The Leica M, to me, is an Iconic camera. A legend. Not everyone would agree with me on that though. In fact, some would dispute my claim of this cameras greatness but I know first hand what it has done for me, my photography and my spirit over the last 15 years. This will be the story of how the Leica M changed my life, how it helped me grow as an artist, and how it landed me the gig of a lifetime just when I needed it most.
I made a video about it HERE, but for now, I wanted to sit down, relax and write about the time I took the Leica M9 on tour with the music artist (and Leica fan) Seal and how it truly changed my life.
It all started with the Leica M8. I blew my bank account back in September of 2006 when I bought the M8 and a 50 Summilux. When I received it, I was shooting a Leica MP, and mostly Tri-X film. What a switch! Finally, a true digital M. No more limitations like 36 exposures at a time, a specific ISO or having to choose between Black and white or color film. I could have it all, and in the same form and build as my MP, though with some slight differences of course.
It was fatter and not as beautiful feeling but it was indeed an M, and even with is quirks and faults, I loved that camera so much. In fact, at the time there were very few camera review websites out there, and I searched for reviews and found almost no information, or very little on the camera. With my passion so high on this I decided to start my own camera review website and my 1st review was for the M8. This was just over 10 years ago. My oh my, how time has flown.
So away I went, opened up an Apple iWeb account and posted my big review! It was of course creatively titled …wait for it…”The Leica M8 Review”! I was not a writer, and I was not a reviewer but one thing I knew is that I had a renewed passion for photography, and the Leica is what brought that passion in, without question.
I shared a link to my review on a forum at one of the big review sites and away it went. It started getting views and some others were feeling my emotion from that review and it was not long until I started getting 5-10 and then 20 or more emails a day asking me about the M8. There were people who normally shot point and shoot cameras, those who shot DSLR’s and those who never shot a digital camera at all, all inquiring if they should buy an M8. It was crazy, and while I never tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t buy I could not believe the response my review was getting. It was blowing my mind and started making me think that maybe, just maybe I was on to something.
But it gets better.
After a week or so I received an email from the music artist Seal. He saw my Leica M8 review and loved it, and felt the passion I had for it in the way I wrote that review. After some back and forth emails over a few weeks or months he invited me to one of his shows in Chicago, and away I went, with the M8 and a Nikon D40 in hand. I was given a pass to shoot wherever I wanted to shoot, and wow, there I was, shooting a full-fledged concert, right up front, with my Leica. It was surreal to me as one of my favorite photographers in the music genre was Jim Marshall. Jim used a Leica, shot film and delivered some of the most iconic images in music history IMO. I always looked up to him and as a kid and young adult I used to dream about doing just what he did. While I was only shooting one single show, it gave me a taste of what was to come and a taste of what Mr. Marshall experienced and I loved it.
After that show I went home, and Seal called me the next day as I sent him some images from the show the night before, as soon as I arrived home. He loved them! To make a long story short, after some time speaking with him on the phone we became friends and soon I was invited to his home in Mexico as well as his birthday party at his home in California. We each shared a love of Leica, and cameras in general so we were able to communicate in a fluid way when speaking of our love for the craft or just about lenses, new cameras, ad gear. After more time passed the Leica M9 was released and of course I jumped on it and sold the M8. Not long after, Seal invited me to shoot his European tour, twice, with my Leica M9.
The timing was horrible but also perfect. Right before that invite, and Seal knew this, I was going through a divorce after a 15 year marriage. It was rough because we had just moved back to Phoenix AZ from Illinois and I was left with a new house and a new car to pay for, and my website was making $150 per month at the time. I was suddenly alone, I was in a depression and I saw no way out of my dilemma. I had no real “job”, or real college eductaion. I just knew I was trying to be a success in the camera review world, as that was (and still is) my passion, and right when it was starting to move up this happens and brings it to a halt. I had been so dedicated to the website and creating real-world reviews of which at the time, no one was really doing. I was trying my best to write reviews from the heart, and with a style that relayed my excitement to others. Sometimes my excitement was overboard but I guarantee you it was always real. But now this..a divorce and being left with bills I had no way to pay.
The income was just not there yet and I had no idea how I was going to survive or pay for my mortgage or car. I fell into a deep depression but tried to keep it to myself the best that I could though inside, I felt as if my life had just fallen apart and I truly felt I had no where to go. After a week or so I started to learn that it is usually when one hits bottom that they truly find themselves, and also see what they are capable of. I worked non-stop on my website day in and out, and it was showing signs of paying off. I was taking my passion, and with a renewed “do or die” determination, I worked my behind off on that website. But that stress and depression was still there in the back of my mind. I knew if I worked I would not think about it so I worked all the time.
