Leitz Park, Wetzlar and the 50th anniversary of the LHSA
Yesterday morning I opened the curtain of my room in the Ernst Leitz hotel in Wetzlar to find a clear and bright day. Every other morning during the four-day LHSA — the International Leica Society — meeting at Leica HQ had been foggy, so the clear sky was an excellent prompt to head for home. Most of the LHSA members had already left, at the ungodly hour of 6 am, for the Rhine cruise, but I had missed on that one.
So, after breakfast, I pointed my car towards the Leitz roundabout and headed for the B45 autobahn in the direction of Dortmund. I was feeling particularly good, after having been laid low with some sort of bug last week, so I decided to see how far I could get in the day. It was a long way, as it turned out. But seven hours and seventeen minutes later I was home, in London, having covered 461 miles — a nice round 750km — at an average speed of 65 mph. This marathon was my first long journey in the newly acquired 2016 Macan, and I was impressed by the overall fuel consumption of 41mpg. It's proper compensation for daring to own a diesel car in 2018.
Yet this was small beer in comparison with the mad things I did in my youth. I then thought nothing of jumping on a motorbike in Berlin and riding hard to Calais, with a couple or three brief pit stops, before loading the bike on a ferry for the 90-minute crossing and another 90-minute ride to my home in London. Those were the days, that was the bladder, that was 1100km or 675 miles and a numb bum. I could ride down the Kurfürstendamm at 7 am and stagger over my front step at 7 pm. Times have changed, but the Macan was a competent travelling companion, and I had time during the endless miles of Autobahn and autoroute to reflect on the four days of intense Leica worship at the high altar in Wetzlar.
The LHSA is a remarkable organisation, initially mainly US-based but now making a bid for the world, and this meeting marked the 50th anniversary of the society. It attracted around 140 members from no fewer than 18 countries and brought together some of the world’s leading Leica experts. Two of them, Jim Lager from New Jersey and Lars Netopil from Wetzlar, are said to know more about Leica history than anyone else.
The occasion was also something of a revelation for me, and I lost count of the number of people who confessed to having read Macfilos. Some claimed a daily attendance. For the first time, I met the enthusiastic Mike Amos, an Australian now working as an animator for a large studio in California. Marcus Lins-Barroso from Sao Paulo came up and shook my hand as did Philip Ramsden from Mosman, NSW. I suggested he join the Macfilos Ozzie trio of John Shingleton, Wayne Gerlach and Jason Hannigan as a contributor. Macfilos may not be the most significant photography blog by any stretch of the imagination, but it has an active, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable readership from all around the world.
Macfilos contributors William Fagan was there with Laura from Dublin and Jono Slack from England. There was also a good contingent of British Leica fans, including John and Mary Gregory and Keith and Amanda Walker, all stalwarts of The Leica Society.
It was a great pleasure also for me to meet some of the US Leica dealers I’ve heard so much about, including David Farkas of the Leica Maimi store, Dan Tamarkin from Chicago and John Pegouske from Western Camera Co. in Dearborn, MI. Last week truly was a gathering of the great and the good of the Leica world.
Although this is the first annual LHSA conference I have attended, I suspect they all adopt a similar programme. We assembled at the Leitz Park on Wednesday evening, and we then enjoyed two intense days of presentations, Q&A sessions and educational visits. They included an opportunity to inspect the newly housed Leica Archive under the direction of Monika Bock, a walking tour of Wetzlar (with a moment on Oskar Barnack’s manhole cover to get the obligatory shot of the Alten Münz corner) and a trip to the Leitz family graves.
The presentations were all fascinating, but I think everyone was bowled over by Peter Karbe’s erudite explanation of the progress of Leica lenses through the ages. It was an hour packed with facts, impressive visuals and a touch of humour and wit. I will be looking in more detail at this and other events during the next few days when I’ve got my wind back.
Without a doubt, this has been an exceptional opportunity for me. I have met many new friends and, of course, old friends whom I had not personally greeted before, and it was my first visit to the new Leitz Park. I was able to chat with most of the leading lights of Leica, including Andreas Kaufmann, Stefan Daniel, Stefan Schulz, Ruud Peters, Jesko von Oeynhausen and, of course, the entertaining and vastly knowledgeable Peter Karbe. Because we were on home turf this year, the 50th-anniversary conference was unique in having access to the Leica top brass en masse as well as bringing together a perhaps broader international slice of the membership than is typical with USA-based conferences.
I was fascinated to see the vast range of Leica products draped around the necks of the visitors. Packing for a weekend with the Leica top brass is a challenging prospect. You don’t want to look a complete dumbo, so care is needed. I did see a Fuji in the wild and I had the little Sony RX100 stuffed surreptitiously in my trouser pocket for emergencies, but as you would expect almost all the cameras had the Leica name on them. Not surprisingly, Ms were in the majority, but not just modern digitals. There was a fair smattering of really old stuff in active service. The most unusual was the working Ur-Leica wielded by George Furst from South Korea. He had constructed this working model from the shell of an Ur-Leica replica. Quite remarkable and I will have more on that when I get hold of William Fagan’s photographs later this week.
Film cameras were very much in evidence and several members, including Alejandro Blaquier from Argentina, use film exclusively. There was a smattering of Qs and, as you would expect, the SL was popular and was heaped with praise by owners who seem unfazed by its size.
But the big surprise for me was the large number of CLs in use. Even Leica’s Dr. Kaufmann had one with him at Saturday’s banquet, and there is no doubt that this new camera has been a hit. I didn’t see a single T, but perhaps I wasn’t looking as closely as I should have been. Despite this, Leica executives I spoke to said that the TL2 and CL were very much sister cameras as would continue in production side by side.
I now need to take stock and look at some of the interesting tidbits I’ve gleaned. I’ve returned with lots of material and ideas for new Macfilos posts in the coming weeks. Today I’m going to take it easy and recover from the journey from Wetzlar to London.
If you are interested in joining the LHSA, not least for the opportunity to receive the wonderful Viewfinder magazine visit the website here.