Monochrome basics with Leica Yee Wei shares his black and white imagery with the M-system

Yee Wei was born in 1980 in China. His hometown is located in the central south of China, which is an ancient town. He graduated from Wuhan University of Science and Technology in 2001, majoring in visual design. After graduated, he went to the South China for working two years, and then returned to Wuhan. Now he is a commercial graphic designer and photographer, living in Wuhan. Yee shares his experience in monochrome images using the Leica M2, M3 and M9.

How did you first become interested in Leica?

When I decided to start the street photography, I found that the cameras I used before were not very useful. These compact automatic cameras can not be a good capture requirements. At the same time, these small camera will give a sneaking feeling. I need a camera that can shoot in public, and not too much to disturb others, not to be disgusting. Quiet, fast, portable, in addition to Leica, there are not that many choices. And with another very important factor, here is a little story. One day, my best friend took a camera to take pictures with me and my wife, when my wife was pregnant. The day after the picture was taken, my son was born. I like this photo so much! The camera to record this photo is a Leica M4-P. So when I planned to shoot the streets, I bought a Leica M4-P.

Please share a bit of the background of these black and white images. Where were they taken?

These photos are taken in Wuhan. Wuhan is the largest city in the central region of China and is the only city that the Yangtze River passes through.

What was the purpose behind shooting these images?

I’m aiming at the people in the city streets and I’m not interested in documentary photography.Looking for aesthetics in photography is the standard I have always followed and practiced. Aesthetics is a comprehensive reaction of time, space and emotion. Documentary photography is a kind of emotionless photographic behavior, or the emotion does not occupy a large proportion in the behavior. In my opinion,emotion will play a decisive role in time and space, only when the emotion was injected , time would produce memorable memories; the same time,with the emotion , the people and scene in the space would become subjective and to be a strong guidance which is resonant basis.So emotion is my understanding of all the aesthetics, whether it is warm or sad. Shooting the people living in the city, so that the audience says “yes, life”, this is the purpose of my photography.

Your photography is mainly made with film and analog Leica cameras. Is this an aesthetic decision? 

There is no doubt that I really like the film’s unique grain. To be precise, I use film and digital at the same time, without any emphasis on which side. I will switch between the film and digital. When I hit the bottleneck in the shooting, I will switch to digital mode, with a more casual attitude to take a large number of shooting. Through the large number of photos, I may be able to find new insights.I still often use the film because I can not give up the film texture, although the digital can imitate this texture, but can not replace it thoroughly.At the same time, I will use the darkroom to enlarge the black and white film, which is another irreplaceable experience.Fortunately, Leica M9 is the digital camera which is closest to the film.

What are your thoughts between color and B&W? For instance, when you compare your photo series ‘Ashes and soil” with the work you’re presenting now?

My on-going work named “sunset-street” is all in B&W.In this series,I used black and white to eliminate the details, highlight the theme.In the Sunset-Street series, the theme is people, the city acts as a background which I set it to be chaos.When I wake up from a dream and walk to the streets, the sun has begun to fall, I see hundreds of strangers, photographed dozens, and just a few ones, as the last to retain the photos, they are sunset street people.
I waited at sunset.
the light fade away,

People tired ,
fireflies fly out streets.
———sunset-street

‘Ashes and soil’ is a colorful work.The pictures were taken with long-expired color negatives. This can cause its color to be very strange and uncontrollable. And this is precisely in line with my life at that time, all seem uncontrollable, very passive life. Therefore, the color here represents the mood. I remember one of these pictures is shooting a few plants in the afternoon, the sky is dull, but after it be processed out ,the sky showed deep blue , the huge color grain filled the photo, like the dawn of the stars, silence and loneliness.

Talk about your equipment. Is there any preference when choosing to shoot between your Leica M2, M3, or M9?

I used the Leica M4-P for several months. I switched to M2, just because it has a better personal feel. The kind of smooth mechanical sense fascinated me, it allows me to enjoy this feeling in all of the shooting time.After one year later, I bought a M3 again, because it feels better than the M2. This is really amazing. Leica M9 is my first Leica digital camera. Most of the time I use it in night shooting. I use zone focus with the maximum aperture, 800 ISO. I think that is enough to shoot the streets at night. The OVF and slight shutter sound are another very important reasons for why I use leica. Now I have three Leica cameras and three Leica lenses including 28mm/35mm/50mm. I really can not make a choice in these three focal lengths. So I bought them all. As mentioned earlier, between these cameras and the lens, I do not have a standard to how to choose, basically it is a random choice. Maybe I just like to have them all.

How do you compare your photography with being a graphic designer? Do you use photography to complement your day-to-day activity?

Graphic design is a great help to my photography. I use a lot of photography skills, including freedom and disciplined composition, light and shadow levels, etc. Usually these techniques are only available in professional photography education. Photography is not my day to day activity. I only take pictures in spare time. With no camera in my hand, I do not think about anything about photography. Even if I see a very interesting scene, I would only feel pity I did not bring the camera, nothing more. I have become accustomed to this experience and realized the fact that as long as you are still in photography, the streets are always there for you. I never use mobile phones to photography, I only use my cameras for photography, it’s like a type of ritual for me.

The story about your friend photographing you and your wife one day before your son was born is remarkable. You mentioned it was taken with a Leica M4-P. What are your thoughts on this camera and was this the moment when you decided to start doing photography with Leica?

Leica M4-P is my first Leica camera. It really made me feel the Leica camera shooting experience, and I adapted it almost immediately. I use hyperfocal distance and area focus mode for quick snapshots, a slight shutter sound allows me to shoot people at very close range without disturbing each other. Lightweight and sturdy body, a good mechanical feel, all this makes me very enjoy in the beginning.

Of course, because of this memorable little story, I have a special feeling of Leica. This was a decisive factor when I decided which Leica camera I should buy.

But the reason that let me decide to buy a Leica camera is the actual demand to capture images. The photos I want to take are usually fast, bursty, random, in public, and very close. If there is a such camera that meets all these conditions, the answer is Leica. I’ve never been asked why I shoot with them during the two years I’ve been shooting in the streets with Leica camera. Beautiful and professional appearance make the people feel calm and not angry. Almost zero shutter lag can capture any moment. Slight shutter can be used at any time without attention, compact and accurate lens can achieve fast focusing. So, I think the essence of Leica is the ability to capture the image in any environment, and this is what I most fancy.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would like to talk more about what photography is. In my opinion photography is purely personal media, mood and aesthetic quality are the two things which determine how to watch the world, and how to express the world. The camera is the photographer’s eye for outward viewing and inward mapping.

You can use the camera to discover what’s on your mind, even your subconscious. Subconscious is a mental act, subtle and sensitive, and disappears in a twinkle. But it is still possible to be captured in the outside, to be touched with the corresponding frequency through the eye. This frequency may be the scenery, light, people, or just color, and even the train’s long roar or the ship’s whistle. In this way, a perfect picture is the product of frequency response. It’s impossible to quantify. Scarcity is its most important characteristic. But in the right place (space), life stage (time), it is very easy to get.

Thank you Yee!

To know more about Yee’s work, please visit his portfolio.

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