Seal was my friend, and we spoke at least every other day on the phone. He knew of my divorce, and I am sure he sensed my depression as he invited me to get away from it all by coming on tour with him to be the tour photographer. He said I needed to get my split off of my mind and come on tour to do what I love doing. So away I went as there was no way I was going to turn down that kind of offer, and while it was a bad time, it was, in all reality, the BEST time for me to do this.
I was nervous, stressed, depressed but at the same time, excited as some of my dreams I had as a teenager and even young adult were possibly about to come true. Here I was, flying to Italy to shoot a Seal tour with my Leica M9! Crazy. Problem is, the only lens I had on hand was a a 35 Summicron, so I was really stressed that I would not be able to get usable images. I had so much going on in my head, but I tried to relax and enjoy the blessing I was just given. A blessing that would soon heal my heart, soul, and bring me out of that depression into a wonderful life that would soon follow.
When I arrived and met up with Seal I was nervous, and had no idea what to say or talk about. I felt as if I was a nobody, and I was in the company of all of these cool musicians and people…I mean, who am I? I was not a pro concert shooter, I was not experienced with this, and I was only known by some in the camera field as an excitable reviewer, lol. Man, what if I screwed up after he flew me here? AHHHHH!
Seal soon eased my mind when we chatted on the bus, telling me he flew me out here to relax, to unwind, and forget about my problems at home. To have fun doing what I love to do. He also told me I could use some of his lenses if I wanted, and handed me a Noctilux! I attached it to the camera and it rarely came off after that. Away I went, shooting the shows by using my instinct and my love for the Leica M.
I knew that using the M would be a challenge but I never realized how amazing the experience would be. Many told me “Do not use that Leica, you will screw it up”! But here I was night after night shooting images that were wowing me. That M9 and Noctilux combo was special and delivered a unique style and look that was rarely seen in concert photos I had seen in the past. The more I shot, the more I was able to “see” my shot ahead of time. The Leica rangefinder soon became an extension of my eyes, my brain, and it was like I developed an instinct. It’s hard to explain in words but it was a lovely, amazing, surreal experience for sure.
Yet I was still depressed inside due to my divorce that took me by surprise, and the fact that I really had no income or savings or 401K or anything. Nothing. But I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and told myself “LOOK, here you are, touring Europe with Seal, as his personal photographer, doing what you love, what drives you and something you wanted to do for much of your life, BE HAPPY, BE GRATEFUL for this blessing”. I decided to not worry about tomorrow or yesterday and I tried my best to be my best. Was not always easy but I was having fun, even if it appeared to others I was not.
As the tour was winding down, 4 weeks later, I was starting to get sad that it was coming to an end. I was just getting used to the “Bus Life” and “Hotel Life” of the road and I met so many amazing people on this journey. With a few shows left to go, I remember a show in Paris when Seals manager walked up to me about 30 seconds before the show started and said, “You MUST shoot the album cover tonight while Seal performs”. He walked away and I was like “WHAT?!?!” but I also knew that I work best under pressure and if he did not tell me this, I probably would not have captured the image at the top of this post that ended up being the album cover for his “SOUL 2” album. So yes, I did shoot the cover that night, and using an M9 and a Noctilux at f/0.95 during the live performance no less.
The photo was not staged or lit special for the shot, it was a live shot and as soon as I pulled it up on my computer after the show, I knew I nailed it. THAT is when I told myself “Everything is going to be OK”. I felt a sense of pride, accomplishment and an appreciation for Leica like never before. When the tour ended I said my goodbyes to all of the wonderful people I met. The Band, the Manager, the Roadies and Seal himself. It was an experience that I will never forget, and one that truly changed my life for so many reasons.
Say what you will about Leica cameras, or even the M; yes they are expensive, this I know. To me, they are indeed special. They are iconic and legendary. What they offer is unlike any other camera made, and it does become an extension of you and your artistic abilities. It has a way of attaching itself to your heart and soul and it will reward you when you use it with care. It will teach you and help to make you a better photographer and will be a camera that you bond with.
For me, the Leica M is an important part of photographic history. In fact, back when I shot these images with Seal in 2010 and 2011, that Leica M and Seal truly saved me. If I did not go on that tour, I am not sure what wold have happened with me, or my website. I often think back at those dark days of mine and fear to think where I would be now if it were not for that chance that was given to me by a great friend. A friend who knew what I was going through and went out of his way to help by allowing me to do what I loved to do in a way I have always wanted to do it. I do feel blessed, without question.
After the tour and many posts from that tour to my website, my traffic was up, and my income on the website was going up as well (many were buying Leica cameras, lol). I had a renewed sense of self-respect, and without those times, those memories and those experiences, my life would not be what it is today.
So this is a Thank You to both Seal and Leica for giving me those memories as well as the ability to capture them in photographs. You can see more images in the video at my YouTube channel HERE and of course my camera reviews at Stevehuffphoto.com