In our follow up interview with Arthur Meyerson, a native Texan widely-acclaimed as one of America’s finest photographers, he shares his amazing story of his achievement and ongoing process of self-discovery.
Q: Apparently you made the transition from 35mm to digital, moving from the Leica M4, M6, M7, and now relying solely on the M9 with 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH. Can you tell us something about that transition and also why you find the M9 plus 35mm Summilux ideally suited to your personal work?
A: Moving from the M4 to the M6 and later the M7 seemed like a natural progression for me with the M-System. During that time I was using the 28, 35, 50 and 90 mm lenses. I was also trying to find my ideal combination, as I was intent on the idea of one camera/one lens with the M cameras. When the first 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH came along, I had found the match I was looking for and began using it exclusively with the M7. When the digital revolution came along, I admit I was slow to jump on board. First of all, none of my clients were comfortable with it and, quite frankly, I was not knowledgeable enough to tell them otherwise. As I began experimenting with digital systems and camera manufacturers began creating sensors that matched or surpassed film, I began to feel that now was the time to make the leap. And so in 2005 I did. In 2007, I led a group of photographers on a photo tour of Japan and was loaned an M8 by Leica to try out. There were many things about the camera I liked, but for me there were many drawbacks as well. I decided I had to wait for a full-size sensor and hoped that Leica would develop a camera that would accommodate it. Finally, with the M9, I got my wish!
Q: Your comment that you “follow the style of the short story writer in trying to say the most with the least” is intriguing. Would you describe your style or mode of expression as minimalist? Do you tend to capture stories in a single image or by developing a theme with a series of images or by covering a subject from many angles?
A: Because of the nature of my commercial work, I probably would say that I’m typically more involved with the singular image rather than a theme. Most of my advertising assignments have demanded that and so it forced me to think in those terms. However, in a personal project or an editorial [magazine story] piece, I think it is important and appropriate to create images that build on each other to illustrate the idea, story, etc.
Q: Having a friend and mentor of the caliber of Ernst Haas is certainly a rare privilege. What do you think are some of the most important things you learned from him in terms of your own work and your teaching, workshops, etc?
A: That would be difficult to sum up here. Besides being what many consider the father of color photography, Ernst was a poet and a philosopher who had an interest in art, life, cultures, etc. He truly was a renaissance man. And he had the unique capability of tying everything he talked about back to photography. His other great gift was teaching and sharing his knowledge. As one of the very first workshop instructors, he set the bar for all of us who follow. My workshop, “The Color of Light” is not only about utilizing light, color and moments to create photographs that stand alone, but also about exploring and considering the many ways we see and how to strengthen those abilities. The participants in my classes come from all walks of life and vary from serious amateur to professional photographer. “The Color of Light” is also the title for my upcoming book that is a personal color retrospective.
Q: Do you think that shooting commercially with the idea of solving specific problems and satisfying clients’ demands compromises your creativity or are you able to transcend these demands and produce commercial work that is also personally satisfying?
A: I’ve always said that you owe it to the client to try it their way, but you owe it to yourself to do it your way and hopefully they will prefer your way. And, rest assured, if they don’t like either you’ll be hitting the highway! But we assume that this is why they hired you in the first place — for your vision. In pursing this course, I have found that I usually come back with images that exceed my own expectations and that’s a nice feeling.
Q: You allude to the creative process of your personal work as “strengthening your ability to see.” That certainly rings true, but can you say something more about what you mean by that?
A: Among other things, a photographer gets paid to do is to “see.” People ask, “How can I become a better photographer?” I usually use the example that “if you want to be a better tennis player, you go out and hit tennis balls everyday. If you want to be a better photographer, you go out and shoot everyday.” Seeing is a process of discovery — not only about yourself and how you see the world, but also how you present that vision photographically.
Q: You mention that you use SLRs for much of your commercial work, but you favor the Leica M9 for your personal work because you’re “looking for something to take your work in a different direction, a way of seeing that is less obtrusive.” Is it simply the discreet size and quietness of the Leica that does that for you, or is there something more to it?
A: That is a big part of it, but it really has to do more with the differences between the two systems. With the SLR you’re actually seeing what the image will look like when you look through the viewfinder. However with the rangefinder, it’s like taking a picture frame and placing it around the scene, selecting your subject and focusing. To me, it’s more of a free form way of seeing and working.
Q: What features would you like to see in a future “Leica M10” and have you ever considered shooting with the Leica S2, a camera that has been described as a “medium-format DSLR with Leica feel and Leica optics”?
A: Are you making an announcement here?! Actually, for the most part, I’m pleased with the M9, but like any camera there is always room for improvement. My suggestions: longer battery life, faster writing times, improved performance at high ISOs in low light and rework the power switch (which has a tendency to turn on unintentionally sometimes). As for the S2, I have never worked with this camera. Partially this is out of fear that if I liked it (can’t imagine I wouldn’t), the cost might be prohibitive.
Q: Have you found that Leica lenses have distinctive imaging characteristics that set them apart from non-Leica DSLR lenses you’ve worked with?
A:. Well, I’ve never done any one-to-one comparison testing, but to me the Leica lenses seem to be sharper, exhibit more contrast and are definitely much lighter.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving going forward, both your commercial work and your personal work? Do you think you will be taking basically the same kinds of pictures five years from now?
A: That’s a good question and a difficult one to answer. I believe that we all need to continue to growing photographically or we get stale. However, the one thing I try to caution my students about is that different for the sake of being different doesn’t always work. You don’t want to apply a technique or effect that becomes the image. Rather, you want the viewer to be captured by your vision. That said, I still see myself out there shooting and trying to record the world the best way I can.
Thank you Arthur!
-Leica Internet Team
For more information about Arthur and his workshops visit his website, http://arthurmeyerson.com and you can read his blog at http://blog.arthurmeyerson.com/.
I think Meyerson has it right, simplicity is key.
When I started in newspapers, I had one camera with one lens because that’s all I could afford. It had to work. The years went by and I acquired lens after lens and camera after camera for every situation imaginable. Yet, now I’m back to carrying one camera with one lens–the X1.
The bags and lenses and lights really become more about the theater of selling the client than they are about taking great photos.
I hope I’ll get the chance to take one of Meyerson’s classes.
Thank you for your comments. One thing I always tell my workshop participants is that the more equipment you carry the less likely you are to shoot because you’re to busy thinking about that “weight” on your shoulder as opposed to “seeing”. I hope that you can join me for a workshop or photo tour soon. Check my website for listings.