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Just a few months before the outbreak of the First World War, Ernst Leitz II travelled to the USA. While there, he was able to capture photos, using a second model of the “Liliput” camera developed by Oskar Barnack, which most certainly would be found in a history of street photography.
Flood in Wetzlar – Oskar Barnack, 1920
From around the time of 1914, Oskar Barnack must have carried a prototype camera with him, particularly during his travels – the camera first received the name Leica in 1925. Perhaps his most famous sequence of images, because it has been shown continually since, is the striking series of the floods in Wetzlar, Germany, in 1920.
Self-portrait in mirrors – Ilse Bing, 1931
The “Self-portrait in Mirrors” is one of the most well-known photos by photographer Ilse Bing. It is considered a symbol of modern times, technical open-mindedness and photographic avant-garde.
Oskar Barnack at his workplace – Julius Huisgen, 1934
Oskar Barnack was – long before Leica – an enthusiastic photographer. His photographic activities are documented from various reportage angles, whereby the heavy plate camera was most likely the personal reason behind his work on a faster, more convenient process.
Girl with Leica – Alexander Rodchenko, 1934
Jewgenija Lemberg, shown here, was a lover of the photographer Alexander Rodchenko for quite some time. In 1992, a print of this photo brought in a tremendous 115,000 British pounds at a Christie’s auction in London. Alexander Rodchenko was continually capturing Jewgenija Lemberg in new, surprising and bold poses – until her death in a train accident.
LZ 129 “Hindenburg” at its mooring mast at Rhine-Main airport – Dr. Paul Wolff and Alfred Tritschler, 1936
The zeppelin photos by Dr Paul Wolff and Alfred Tritschler continue to fascinate on-lookers even today. They unite a utopian aeronautic dream, technical innovation and a novel camera system that provide a new perspective and look at the world in a similar way.
Death of a Loyalist Soldier – Robert Capa, 1936
At the age of 23 and equipped with his Leica, Robert Capa embedded himself in the Spanish Civil War while on assignment for the French press. On 5 September 1936, he managed to capture the perhaps most well-known war photo of the 20th century.
At the Marne – Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1938
This photo was taken two years after the large-scale strikes that ultimately led to a fundamental improvement in social conditions. Against this backdrop, the picnic in nature is also, above all, a political message – convincing in a formal, aesthetic way, and inherently consistent and suggestive at the same time.
V-J Day – Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945
This photo appeared on the cover of Life magazine and grew to become one of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s most well-known images. “People tell me,” he once said, “that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.”
The flag of victory – Yevgeny Khaldei, 1945
Although this scene was staged, it loses none of its impact as an image and in no way hampers the resounding global response that it has achieved. The Red Army prevailed – there’s nothing more to convey in such a harmonious picture.
Guardia Civil – W. Eugene Smith, 1950
W. Eugene Smith’s image of Guardia Civil is also a symbol of an imperious, backward Spain under the rule of Franco. For two months, W. Eugene Smith went scouting for a village and photographed it with the residents’ consent. What he shows us is a strange world: rural, archaic, as if on another planet.
Self-portrait – UMBO (aka Otto Umbehr), 1952
A self-portrait with Leica was printed on UMBO’s business cards and is today one of his most well-known images. A late piece of assertive avant-garde.
Le Peintre de la Tour Eiffel – Marc Riboud, 1953
This most well-known photo by the photographer Marc Riboud has long been of great significance in iconic Parisian photography. Marc Riboud’s photo is documentary photography at its finest – en passant captured.
London – Inge Morath, 1953
Inge Morath’s photo titled “London” is well spotted, clearly composed and yet complicated in its arrangement. It also tells of a structure of domination, of hierarchies and traditions which certainly were more stable in England than in other European countries.
New York – Louis Stettner, 1954
Louis Stettner is a never-tiring spirit who continues to paint, draw and photograph even today. His photos are more inclined to focus on the scene’s atmosphere than its story. For this reason, they are found to be deep, honest and full of surprise.
James Dean on Times Square – Dennis Stock, 1955
In the 1950s, Times Square was a magical place for young actors. James Dean is wearing a dark coat, naturally due to the weather. But the way in which he “hides” inside it has been viewed as an indication of his vulnerability.
Regular guest at the Café Hawelka, Vienna – Franz Hubmann, 1956–57
We shall never discover who the man is in this photo. Franz Hubmann, more or less while walking by the table, captured the guest gently balancing a cup with the tips of his fingers – viewed from above without the use of flash, without any hectic movement, and not at all staged.
The dwarf – Bruce Davidson, 1958
Bruce Davidson accompanied a travelling circus for several weeks. The photo story he took revolves around “Little Man” Jimmy Armstrong and his tragic-comic role. Bruce Davidson’s raw and atmospheric style, using the available light, perfectly captures in a formal, aesthetic way the huge cloud of melancholy hanging over Jimmy’s story.
