I don’t get my hair cut at a salon. My clothes do not come from a couturier. A sommelier’s assistance is not required to help me choose whether I would prefer a Guinness or a Bitburger with my pub grub. And when I travel, I’m more likely to crash in a motel than rejuvenate in a resort. Therefore, a boutique is probably the last place you’d expect to find me shopping for something so utilitarian as a camera.
So where was I last night? Hobnobbing at the grand opening celebration of the new Leica Boutique inside Broadway Camera in Richmond BC, Canada! Why they didn’t go the extra mile and refer to the celebration as a soirée is beyond me, but my sense of semantics is completely discombobulated now.
But that’s Leica. They’re a puzzling paradox of conundrums. They build rugged, bomb-proof cameras with flawless optical capabilities designed to satisfy the highly-specialized needs of some of the poorest, scruffiest, most demanding and driven photographers in the world. They then sell the majority of these cameras to collectors who make absolutely no use of the very capabilities for which the cameras are so desirable. It’s a curious contradiction. But in the eyes of many, greatness equals “luxury.” And luxury products are not sold in stores. They’re sold in boutiques.
My income is somewhere south of ‘part time waitress at a truck stop,’ so I have an uneasy relationship with the Leica image. It used to bother me when people, seething with hatred, would see my Leica and sneer, “gee, it must be nice to be that rich.” Particularly when I knew, full well, that I was standing there in socks older than they were. But at some point, it occurred to me that I really was rich — not with money, but with a purpose and a passion and a desire that motivates me and compels me to actually sacrifice everything in order to achieve my goals. And that is, without a doubt, my definition of luxury. So why shouldn’t I shop for my tools at a boutique?
Fortunately, due to a last minute cancellation by a guy who took a photograph of his cousin having coffee with the nephew of David Hasselhoff’s accountant’s brother-in-law, there was an opening on the Leica Boutique’s “minor celebrity” guest list. I accepted instantly.
In truth, there were three reasons I chose to attend: 1) The possibility of snacks; 2) The possibility of seeing, handling and shooting with the recently announced M-Monochrom; and 3) the possibility of meeting legendary Canadian photojournalist, Ted Grant.
Of these three possibilities, I managed to succeed at only one.
I had assumed the presence of snacks would be a sure thing. And, frankly, with food being one of the numerous things I sacrifice in order to be a Leica M-series shooter, my very first order of business was to scout for hors d’oeuvres. There were none. Zip. Not even a bowl of peanuts or a plate of carrot sticks. I suspect Leica — knowing this particular event would be attended by several of us hobo-like photojournalist types — simply had no desire to help extend the longevity of its poorest customers, since we do tend to spend an awful lot of time monopolizing sales staff with very little actual sales resulting.
After the failed snack scouting expedition, I got on with the next order of business — scouting for an M-Monochrom. And there one sat, inches from my grasp but locked inside a glass case. I asked to shoot with it. I was forbidden. I asked to touch it. I was forbidden. I attempted all forms of devious trickery and sleight of hand, but could not diminish Leica’s resolve. At one point, a store employee reached into the case to remove an S2 and accidentally brushed his hand across the M-Monochrom. I watched in horror as Brian Bell, Leica’s National Canadian Sales Manager, bludgeoned the poor fellow to death with a nearby chrome M9-P, then deftly wiped the blood from the camera before returning it to the shelf. Immediately, a team of dark-suited, red-tied “cleaners” descended on the scene, whisking away the body and any evidence of the crime. At least I think that’s what happened — I was feeling a bit faint from hunger at that point. In any event, I decided I best give up trying to get my hands on the M-Monochrom.
My third order of business was to meet Ted Grant, and at this I was successful. Ted’s sharp wit, charm and charisma were infectious. I was particularly honored when Ted pulled me away from the crowd and into another room, where he extracted his latest book from a cavernous pocket within his photography vest and handed it to me for my perusal. I spent a good thirty minutes looking through it, and each time I paused to admire one of Ted’s excellent photos, he would tell me a little about the shot — how he got it, and the circumstances surrounding it. For a documentary-style photographer like myself, there is nothing better than having a wiser, more experienced and better documentary photographer share his stories — particularly one who’s as sagacious as Ted Grant.
Returning to the noshless soirée, I pointed out the M-Monochrom to Ted and was nearly blinded by the twinkle that formed in his eye. He wanted this camera as much as I did. I watched — like a pupil watches his master — as Ted sidled up to Brian Bell and unleashed a flurry of wit, charm and subterfuge in an all-out attempt to convince him to extract the M-Monochrom from its glass coffin. No dice. Even Ted Grant, the “father of Canadian photojournalism,” couldn’t puncture the impenetrable wall… but it was still an honor to watch him try.
If you’re a serious documentary photographer then, in all likelihood, you will eventually succumb to the lure of the Leica. Standing there in the Leica Boutique at the back of Broadway Camera, I realized that no matter how jaded one is — or how manly, ragged, rugged, cynical or insolvent — each of us will one day find ourselves walking incongruously into a space we never expected to be — a boutique. I suggest we all just “go with it.” It’s actually a rather pleasant place.
©2012 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THIS STORY: There is a slight possibility that, for the sake of entertainment, some events may have been fictionalized ever-so-slightly in the telling — but only a tiny bit.
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: I can tell you that these shots were taken with a Leica M9 using either a 28mm f/2 Summicron or a v5 50mm f/2 Summicron. I can also tell you there weren’t really a whole lot of shots to choose from. Ostensibly I was there to shoot photos for the Leica Blog, but I had so much fun talking to Leica sales personnel, Broadway Camera staff, various customers and, of course, Ted Grant that I sort of neglected that responsibility. Oh well, it’s not like they fed me or anything…
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