Why I Like Looking Through Windows

It’s difficult when you own a Leica. You constantly run the risk of being accused of being a fanboy.  

I like motorcycles. In particular, I like British and American motorcycles. Over the years I’ve noticed that people who own Harley Davidson motorcycles are often accused by others of having some kind of motorcycle snobbery. I myself have been occasionally accused of holding derogatory opinions with regard to Japanese motorcycles. The reality is however, not only have I never expressed such views, I simply do not hold such views. While I have no particular great affection for Japanese motorcycles, and while I do not find them, in general, particularly interesting from a stylistic point of view, I also have no negative opinions of them. In fact, I recognise their class leading world dominance in most areas (as a further point of fact, of the three motorcycles I currently own, one is Japanese). On the whole though, they just don’t really interest me, and I don’t know why. I’ve never really thought about it. Style and aesthetics are subjective areas, and while we can talk about them in a meaningful way, they are not something which can necessarily be talked about in terms of better or worse in a meaningful way. 

One of the most interesting things about the whole “Harley Davidson is the best, Japanese bikes are crap” kind of thing is that, on the whole (caveat – jerks do abound, and my social circles are small), I have only heard this from the accusers, not from the actual Harley owners. As in, “You think that Harley Davidson is the best and that ~.”

Likewise, I find the same to be (generally) true with Leica. Whilst there are those that gleefully tout the supposed superiority of Leica bodies or glass (especially the glass), by and large most Leica users that I know are just happy to use Leica gear, simply because they like it. 

Leica lenses are legendary and the fans of Leica glass are legion. I’m drawn to Leica for a different reason however. Unlike many (most?), I’m interested primarily in the rangefinder M bodies. I like the rangefinder experience. I like looking through the window. It feels more real to me than an SLR type prism and screen, and especially more real than an electronic viewfinder. 

I can understand how for many an electronic viewfinder might be perfect. Viewing an image on what is essentially a screen might isolate what they’re looking at, help them to clarify the composition and to exactly frame it as they want for capture. That’s a great and very real advantage if it works for you. 

For me however, this feels like a barrier between myself and the world. All viewfinders are somewhat like this, but the rangefinder experience seems to be the least intrusive, the most connecting, the most clear window to the world. The wider point of view, the bright lines which delineate but do not isolate the composition, the open and unclosing view during the taking process, all of these things contribute to a feeling of connection with the world around me. 

In much the same way that I find the throbbing pulsation (or the rattling valve train – depending on the type of twin) of a motorcycle to be a real and connecting experience while riding, I find optical viewfinders to be a real and connecting experience while taking photographs. 

Typed with the help of whatever it is that’s playing now on Radio One 91 FM (sounds like the Phoenix Foundation)

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