Brett, Leica M Photographer, Part 1
He brings a street shooter’s eye and lightning reflexes to the demanding genre of wedding photography and when he not shooting he’s teaching other Leica M users how to do it.
Brett’s passion for photography started when he was given a plastic camera and darkroom kit at the tender age of five. He recalls spending hours developing prints in the family bathroom! After leaving school he got the break that put him on the path to a fulfilling career as a photographer—he was offered an apprenticeship at the Birmingham Post in the West Midlands and bought a used Leica M2 with his first month’s wages. Brett went on to open his own wedding and portrait studio in the area by the time he was 21.
Brett (who doesn’t use his last name) now works as an independent photographer with a thriving wedding photography business, but he also works on shooting travel images, PR images, and “bespoke commissions and projects”. A lifelong Leica enthusiast ever since purchasing his first M2 decades ago, he is also a consultant for Leica Camera UK and leads M9 workshops at the Leica Akademie in Mayfair. Passionate about passing on the knowledge of how to get the most our of these magnificent cameras to his peers and to Leica enthusiasts, he has developed targeted workshops created around the individual photographer’s needs, and offering advice, tips and techniques to expand and develop their knowledge—all based on his extensive hands-on experience. Here, in his insightful, straightforward words is his remarkable story.
Q: What camera and equipment do you use?
A: I shoot exclusively Leica M for my both my professional and personal work. In my position as Consultant Photographer and Workshop Leader for Leica UK, I get to test drive most cameras and lenses. I like to challenge perceptions and set myself personal challenges. Last year I was shooting with an M8 and 50mm Elmar-M f2.8, period. People said I couldn’t shoot a wedding with one lens — wide open — but that’s exactly what I did. Currently in my hand is a Leica M9 with a 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux that equates to three whole stops “wider” open! My “off-duty” and companion (pocket) camera is a Leica D-Lux 4. I use available light and handhold the camera — there’s never a tripod or flash present.
Q: How would you describe your photography? What is your motivation or what are you trying to achieve in general terms with your photography?
A: The motivation in my current photographic style is to embrace the synergy between wedding and street photography — capturing the everyday within the special day, and the extra in the ordinary. I practice my craft of wedding photography while on the street and during workshops, honing my skills as a reportage photographer, and vice versa. I’m looking to capture the more usual moments in a wedding made possible by anticipating the unusual moments that occur on our streets. Both are real life; both are documentary. My other motivation is to be able one day to “master” the rangefinder system.
Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? What made you decide to go pro?
A: I was an amateur teenage photographer recording my other interests (walking, mountains, transport) with a camera. My educational potential was in art and architecture. My school friend’s father was an architectural photographer and he made a presentation to our Photographic Society. I always remember him saying that photographers only ever go out and work in the sunshine. I applied, on a whim, for a position as a black-and-white printer at my local provincial newspaper. On seeing my work (the b/w prints of my shots) the manager created a new position just for me as “Trainee (camera) Operator” aka photographer, at the newspaper’s commercial studio. The chap who got my b/w job (Martin Bradbury) became and remains my best mate.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form, a profession?
A: Photography has, for many years, been my job — it’s a profession and a good one at that. My role has been to “deliver” photography to the customer, typically an art director, managing director, PR manager or wedding couple. As a mode of expression it has come to fruition only recently, maybe concurrent with the advent of the digital M. That was 4 years ago, that’s to say in my 28th of 32 years practicing as a professional. Maybe I needed 30,000 hours rather than the standard 10,000 to get there! Now I’m expressing my style as part of a professional package with the confidence that I can deliver something different and something more personal.
Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
A: I was self-taught up to the point of getting my permanent job at The Birmingham Post studio. Poring over “Amateur Photographer” magazine and “Photography Yearbook” borrowed from the library was my staple diet as a young aspiring pre-internet photographer. Then I was an apprentice at the studio and acquired my craft and grounding in many photographic formats and disciplines with a GP (general practice) staff photographer, Bernard Glover — I used a Rollei TLRs, Hasselblads and Sinars. My influences were in name, Norman Parkinson, and in genre, the classic French street photographers including Bresson, Doisneau, Boubat. For me there is a connection between their classic “street” work and that of Parkinson, a “fashion photographer”. And so we are back to that aforementioned synergy between “street” and “wedding” photography.
Q: To follow up on that, how would you classify your photographic genre(s)? Are most of your images fine art, photojournalism, portrait, street photography, etc.?
A: My work is split between weddings, workshops and commissions. I apply the same philosophy to all three — there is no plan, so the plan can’t possibly go wrong. The common thread and inspiration is the rangefinder camera that defines your approach. Maybe I need a new term to describe my street-style wedding photography.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica? What special characteristics do the Leica cameras and lenses you use have that help you in executing your kind of work?
A: The pictures that inspired me from the beginning, on reading the captions, all turned out to be taken with Leica cameras. So I bought a Leica M2 and 50mm f/1.4 Summilux with my first wage packet and this became my personal camera. Indeed, I have now come full circle to one camera with a 50mm lens. I am as much interested in the out-of-focus areas of the image as the in-focus areas and that’s where Leica cameras, and more specifically Leica lenses, excel. Behind every great image there is an out-of-focus backdrop. So the aperture is king and wide open is best. Shooting Leica M is also about being an anonymous professional. Those who know the brand, respect it, and those who don’t ignore it. As a photographer both aspects provide an advantage for the Leica shooter.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: I am very much a one camera, one lens man. The 50mm is my lens of choice. My favorite aperture is “wide open”. There lies the “raison d’etre”, the signature of any lens. I like to know my lens coverage angle. My approach is to pre-visualise — to look and see, to position myself and mentally create the composition in my mind’s eye before raising the camera to my real eye. I aspire to be an observer who uses the camera simply to crop the real world. All the settings are set, ISO, WB, focal length, and aperture. The shutter speed is the method of exposure control. Focus, recompose, capture — that’s the process. Photography for me now is the privilege to capture someone’s special day, the ability to share my knowledge with other M photographers or the freedom to capture images by commission or choice.
Q: Do you have a website(s) and if so, what is the theme?
A: My work is split between weddings, workshops and commissions and my new website theme is (surprise, surprise) Wedding-Workshop-World. It’s due to go live next year. In the meantime, I use Flickr as my method of sharing, enjoying and getting feedback on my work.
Thank you Brett!
-Leica Internet Team
You can see more of Brett’s images on his Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotografiebrett/.