A Weekend at Leica Heaven: It must be High Wycombe
I spent an entertaining couple of days last weekend at The Leica Society’s annual get-together, this year at the Holiday Inn at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Even though the venue less than an hour away from base, I decided to stay the two nights and take the opportunity to meet members. I didn’t quite know what to expect, never having been to one of these events before, and I had been hoping for a little outing with the opportunity to take photographs. This wasn’t to be since we were too busy attending presentations, viewing the photo exhibition and chatting — not to mention eating.
Kicking off the proceedings last Saturday was a short talk from Leica UK's managing director, Jason Heward. It's always good to meet Jason and he gave us an overview of the current Leica range and hinted at some (undisclosed) developments that could come later this year.
Both Saturday and Sunday brought impressive keynote presentations from two noted photographers, Leonard Neumann and the larger-than-life Danish Leica guru Thorsten von Overgaard. I found both seminars fascinating and inspiring.
Lennie Neumann, born in South Africa and now resident in London has spent over fifty years photographing life in the USA, South Africa, England and France. His favourite tool is the Leica, using 35mm, 40mm and 50mm Summicrons on cameras ranging from the M3 to the M6 and including the little CL. He acquired his first camera at the age of eight, and he has been snapping away ever since.
During the presentation, he gave us a fascinating insight into his genre — photography in the street as opposed to the current overused tag of “street photography”. From the early days in South Africa to recent images from Notting Hill, his photographs display a rare talent for identifying a subject and capturing that elusive decisive moment.
Thorsten von Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard needs little introduction to Leica photographers anywhere in the world. He is a Leica enthusiast and a leading exponent of the 50mm lens as his “standard” focal length and also a prolific Noctilux shooter. I remember the first time I met him I was immensely impressed by the way he throws around his camera (then an M240) and Noctilux. Both showed signs of hard use, and I admired his chutzpah in trowing the rig lens downwards on the table top.
Sunday was no different. He started by distributing his “toys” to the 70-strong audience. They consisted of a couple of M9s, one with the ever-faithful Noctilux attached, one with a 1964 Rigid Summicron. The third camera, however, was in pristine condition, as was the lens. It was the latest M10 with a gleaming black-paint LHSA APO-Summicron mounted.
This little treasure trove — with a conservative value of £25,000 — was blithely despatched to the audience without heed or hindrance and not seen again until the presentation ended. Would you do that? There was some method in this apparent madness, however. No one could resist taking a picture, and who better to photography than TvO himself? So, presumably, he ended up with a collection of self-portraits made by some of the leading Leica photographers in the country.
Thorsten demonstrated the results of his 50mm dedication over the years, and the accompanying talk and discussion were inspiring. It made me want to rush out with a Noctilux and work the streets of High Wycombe. But it was raining.
Old friends, new friends
Apart from these highlights of the weekend, I welcomed the opportunity to meet old friends and put faces to names that I know well. It was my first opportunity to meet Paul Glendell of Classic Cases, for instance.
We’ve worked together over a couple of years, sending cases back and forth for me to offer up to various new cameras. But since he has now moved far north to Aberdeen, the chances of meeting were slim.
I also had a long chat with TLS Chairman, Brian Oliver. He mentioned that the society's President, actor David Suchet had been unable to attend this year. That was a great pity because we all enjoy his company.
Some of my fellow Circle D members from the Society were also in evidence. There are about 20 of us, including my colleague William Fagan, and every month we submit one shot (a digital image, hence Circle D) and then critique one another’s work. I never win, of course, but its an interesting exercise. It’s the taking part, not the winning that counts I tell myself. Other Circle D members present at the weekend included Keith Walker and Tom Lane, both of whom had impressive prints on display in the weekend exhibition. One of Tom’s was the incredible London aerial shot which we published here a few weeks ago, and I was pleased to see examples from Keith’s timeless steam-train portfolio on display.
One of the significant problems facing clubs of all types — not only specialised photographic clubs such as TLS — is attracting young blood. The majority of attendees were over 50 and, I suppose, we can extrapolate that to signify the membership as a whole. With virtual social networks such as Instagram taking over the previous role of local and national clubs, it’s an uphill battle to attract younger members.
Annual membership of The Leica Society costs only £30, and I believe belonging to an association of “real” people rather than virtual friends is the healthier option. It’s too easy to sit at home in front of the computer screen and imagine you are ever so popular; it’s quite another to spend a weekend with fellow enthusiasts and enjoy some quality discussion among like-minded friends. Social networkers often miss out on social intercourse and, sometimes, the old ways are the best. Get out there and meet people.
If you would like to become part of The Leica Society, you can find the website here. Sign up and, perhaps, we can all meet at next year’s weekend. If you do decide to join, please mention MACFILOS. It won't get you a discount, unfortunately, but it will give us a bit of publicity.
The Society has lots goind on. In November every year, we are invited to Leica Mayfair for a from-the-horse’s-mouth presentation backed up by a free lunch. There's even talk of a Society visit to Wetzlar with a VIP factory tour for 2019. When you factor in the excellent quarterly magazine, edited by Philip Gray, that £30 or £1.67 a month is nothing.
All images by Mike Evans
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