Simon Puschmann: 365 Days with the Leica M Monochrom

Simon is an acclaimed, award-winning commercial photographer. For more than 20 years, he has been creating his own brand of dramatic, unexpected imagery for a prestigious clientele, including Audi, Citroen, BMW, BMW Sauber F1, Mercedes Benz, Doc Martens, FC St. Pauli, Lufthansa, Hamburg City Film Council, Volkswagen, and Mobil One NASCAR Racing and many more. Previously, we spoke with Simon about his work Serendipity. In 2014 he took a picture every single day with his Leica M Monochrom. Below, he gives his perspective on the project and the images he took.

Q: You have a unique perspective on things, to put it mildly. I noticed in this latest project that many of the images are in California. Are all of these images part of the same project, and if so, how would you describe the theme of the project?

A: The project was 365 2014, so I carried my Leica and my Summicron with me for 365 days wherever I went at any given time of the day, just to get what I see, what I feel, what happens in front of my eyes. It’s basically a notebook. I’m writing down things with my camera. Since I travel here and there, the subjects completely change because one day I’m in Antwerp, the next day I’m in Los Angeles, and some other day I’m at home and that’s the only thing that ties them together. And, of course, I use the same lens and the same camera on everything.

Q: And that camera and lens are what?

A: It’s the Monochrom and the 50 mm f/2.0 Summicron. I still own a Leica M8.

Q: In “Where to Spend Eternity,” there’s the American flag, the cross, there’s Jesus, the shadow of the telephone pole, the scrubby desolate uninteresting landscape: all the elements together give you a strange feeling. I think the composition is very effective and masterful. What where your thoughts on composing the picture in this way?

A: At first, I drove by and I thought in the back of my mind, “Hang on, what was that?” So I drove back. There is a huge fence to my left. So basically where I’m standing is the gate. So, I didn’t really have much choice but to stand there and then the rest just came. I wanted the sign to be clearly visible and readable, so I had to stand somewhere so the Jesus was in front of the plant. I didn’t want to get too close. Had I taken away the information that this place was so remote, bland, and boring and just focused on the sign, it wouldn’t have told the whole story. I definitely would not want to spend eternity there. Definitely not.

Q: Tell me about this image of the people in the theater.

A: That’s one quality of that camera: although being a highly professional tool, most people don’t recognize someone with a costly Leica. It can take pictures in the dark as a whole. I was able to push up the ISO to 5000 and just kneel in front of everyone. They just ignored me, without realizing I was taking a professional picture.

Q: There always seem to be a dichotomy in your pictures. Looking at this picture you see this spectacular scene of natural beauty out the window of a rather tacky room. I’m not saying that the place is dirty or anything, but kind of tacky with that hideous drape on the side, held by a belt. And then there’s an old-fashioned telephone with the wire hanging down. In other words, there is an attention between the interior and the exterior here. What do you think?

A: I agree with that. It’s another thing that I repeatedly do: whenever I’m in a hotel, I try to face at a view in the hotel worth photographing or even not worth photographing. If it’s not worth photographing, it might be even more worth photographing. If it’s totally boring, it could be more interesting than a spectacular view. Here was a spectacular view, and I was thinking, “That’s too expected.” I just like the hideousness of the whole scene. To me, this could be a movie scene and something could happen. When a picture is a good picture, it doesn’t just depict something that’s interesting; it’s an invitation to think.

Q: Now again, with this picture, “No alcohol beyond this point,” you just photograph essentially the walkway, the pavement, and that line with a stenciled warning.

A: So, being German, I find that the way that the United States usually treats alcohol and drinking, basically good times, is kind of ridiculous. What does it matter if I drink alcohol beyond that point? Who cares? When I am with my feet; inside, or the porch, or terrace, on the porch of a restaurant where you can obviously drink, but you’re not allowed to leave beyond that point.

Q: So, Simon, I’m looking at your portrait. It’s a pretty straightforward portrait. It’s very high contrast because the lighting is highly directional and coming from the left of the picture. I’m taking a look at this guy. I’m thinking that he’s intelligent. He’s intense. One would get the feeling that he’s the kind of guy who holds firmly to his opinions. Just from taking a looking at this picture, that’s what I would say about him.

A: He’s my oldest son. He’s 25. He lives in Los Angeles, so I see him all the time. And he works for me; he’s my fellow assistant. He’s one of the assistants here on this job as well. It’s a pretty good summary of how he is.

Q: There is a humor in some of these pictures. Do you think you have a sense of humor and that that ironic sense of humor comes through in your pictures?

A: I hope so.

Q:  Well, it does! When you look at this picture, you sense a backstory. I think that’s true for a lot of your pictures. Why are there no cars parked in this parking lot? There are all kinds of questions.

A: I think a lot of these pictures raise more question than answers. That engages the viewer’s mind, you know?

Q: Again, this is a completely different. Aside from the typical park bench that this guy is sitting on, this could almost be somewhere out in the countryside. It’s a very nice and peaceful feeling. Because of the way the trees are with the bald sky, it’s not so problematic, so the composition works. So you just came upon this scene and shot the picture?

A: Correct. I was taking my dog for a walk there, really nearby where I lived. I was walking for an hour. It was always picturesque with something interesting. Then, all of a sudden, a guy sits there and drinks a beer and I think, “This is it.”

Q: What kind of feeling do you think that that picture conveys? Do you think there’s a kind of melancholy aspect to that picture in your opinion or is it just a great shot?

A: Honestly, I think because I work and travel so much, there was a bit of envy there. He sits there, has a beer, and doesn’t care. He has nothing else to do and that’s great.

Q: Obviously, you really have a fondness and appreciation of the black-and-white medium and you articulate it very well. You exploit its characteristics at a very high level. What is your attitude about black-and-white? I think black-and-white is one of the things that make these images special. And yet you said the next time you’re going to shoot in color. Why did you decide to shoot this project in B&W and why are you deciding to shoot the next project in color?

A: It’s just a thought right now. I also wanted to make it different from last year. When we talk about the Serendipity project, a lot of the pictures came out of my 2011 project, which was the same type of project: 365 2011. And that was shot on Tri-X with an M6 and that was black-and-white. So much good stuff came out of it that I decided to do it again. I didn’t want to do it on film because it was killing me in terms of cost. And I pretty much specifically bought the Monochrom for this project. I just love that camera. I love black-and-white. That’s how I started photo school. My first half year in photo school was just black-and-white. We weren’t allowed to do any color. So I just think pure photography is black-and-white, and in my job, everything is in color. So it’s a nice little holiday from the color photography daily job that I have.

Q: What particular characteristic of the black-and-white medium do you find especially compelling?

A: Well, with the Monochrom, the outstandingly outrageous tonalities that it has is just mind-blowing. And often, you take the same pictures from, let’s just say, Antwerp, if you were to take many of those pictures in color, they’re just profane. The black-and-white adds vision. You have to think more abstractly. You have one media left. If you take a picture in color, you have to think about the picture in color, too. For some reason, I discovered really early in my photographic career that I have a very good eye for light, shade, and black-and-white. Anything I look at, I sense the feel of black-and-white. I don’t like my street photography in color that much yet. But maybe 2015 will change that or I’ll just switch back to black-and-white.

Thank you for your time, Simon!

– Leica Internet Team

Visit http://www.simplesimon.tv to see Simon’s personal work and http://www.simonpuschmann.com for commissioned work. For the sake of convenience, we’ve presented this in a Q&A format but it was actually a conversation between our blog writer, Jason Schneider and Simon Puschmann.

 

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