The stolen sword – Robert Lebeck, 1960
When a young Congolese man grabs the king’s sword from the backseat of an open-top car on 29 June 1960, Robert Lebeck manages to capture the image of his life. The photo became a metaphor for the end of the descending dominance by Europeans on the African continent.
Che Guevara – Alberto Korda, 1960
Whether as a postcard, poster, sticker or T-shirt – Alberto Korda’s photo has captivated the world and become a symbol for an entire identity and its creation. The simplicity, with an impression of Christian iconography, ensures this image remains in the memory of every viewer.
Wild horses in Kenya – Professor Ulrich Mack, 1964
Actually, Ulrich Mack travelled to Africa to discover the continent as a reporter – a continent that had been battered by warmongers and massacres. But all this changed: as if in a state of ecstasy, Ulrich Mack photographed a herd of wild horses, virtually throwing himself down under the animals.
Muhammad Ali – Thomas Hoepker, 1966
Thomas Hoepker’s portrait of the boxer Muhammad Ali is yet another famous picture that has gone around the world. This photo was taken in autumn 1966 at a boxing gym in London.
Man with bandage – Fred Herzog, 1968
Fred Herzog is one of the pioneers of freestyle, artistic colour photography. Perhaps pictures need the astonishment and curiosity of an immigrant, Fred Herzog, to document in colour that which is self-evident to the residents of Vancouver and not necessarily worthy of a photo.
Napalm attack in Vietnam – Nick Út, 1972
This photo of the small Kim Phúc Phan Ti raised doubt about the war, particularly in the USA – a war which was increasingly affecting the civilian population. The image visualises fright and suffering, without becoming ugly. And it transports a dramatic scene, without it being constructed in a complex way.
New York City – Elliott Erwitt, 1974
Elliott Erwitt’s passion focused on dogs – for him, they were the incarnation of human beings, with fur and a tail. His photo titled “New York City” was taken for a shoe manufacturer.
San Cristobál – René Burri, 1976
San Cristobál shows a swimming pool for horses. René Burri avoided anything that could be considered anecdotal as much as possible, in favour of a delicate, coloured composition in which a horse and its caregiver rather take on the character of a footnote.
Swimming pool designed by Alain Capeilières – Martine Franck, 1976
Martine Franck’s photo of a swimming pool unites coincidence, a keen eye and the fast shutter speed of the Leica M. She never sought out images like these, she found them. They are one-off photos which would hardly ever have been possible without her curiosity and watchful eye.
Waterloo (from the “Roots” cycle) – Harry Gruyaert, 1981
Harry Gruyaert is considered a pioneer in documentary, fascinating colour photography in Europe. His pictures are well and carefully constructed, with a rigid composition – literally taken to the extreme.
England – Gianni Berengo Gardin, 1977
Gianni Berengo Gardin’s images are considered classics of Leica photography. Taken in black and white, they are quickly captured windows on everyday life, visual chamber plays of grand formal, aesthetic finesse, at times complex and at other times delicately harmonious.
From the “Feine Leute” cycle – Herlinde Koelbl, 1985
Herlinde Koelbl’s main subject is the human being, its body and face, whereby she likes to overcome the traditional lines between people. Her portrait of Munich’s “fine society” is nothing less than a photo reportage or documentary.
Under a grudging sun – Alex Webb, 1986–1988
Alex Webb’s interest focuses on stark colours, which form the background for his rather bizarre, absurd and peculiar stories. In 2000, he was awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence.
Perfect peace – Kai Wiedenhöfer, 1994
“Perfect Peace” was Kai Wiedenhöfer’s first book, in which this photo appears. It was taken in June 1994 at the beach in Gaza and shows the flipside of war: a future in which perfect peace is possible.
Sidewalk – Jeff Mermelstein, 1995
Jeff Mermelstein bases his images on natural light and colour as a means of expression. He himself remains in the background, observes the goings-on from a distance and records them – which doesn’t rule out the fact that the protagonists notice him now and again.
No title (from the “Go” cycle) – Bruce Gilden, 2000
Bruce Gilden is an avid portrait photographer, without his photos ever appearing posed or staged. His image of humanity arises from the flow of life, the hectic everyday goings-on or – like in “Go” – the deep pit of violence, the Mafia and corruption.
Hollywood Beach (from the “American Colors” cycle) – Constantine Manos, 2006
“American Color” is perhaps Constantine Manos’s best work to date. Strong, powerful colours, bold perspectives, a precise glimpse and a feeling for bizarre moments characterise his photos.
Vertigo (from the “Silenzio!” cycle) – François Fontaine, 2012 (Courtesy A. Galerie, Paris)
François Fontaine describes his artistic aim as follows: “It is colourful and phantasmagorical photographic art, in which glamour and tension contend to create a vibrating homage to the art of film.”