Alfred Schopf: Inspiration Behind “Ninety Nine Years Leica”

Revealed at the LEICA – DAS WESENTLICHE event the night before photokina 2012, the new book “Ninety Nine Years Leica” by the Hamburg publisher 99pages is a nod to Leica Camera’s history and the emotions and legendary images that have been a part of our lives for nearly a century. After reading through its 300 pages, one gets a sense of what it means to shoot with a Leica camera and how truly different the company is. We sat down with Alfred Schopf, CEO of the Management Board of Leica Camera AG, to give us insight into the inspiration and idea behind the project.

Q:  Where did the idea of celebrating 99 years of Leica Camera instead of the traditional 100 years come from?

A: Leica seems to have more than a close connection with the number 9. On 09/09/09 there were 9 products shown and released to the public, which was a significant milestone in the development of Leica on the path towards success. Especially with the introduction of the Leica M9, one of the products introduced on this date and another nod to the number 9.

By accident we became acquainted with a publishing house called 99 pages (no joke), which creates books with 99 pages.  After a few seconds, the idea crossed my mind that we should also do a 99 pages book for 99 years of Leica! During the realization of the project, we discovered that we could create about 10 books filled with 99 pages with all the history Leica has. Therefore, we decided to do a bigger edition in order to generate a real coffee-table book that can be read chapter by chapter, can be read over and over again and where the reader can discover new details about Leica and its development. And honestly I am very proud of the result.

Q: How does this idea of celebrating 99 years fit in with the tradition and character of Leica Camera?

A: Leica was the inventor of small format image capturing by seeing and doing things differently than others. This philosophy is also carried forward with our latest products. We did a pure black and white monochrome camera which shoots more than outstanding images while everybody else on the market is still running the pixel race. Actually nobody, as far as we know, has published a book on 99 years. Everybody is celebrating a 100th anniversary with regular (and sometimes also boring) information. So from our perspective, this book fits perfectly into the tradition and character of Leica.

Q: How is this book different from a typical “history” overview of a company?

A: This book is not only the typical success story; it also deals with failures and mistakes. It’s about images shot with Leica cameras (a lot of them very prominent). It’s about people that have different motivations to work with, to repair and to collect the cameras. It’s an overview of the undiscovered Leica Universe, so-to-speak.

Q:  In this day and age, everything seems to be digital and e-books are included in this. However, Ninety Nine Years Leica is a physical book that is being printed and published. Why did Leica decide to publish a book rather than going with a digital version? (Which we all love by the way!)

A: A Leica camera is a haptic product with a haptic experience that has to be discovered, felt, touched and experienced. That is actually what we wanted the Leica fans to have by publishing the book: touch, feel, experience.

Q: Some of the photos included in the book were sourced from Leica Camera fans on Flickr. What inspired you to get Leica Camera customers involved and use social media to reach them?

A: Generally speaking, the idea of the book was to also give Leica customers the chance to express themselves as a significant part of the book. And honestly we didn’t want to go for prominent photographers and/or celebrities, but regular Leica customers who wants to say something and express themselves in their own way.

Q:  The images in the Flickr group dedicated to this project are all self-portraits of people with a Leica Camera. What was the idea behind requesting self-portraits?

A: Self-portraits are something where you offer a part of your personality to the public. First, we were curious and even anxious to see how many images we would receive. But the result was overwhelming not only in volume, but also in the different approaches used in the self-portraits.

Q: We hear there will be another Leica Myself book coming out based on the images from Flickr. Can you tell us a little about it and why Leica decided to move forward with not one but TWO books?

A: Actually we received more than 300 images from our self-portrait initiative. As we only had limited space in the 99 years book, we thought that it was a good idea to show the complete variety of self-portraits from the public. Leica Myself will be the portraits of the people solely with their personal statements, showing the wide variety of Leica fans and enthusiasts. This book is anticipated to be distributed in January 2013.

Q: Participants chosen to be in the books are receiving a free copy of the book they are featured in, is that correct? Why did Leica Camera decided to gift these books?

A: Yes, that is correct. We want to give a reward to the people who participated in our book projects and from our perspective, receiving the book as a gift is only fair.

By the way, not only participants will receive a free copy. As the 99 years book is a result of the effort of all the people who work at Leica, we do not only honor our employees by having their photo within the cover pages, but also every employee of Leica will receive a free copy of 99 pages book be it in German, English or Portuguese language.

Q: Besides the images from Flickr fans, what can readers expect to see in Ninety Nine Years Leica?

A: Ninety Nine Years Leica is a whole variety of stories surrounding Leica – some of them dramatic, some of them serious, some of them with a twinkle in the eye. The stories are not just about the technology but also about the passion for photography, the decisive moment (and also the non-decisive moment even at the same split second)– an insight into the life of the company.

Q: Can you share with us what this project means to you personally?

A: For me as the CEO, I am more than pleased with the result. We at Leica are often looked at as a technocratic-driven, camera manufacturer. This book shows why we are looking for perfection, the emotions behind our technology which just have one goal: The best results, the best images, the best way for Leica users to express themselves.

Q: What do you hope Leica Camera users and fans will get out of this book?

A: I personally hope that the esteemed reader will get a lot more background, more about what we feel and how we feel and more about the real passion of Leica lovers and enthusiasts.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Schopf!

- Leica Internet Team

The book is available from well-stocked bookshops, from the publishers and in Leica Stores.