#006: The one about the Leica and mobile phones

I recently came into the possession of a Leica M9-P along with the Leica 28 Elmarit lens. It’s currently on a long-term loan to me (Thank you Auntie Bee!). Funnily enough this marks the first full frame camera I have shot with. Which is also a compliment to what you can get out of an APS-C and Micro Four Thirds crop sensors these days.

I’ve been getting used to it and its full manual controls over the past month. Quite the difference from the snappy Olympus EM1 that I have.  First thing I noticed is how heavy the Leica is, not something I was expecting at first. Secondly the fixed focal length at 28mm was also something I had to get used to, as I don’t usually shoot at that wide an angle on the streets, nor do I photograph landscapes that much either. Zone focusing was something I had to get used to pretty quick too. My first few shots all looked crazy wide (to me), all my subjects were so small I the photos. My photo brain is just wired to the 35mm focal length I think. And so, what does one do when the photos you take aren’t good enough? … you move in closer ;)

I tend to not shoot "people on their mobile phones" on the street. This type of street photography isn't new, you can see it all over instagram or any other photo sharing site these days. Not only is it a cliché in street photography, but it just doesn't make for an exciting street photograph. But if I do shoot it, which is rare, it is probably because something interesting is happening around the subject, and how they are totally oblivious to it because they are glued to their little screens. And then how they just move on, unconscious to the world around them. It’s like the new sixth sense us urban humans have developed, to be able to walk whilst staring not at the road ahead but at our tiny screens and yet be able to avoid crashing into all that is in front of us. Though some of us tend avoid them too as they walk straight at us. They just expertly navigate the streets, wayfaring small moments at a time as they glance away to get bearings, then carrying on faced down, guided by that self-assured developed sixth sense. Although there are funny videos and pictures of these people and their failed sixth sense: knocking, falling, crashing into all manner of things on the street. Staring at phones while walking is a pedestrian hazard. I too am guilty of doing it, though thankfully no comical incidents so far. Touch wood.

This got me thinking of how best to test out the Leica with the 28mm lens on the streets of London. It was also a test for me to see how close I could get to these urban wayfarers without them noticing me. Capturing their expressions or expressionless faces as they are glued to the world within their mobile phones and not the ones they are actively in. Most of the photos were taken at about a pre-focused distance of 1 to 1.5 metres , as I moved towards or away from them. It was a fun series to do and the process was educational for me, both on learning to use the new camera with this new wide focal length and getting closer to subjects on the street. A few hundred shots later and the collection below is what I’m happy with. Not sure if I will continue with this series in the future but for now I hope you enjoy what I could get.