In the middle of 2020, I did something that Photographer Kyle from prior years would have thought was absolutely preposterous: I bought a digital Leica. And not only did I bought a digital Leica…I bought a digital Leica that only shoots black and white. WTF?
Let’s back up. We can all agree that 2020 was a weird year, right? Well, to help me process that weirdness I embarked on a photography project. Starting in early March, when the pandemic began to get its claws into our nation, I started documenting life in lockdown. At the beginning of the project, I made a few deliberate creative decisions: images for the project would all be taken with my Fuji X-Pro3 and the classic XF 35mm f/1.4, and they would be shot as JPEGs in the black and white Acros Film Simulation. There’s a lot that went into these selections, but one of them is especially relevant to the aforementioned preposterous gear purchase: I wanted to shoot black and white because I wanted this project to be timeless.
Documenting life during a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime occurrence seems to demand something grander than usual, and it was a natural jump from realizing this to knowing that I needed to do the documenting in monochrome. There’s so much nuance that goes into why color feels ephemeral and why black and white feels perfectly suited for projects like these. Robert Frank has a quote that touches on this that is especially relevant for a photographic project during a pandemic:
Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”Robert Frank
I don’t want to go too deep into that photographic project just yet, but I needed to mention it to provide sufficient context for this preposterous decision of mine. After spending day after day in lockdown, searching for meaning in the monochromatic light and shadows of my house, I realized that black and white is home for me. I’ll continue to vacation with color photography, but I know that the most meaningful images I make in my life will be shot in black and white.
“So…why not just turn your camera to black and white mode, dummy?”Photographer Kyle of Yesteryear
Valid question. In some sense, the answer is that I simply don’t trust myself. I know that I’m a fiddler…if I have too many options at my fingertips, I’m going to overthink things. “I like this in black and white, but maybe I should shoot a color version too…just in case…” Every time a thought like that runs through my head while I’m shooting, I’m ripped out of the moment and my image-making (and my overall connection to life, for that matter) suffers. Maintaining — and perhaps even deepening — that connection to the moment is also the reason many photographers opt to shoot film or shoot digital Leicas.
I honestly toyed with the idea of shooting a ridiculous amount of black and white film instead of going for a preposterous setup of a digital black and white only camera. But in the end, I just couldn’t commit to leaning that deeply into the film world. There are too many unknowns and complications, from wondering when my favorite film stock will be discontinued to dealing with the hassle of mailing film to the lab and/or developing/scanning it myself. And the honest truth is that I just don’t shoot as much when I’m shooting film. This is both a bug and a feature of film, but while it’s not necessarily a problem with the medium it also made it ill-suited for my everyday, go-to setup.
So if simply switching my camera to black and white mode and moving to a film-first setup were both out of the question…that left me with gulp the Leica M Monochrom series.
When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the perfect camera for you.Arthur Conan Doyle (kind of)
It’s been almost a year and a half since making this leap. I still feel like the decision is preposterous, but looking back on the images I’ve made over this period I don’t regret it for a second. And as the leaves finish their fireworks and start to fade and fall, and as the days grow shorter and the shadows darker, it feels like the right time to embark on another “30 Days with…” journey…this time with my favorite (and most preposterous) camera of all time: the Leica M10 Monochrom. Stay tuned.