To photograph an international sporting event in the historic setting of the 1972 Olympic Games, and to do so with a camera operated completely manually was an idea both creative and puristic. Poby took two Leica M10 Monochroms and four lenses to cover the competitions, and dared to mingle among the other sports photographers, with their extremely long focal lengths. The outcome of Poby’s efforts is a conceptual body of work in black and white, imbued with aesthetic power.
What immediately springs to your mind about the European Championships Munich 2022?
Pure joy, and a desire to take photographs and be creative! The Munich Olympic Stadium is a legendary location. For me, it was very special to photograph this major event with a completely different camera system, in contrast to the latest trends.
You were working with the Leica M10 Monochrom.
It was delightful. From the emotional perspective, it felt like I was coming home again. I photographed the FC Bavaria football matches at the Olympic Stadium for over ten years, using analogue, manually-operated cameras. Nowadays, such sports events are photographed by professionals with very fast autofocus cameras and long focal lengths, so that you can be up close to the action, without being in the way of the TV cameras. It’s all laid down very precisely. This leaves very little scope for other camera formats. That was precisely what appealed to me about the project. There I was, with my relatively short focal lengths (1.8/24 mm, 1.4/35 mm, 1.4/50 mm and 2.4/90 mm), next to the best sports photographers in the world; and I was looking for particular perspectives and moments, so as to tell an exciting story. As in former times, I had to anticipate my images and adjust everything manually to get the pictures I wanted.
Do you have a concrete example of the essential difference between the M10 Monochrom and the other cameras in this specific situation?
Let’s imagine that I’m taking photographs at a sports event, and I’m very close to the athletes. I observe a moment that evolves and could result in a good picture. As I approach the situation – I have to get closer because of my short focal length – I set the correct exposure and, while I’m moving, I quickly take a test picture to see if the exposure is right. Then, I set the focus roughly at the calculated distance from the object. Once I’ve found my position, I can quickly correct and set the sharpness. As soon as I have a moving object in front of me, for example, a triathlete jumping from the edge into the water, I first focus on the edge, and then change the focus by moving it one to two millimetres backwards. It’s all a question of routine and experience.
How did the idea of using a Leica to photograph a large event, where it’s often all about a fraction of a second, come about?
In 1972, precisely 50 years ago, the Olympic Games were held in Munich. When I heard that the European Championships Munich 2022 were to be held at the Olympic site, I immediately knew that I had to photograph it as an art project. 50 years ago, Leica’s manual M cameras were leaders for sports photography. Back then, you had to have a lot of experience and knowledge of the routines to take good sports pictures. I knew that this project would only work for me if I were to use a manual, but modern, Leica – with lenses that were already on the market back in 1972. My goal was to take pictures that concentrated on the absolutely essential – on light and shadow, in black and white.
You were a professional sportsman yourself. Does that help when looking for motifs?
Taking pictures with a Leica M is not fast food photography. You have to understand the type of sports and be able to interpret how the movements will go, so as to get the best photo in each situation. It helps immensely to understand the processes and dynamics of such a sporting event, in order to be in the right place at the right time. And, of course, it’s very important to understand the athletes themselves – the procedures, the emotions, the concentration. I feel like an athlete, so I do see that as a clear advantage for my work.
From professional sportsman to photographer: how did that decision come about?
Even during the time when I was active in sports, I was involved with art and painting, photography and filming with Super 8. After my sports career, I studied graphic design and painting. Since then, I’ve been trying to combine these two worlds. I consider it a very natural development. In fact, I don’t have just one love in me.
Back to Munich: what was particularly important to you when you were taking the pictures?
To show that good, emotional sports photography can work, even without quick autofocus cameras and long focal lengths – and that there are times when it’s particularly lovely to see our hectic, overstimulated world in black and white. Good pictures arise first in the mind, and there are so many different ways to give them form. Back in the 1930s and 40s, the Hungarian photographer Martin Munkácsi was taking good sports pictures with large-format cameras. That inspired me, decades ago, to photograph sports with a medium-format Hasselblad and a large-format Linhof, and to set myself apart from others: everything was manual and on film. The European Championships Munich 2022, together with the Leica M10 Monochrom, gave me the best opportunity to put that to the test, once more.
What is it, in particular, that appeals to you about sports photography?
The fact that I’m very challenged, both mentally and physically. I rode my bike every day, from my accommodation to the Olympic Park, with a rucksack full of cameras on my back. It’s wonderfully varied to photograph outdoors in the mountains, in or under the water, and in the air-conditioned studio. This combination has its own particular appeal and, even after 30 years, I’m still happy when I pick up the camera, whether for photos or video.
Peter Pobyjpicz, aka Poby, was born and grew up in Germany. After his sports career as part of the German national water handball team, he studied Graphic Design, Design and Painting in Düsseldorf. Since then, he has been combining both worlds – specialising in sports, lifestyle and underwater photography. He has covered numerous Olympic Games and World Championships with his camera; he also photographs campaigns for VISA, Adidas, Lufthansa, Volvo, BMW, and many more. Poby has been living in the USA, since 2004, and currently in Los Angeles. Find out more about Poby’s photography on his website and Instagram channel.
All the pictures of the European Championship Munich 2022 at www.leicamonochrom.art.