previous centuries. It remains the greatest example of Moorish architecture in Spain. We found it captivating.

Today, the Alhambra is the second-most visited attraction in Europe, even as it is limited to fewer than 9000 tickets each day. Having now spent time in both the Andalusian blast furnace of a June day and on an absolutely sweltering evening, it’s easy to understand why. What follows is meant to be neither an historical summary nor a visual tour, but simply a series of photos from both excursions, some in color, some in black and white, showcasing what was, to us, one of the most amazing places we’ve ever visited.

Visiting the Alhambra today is not like going to a Mayan ruin or Angkor Wat. It’s not like going to the Taj Mahal. It feels alive — from its gardens in the vast Generalife, to its fountains and ever-present flowing water. You can feel the presence of the magnificent Nasrid artisans and craftsmen who rendered the walls with poetry. One remains grateful for the wisdom of the later Christian kings who — contrary to their treatment of the Aztec and Maya — respectfully preserved the culture that came before them.

The three Nasrid palaces, as well as the hillside summer palace over the Generalife, look out onto Granada, from which the Alhambra was a separate royal town. The distance from the modern city isn’t far, but it’s a separate world. Visiting with hundreds of others at the same time leaves no space for contemplation, and it was too hot to imagine doing this anyway. But if ever there were a place about which one could say he felt transported to another time, it’s the Alhambra.

It’s exceedingly hard for a photographer to maneuver for position among the crowds and find a shot. Capturing the delicacy of the craftsmanship seems almost futile, but over the two different tours, we were able to take a number of pictures worth keeping.

There is such a blend of styles apparent over the transition from one palace to the next, it remains a miracle of sorts that neither Ferdinand and Isabella — the latter of whom chose to be buried here, before her surviving husband moved her to their mausoleum in Granada below — nor their heir Charles V obliterated the palaces they conquered. While there was a long period of disrepair, and at one point Napoleon trained his cannons on it, more than 500 years later, the Alhambra is preserved. In fact, you can visualize Moorish architecture as a beautiful undercoating to all of Andalusian culture, making it special even in a broader Southern European territory not lacking for cultural delights.

It’s hard to say which element within the interlocking palaces will stay with us the longest. The various ceilings of the Hall of the Abenerrajes, the last palace to be built before the Nasrid’s collapse, deserve monumental status in their own right.

We left in early evening and had just enough time to make it across to the Albaicin to look back upon the Alhambra in the fading sunlight. It’s a magical place.

We’re grateful to Blanca Espigares Rooney of Tours by Locals, who was our friendly and erudite guide for our group’s night visit, and in fact, her family were among those who have lived in the Alhambra over the past century. Thanks also to Maria Garcia of Viator who managed to conduct a 4:30 PM tour on the hottest of days navigating the gardens to keep us cool.

Our Top 10 Photos Taken This Year At Demonstrations Against Trump

Posted in Leica M, Trump Protests with tags , , , , on December 16, 2017 by johnbuckley100

March For Racial Justice-2

All images taken with the Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux 

The only solace we have had in 2017 against the cruel and unusual punishment visited upon the land by the election of Donald Trump has been the ability to go to Washington demonstrations.  They came so quickly after the inauguration — the Women’s March, which was scheduled, the protests against the Muslim ban, which for successive weekends were spontaneous — that at a certain point we joked about being appreciative of Trump, as he had organized our weekend activities for us: take camera to demonstration, march, record it for posterity.  In fact, we we have a gallery filled with dozens of images entitled “Washington Demonstrations In The Age of Trump”.

The picture above was taken in September at the combined March for Black Woman and March for Social Justice.  It’s our favorite image of the year because, for once, the light was decent, but also because it reflects  what happened in this awful, yet miraculous year of resistance.  See, two competing events merged into one, because the cause was unifying.  The white woman is out of place, but so what — this is the way we’re going to get out of this mess, as Virginia and Alabama show: white women and black women turning out in record numbers to vote these creeps from office.  So call that image our designated #1 picture of this year of demonstrations.  And, ah, what the Hell, here are 14 more from a remarkable year of political activity across the four seasons:

March For Racial Justice-11

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March For Truth-4

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white-house-protest-12917-25Tax Day Demo-12

Unity March For Puerto Rico-19

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At The Unity March For Puerto Rico

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Unity March For Puerto Rico-9

All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux ASPH

On a blustery, sunny November day citizens turned out to protest the shameful treatment of Puerto Rico by the Trump Administration.  The cruelty and incompetence of  Trump and company is manifested hourly, but perhaps in no way quite so shamefully as in its treatment of three million citizens who await the help they should have received long weeks ago.

Unity March For Puerto Rico-19

The desperation of people who themselves, or whose relatives, have been suffering for weeks was palpable.

Unity March For Puerto Rico

But as with so many of the demonstrations since January 20th, there was an element of joy, of the fellowship that comes being with citizens who at least retain the right to speak up against this bizarre and un-American regime.

Unity March For Puerto Rico-10

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After a large segment of the march had gone by, it seemed to reconstitute itself, and when we came close we saw that Lin-Manuel Miranda was there.  We were glad to see him, and the thousands who came out, reminding America how we are supposed to support our fellow citizens in need.

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Capital Pride Parade 2017: A Photo Gallery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 11, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Pride 2017-2

All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE

Since Trump’s inauguration, we’ve taken to the streets, camera in hand, to capture the energy he’s unleashed.  The crowds have been determined — to fight back, to remove him, to save the nation and the planet — but it’s been pretty joyful, all in all, from the Women’s March through the Climate March and the smaller ones like last week’s March for Truth.  Even those spontaneous demonstrations following the Muslim Ban were filled with fellowship, if not precisely happiness — people smiled for the camera, they were glad to be counted.

The 2017 Capital Pride Parade today was as if the blight of Trump had not settled upon the land.  It’s always a fun event, but today’s felt like we caught a glimpse of what life will be when this pestilential administration has gone back where it came from.  What a delight it is to live in a city with such a large and dynamic LGBTQ community, and their thousands of friends, gay and straight, who come out each year to show their true colors.

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At The March For Truth DC: A Photo Gallery

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , on June 3, 2017 by johnbuckley100

March For Truth-4

All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE.

Six months in, with the damage of the Trump presidency more obvious by the minute, the resistance will not let up.  On a hot summer day in DC, crowds still came out for the March For Truth, the protest organized around the principle that the President of the United States, his family, his staff, and their collusion with the Russians should be properly investigated.  This will be a big week on that score.  We believe our Saturdays will continue to be organized around capturing this steady resistance.

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At The Climate March In Washington

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , on April 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Climate March-13

All photos Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE

Another week, another demonstration, this one a big one.  The contrast in weather from last week’s March for Science couldn’t be greater, and of course at the Climate March, here on the last weekend of April, the temperature topped 95.  At first, as the marchers came off Capitol Hill with precision and linked arms keeping photographers back, it seemed like a portent of what would happen if the Left ever won, such a difference from the joyous and anarchic demonstrations taking place since Trump’s inauguration, a long 100 days ago.  But things soon loosened up, and today’s march — big crowd, even in the heat — soon took on the same joy and energy as others before it.  Here are some images in our ongoing documentation of Washington demonstrations in the Age of Trump.

Climate March

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