Max Montgomery is a British photographer who now lives in New York. He has shot for numerous magazines including Vogue Italia, Marie Claire, Town and Country, and Sunday Times. Some of his advertising clients include Jitrois, Cavalli, HK Intimates, Lot78, Edge o’ Beyond, and Rohmir. Max recently had the opportunity to test the new Leica S (Typ 007). Below, he shares his thoughts and impressions on the camera. In the above video, which was shot with the Leica S video function, get a behind-the-scenes look at Max’s photo shoot and see the full video capabilities of the Leica S.
Q: You had the chance to try one of the first Leica S (Typ 007). Had you been shooting with a previous model Leica S before?
A: Yes. I’ve had one for a couple of years. Let me say, first off, that the Leica S (Typ 007) is the best camera I’ve ever used in my life.
Q: How does it compare to the previous models?
A: The old camera was amazing too, but the problem was that it was a little too slow. It was easy to miss some moments. You miss a lot on the old S. For static portraits it was fantastic, but it wasn’t quite fast enough for motion photography. I like to capture things in movement so that was really important for me.
Q: What was responsible for that?
A: The buffer size doubled, I think, which means you can shoot quicker and more.
Q: These images are quite charming and well executed. How long have you been a professional photographer?
A: I started out as an assistant. I worked for Rankin as his first assistant. After that, I worked for an Italian photographer called Francesco Carrozzini. All that time I was shooting my own work on the side. I’ve been shooting for magazines for five or six years now.
Q: So you’ve really come into your own as a creative professional doing his own stuff?
A: Hopefully… I believe so, yes.
Q: So you created this portfolio out of images that you shot on the Leica S (Typ 007) when you were trying out the camera, is that correct?
A: Yes, and it was great. The incredible thing about shooting for Leica is the freedom they allow you. When you are with a fashion editor, you have to shoot the clothes in a certain way. Leica basically just said, “do whatever you want, but shoot it with this camera.” As a photographer, it’s so exciting. It’s a dream job to be commissioned to do.
Q: So these were all shot in the Hamptons on Long Island?
A: Yes, East Hampton.
Q: These are certainly beautiful images. What was the purpose of them?
A: The whole purpose of this shoot was to test the camera – to see how it performed in different scenarios. So to me the problem was when you start doing that and are trying to shoot with every f-stop and every ISO setting it’s very difficult to make it all fit together into a story. There are some pictures there that don’t really fit with the general aesthetic of what I would have done, but it was important for me and for Leica that I showed the variation of what the camera was capable of.
Q: So it’s not really a cohesive portfolio of images but rather a collection of styles from the photographer. I wasn’t looking for a theme, but I notice that some of these are rendered in black-and-white. What do you find compelling about black-and-white. and why did you render them in this way? Did you capture them in black-and-white or convert them in post-production?
A: Everything is captured in color, then changed into black-and-white in post-production. We see everything in color, so when we change an image from color to black-and-white, it takes you away from reality. That, to me, is fascinating. Instantly, it’s a creation.
Q: What lenses did you primarily use on the Leica S to shoot these pictures?
A: I used a 70, the 35, the 45, and the 120.
Q: Did you favor any particular one for your creative work?
A: The lens I’m most impressed by, my favorite is the 35 mm. It’s a true 35. It doesn’t distort. You can get really close to people and it’s just a really photographic lens. You can get really close up and the distortion just isn’t there. Especially for a digital camera, that’s really rare.
Q: There’s one picture that’s almost completely different from all the others. It’s rendered in black-and-white and is a close-up of a young woman who seems to have very made-up eyes and very blonde hair. It’s an extreme close-up. There is something challenging about this image. It’s almost disturbing. The lipstick comes out very dark. It has an introspective quality.
A: It comes down to emotion. I wanted to make the picture. I wanted her eyes to bleed emotion. I didn’t want it just to be a beauty shot: I wanted it to be human. It’s all done by the the hair, the makeup, the expression. It leads, well, to the story. You’re not quite sure what’s going on: if they’re in trouble, if they’re happy … I like that.
Q: This picture has a rather whimsical lady wearing a hat, holding her hand to its brim, as she stands near a mailbox by the side of the road. It’s a charming picture, with a seaside feel to it. Could you tell us about this one?
A: This one is probably the purest fashion-centric photograph: you look at the way the clothes lie, look at the direction, and she’s looking at the camera. It was an exploration of this beautiful part of Long Island. I really liked the colors of the clothes and thought that they blend in beautifully with the background and the scenario around it. And her attitude has this sense of bohemian chic.
Q: Do you have any other projects that you’re working on with this camera going forward?
A: I just shot Heidi Claire with it for Galore Magazine for a 12-page feature with sort of noir style, Helmut Newton influenced rooftop shoot in New York. And in London, at the moment, using the old Leica S shooting landscapes in Cornwall with my father who is a big photographer. And playing around with the old MH and things like that … There’s a bunch of projects coming in through the door that I can’t really tell you too much more about at the moment.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over the next few years? Do you plan to shoot any other types of subjects or genres? How do you generally see your photography evolve?
A: When I think about the evolution of my photography, I want to have more time to myself to be able to do more research. I think that so much of photography is research, studying, and having time to think. I’m hoping that over the next couple of years that I’ll have more time to myself to think about the kind of images I want to create and not just have a day to do a shoot and rush it together, but to be able to take a week to produce a shoot – to think about it. I think that preparation is everything and it shows. I want to be able to have really conceptually strong ideas.
Why does Steven Meisel do thirty pages of research for Italian Vogue? It’s because he has a month to think about his ideas and the clothes. Why does Bruce Weber tell such provocative stories? It’s because he goes to his house in Florida for a week with his subjects and his dogs and they run around. They all have created their worlds and it’s about creating an identity. I’m hoping over the next couple of years that people will start to be able to look at these photos and say, “That’s Max Montgomery.” I can look through the pages of Fashion Vogue, Italian Vogue, or French Vogue and tell you exactly who shot every single story, and I want people to be able to do that with my work.
Q: There is something to be said for study, there is something to be said for having a concept, and there is something to be said for spontaneity. I think that art is a semi-controlled media and I think you have to allow freedom from the hand.
A: That’s the magic. What you are describing is the beauty of it. That is what makes us fall in love. That is what makes us emote. That is what we’re chasing as creatives.
Thank you for your time, Max!
– Jason Schneider, Leica Internet Team
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 Max Montgomery.