Mike Johnston, over at T.O.P, writes interesting posts quite often. He has recently written a couple of them that hit close to home. They are The Leica as Teacher and Why It Has To Be a Leica. Mike suggests a training program using the Leica for a year to shoot B&W film extensively and to edit and critique oneself on the photos taken. I’ve tried to do exactly that over the last two years.
There are some differences, of course. My camera has been a Bessa R2A. I’ve been using only that camera with a 50mm prime lens since January 2007. The Bessa is like a cheaper version of a Leica. Most of the points that Mike mentions in the second post apply to the Bessa too.
Certainly, I haven’t been as prolific as Mike suggests. Much has happened in my life since then and other interests have sometimes taken priority in spare time. As of today I have 362 photos on Flickr taken with this camera and lens pair. That’s an average of about three selected photos per week, although in reality there were bursts of activity when I was on vacation. About half of those photos are B&W. I typically haven’t thought in terms of color unless it felt quite essential, and have preferred B&W film for the most part.
The gist of the matter is that this is a really good exercise. In the end, like Mike says,
Because make no mistake, photographing the way I suggested in the previous post is the photographic equivalent of being a top athlete: it takes dedication and coordination and talent and time and sacrifice and lots of training.
This gels with what Malcolm Gladwell has written in Outliers and with my own experience. What matters most is that you put a lot of time and effort into it. The constraints Mike suggests help to make the exercise even more focused, pun unintended. It’s definitely not the only exercise out there but I sincerely believe that if you were to do this, it would greatly benefit your photographic eye. I can surely feel it and perhaps my photography shows it.
When I started using my Bessa, I dumped my DSLR and haven’t missed it since. Having said that, I think I’m getting weary of having a film based workflow as my primary one. I’m still hoping that a nice digital rangefinder will come along or that I will find it reasonable to invest in a Leica M8. Until then I may try the new Sigma DP2. It looks quite promising. I’ll keep an eye out for the news and reviews and look at photos from it for a couple of months before deciding.