The Swiss photographer, Urs Gähler, started out taking pictures with a Leica M6. After a long break, he tried out a number of DSLRs before rediscovering his first love when the M Monochrom was introduced onto the market in 2012. With the M Monochrom, Gähler went on to explore the diversity of motifs found in his homeland – the Appenzellerland in eastern Switzerland – as is evident in his selection of pictures on Leica Fotopark.
Q: Mr. Gähler, how did you come to discover photography for yourself?
A: I began taking pictures with a Leica M6 in 1980. I was a complete novice and was testing myself with this camera. Even then, I had the feeling of possessing something valuable. On the whole I used Ilford FP4 with 125 ISO, having pretty much decided at the time to focus on black-and-white. I always developed the negatives myself in a friend’s dark room. I love remembering those times – the low light in the dark room has something magical about it. Unfortunately, time limitations meant that I was never able to photograph as much as I would have liked to, and that’s why I let the camera go. It must have been around 1985.
Q: And how did you find out about the M Monochrom?
A: I stopped taking pictures for a long time. Then, some years ago, I was often spending time in Tuscany, where the landscapes really touched me, and reminded me of my earlier efforts with the Leica M6. I really felt like returning to photography, and so, in 2009, I bought myself a Canon EOS 400D. Once again, I was captivated. After that there were other models and various lenses. I worked mostly in colour with those cameras, but, when it seemed appropriate, I converted some pictures into black-and-white. Then, in the summer of 2012, I read that the Monochrom had come onto the market, and old memories resurfaced immediately: analogue black-and-white photography was still very present. At the end of the summer, I ordered the camera and a Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. It took a while until I was able to pick up the equipment from the dealership. At first it seemed like it was taking forever, but finally it was there.
Q: And did you stay with the Summilux?
A: Yes, on the Leica Monochrom I only work with the 35 mm Summilux. In addition to the high quality of the pictures, I appreciate its speed, as I also like to work with available light, without using the flash.
Q: What do you find particularly appealing about black-and-white photography?
A: The particular appeal of the Monochrom is the decelerated way of working with the equipment. The thoughts I have about how to achieve the pictures I want, are very different from the normal way I used to work. The first pictures I took with the M Monochrom immediately reminded me of my old M6. The release felt the same as before, but it’s just that the camera has a storage card rather than film. The imagery’s monochrome dialect gives a lot of meaning to the elements of toning and dynamics. In reality, fewer components in a picture raise the viewer’s awareness, and that’s what’s essential: to elicit direct emotions in the viewer. For this, the lighting plays an important role. I only photograph in RAW format. Of course, then RAW converter, Photoshop and Nik filter can come into play – in cases of bad light conditions or back-light, there’s good reason to use them. But, if a picture has been taken in optimal conditions, then only the RAW converter is needed to develop the picture, nothing else.
Q: The pictures you are presenting on Leica Fotopark range from documentary to landscape photography, from stills to portraits. How do you choose your motifs?
A: I make sure I always have a camera with me. When I’m out and about with the Monochrom, it helps me to decide on a theme; for example, people with mobile telephones, street crossings, cyclists, lovers, etc. Or I go to a specific place to which I feel a bond, such as the Zurich train station, at the airport, or I go to a flea market – the physical limitations of a location help me to be more concentrated in my work.
Q: Do you only photograph for private purposes?
A: I have a passion for photography and I began taking pictures on a non-commercial basis. It was only later that I started getting a lot of positive feedback from people who were interested in them, because they wanted to use them for calendars, flyers or commercial posters. My main genre is landscape photography. Above all, pictures of mountains, different moods, winter images and also photographing by the water. Macros, HDR photography and also lots of colour, give wings to my imagination and improve my photographic eye. I still find it a challenge to work with natural light and shadows, which I like to incorporate into my work. Sometimes it’s easy: just a question of being in the right place at the right time.
Thank you for your time, Urs!
– Leica Internet Team
Read the interview in German here. After registering, follow Urs on Leica Fotopark under his name Leica Monochrom.