CHASING STORIES: ‘EYES WIDE OPEN! 100 YEARS OF LEICA PHOTOGRAPHY’ FEATURING UR-Leica The stories behind the images, by curator Hans-Michael Koetzle at Eyes Wide Open! in Madrid

Following its enormous success in Germany, Austria, Belgium and Portugal the spectacular exhibition ‘Eyes Wide Open! 100 years of Leica photography’ is now visiting Spain on the next stop of its tour and can be seen in Madrid from May 11th to September 10th, 2017. More than 400 original prints are being shown in Madrid. Photographs by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nick Út, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Lebeck, Julia Baier and François Fontaine document significant moments in the history of art and culture from 1914 to the present day. The exhibition showcases significant moments of the past century of Leica photography. Chasing Stories are written by curator Hans-Michael Koetzle and the exhibition will take place at Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Madrid.

© Leica Camera AG: Ur-Leica, built by Oskar Barnack, completed in 1914
© Leica Camera AG: Ur-Leica, built by Oskar Barnack, completed in 1914

Ur-Leica, built by Oskar Barnack. Completed 1914

So, this is what it looked like: the first functional camera for ready-made 35 mm film, built by engineer Oscar Barnack in 1914, just before World War I. Beginning in 1911, Barnack was master foreman at the Ernst Leitz company in Wetzlar, which actually specialized in constructing high quality microscopes. On his free days, however, the engineer fiddled around with an idea that was to revolutionize the world of photography by the mid 1920s. At first Barnack himself dubbed the project Liliputkamera (Lilliput camera). Today we refer to the original Leica prototype as the Ur-Leica. The name Leica was created for the initial market launch in 1925, and was derived from the words Leitz and camera.  The model depicted here has all the design features that distinguish Leica viewfinder cameras to this day: a slender, elegant body; reduction to the essential; handy dimensions. In summary, already back in the early years of 35mm cameras and photography, it possessed an elegance that delighted both customers and photographers alike. The Bauhaus metal workshop class could hardly have done a better job constructing the camera. As is generally known, it was run by the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy. He also owned one of the early Leicas and made extensive use of it. The Ur-Leica is today part of Leica Camera AG’s archives, a historic and cultural treasure that is surely kept safe under lock and key. That particular Leica no longer gets out and about: it is an exact replica that is on display at the exhibition. The original camera set photography standards that still echo down to our current digital age.

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