Ivan Azzopardi: Film forever in the classic Leica tradition

His favorite lens is the 50mm, and his cameras of choice are a Leica M6 and an MP. With images this good why change?

Based in Malta and a jeweler by profession, Ivan Azzopardi is an accomplished photographer whose graphically simple and elegant compositions are reminiscent of the great Leica exponents of the 30s and 40s. A master of chiaroscuro and capturing people in unguarded moments, this dedicated enthusiast is the consummate traditionalist. Here in his own engaging words are the story of his sheer joy in creating memorable images, and his passion for the Leica M.

Q: Most of your pictures are very straightforward, elemental, and direct, with a strong graphic quality and many are in black and white. How did you develop this classic approach and do you think the inherent characteristics of the Leica play any part in it?

A: Yes, the Leica has definitely influenced my photographic style and genre. I always knew what camera I wanted without bothering what other companies were offering or what was on the market at that time. I wanted something small, discreet and well built. I also knew what type of photography I wanted to put my energies into and what kind of subjects I wanted to capture. So a Leica-M definitely was my obvious choice.

Q: Which films do you favor, both in black and white and in color, and what special qualities do they possess that help you to create the kind of images you like?

A: I’ve shot Agfa APX when it was still available. Now I shoot whatever is available. I don’t even mind shooting color film and then converting the images to B&W. Special qualities? As long as there is grain I’m happy!

Q: Of the four lenses you use on your M6 TTL and MP—the 24mm Elmarit, 35mm Summicron, 50mm Summicron, and 50mm Summilux ASPH—which one(s) do you use most often for street photography and what special qualities does it (they) possess that particularly suit(s) your style?

A: The 50mm has always been my preferred focal length, especially for street photography. It places me neither too close nor too far away from my subjects. It’s really how you frame and compose the photo along with timing that adds to the impact of the image. As long as it’s a 50mm, which particular lens I’m using is of no real importance to me. I’ve owned and shot the small 50mm Elmar-M, the pre ASPH 50mm Summicron, and the 50mm Summilux ASPH and I love them all.

Q: Like most serious enthusiasts it is evident that you really enjoy taking pictures and, as you say, find it “relaxing,” but can you say something more about the content and character of your images or what it is you are striving to communicate to those who view your work?

A: What I really strive for is capturing the ‘perfect’ moment. As you know well enough, the difference between capturing that particular moment and missing it is a fraction of a second. Some might believe that some of my photos are posed, but in reality, they’re not. I like people to continue doing whatever it is they’re doing; then it is up to me to press the shutter when all the elements are right in my eyes. I don’t really enjoy trying to explain my photos. Don’t get me wrong, but I’d rather have the photo speak for itself as I believe no words can explain better a photo than the photo itself.

Q: Do you plan to stick with film, or does shooting with a digital M9 or a Leica X1 hold any fascination for you? Do you think digital imaging is consonant with the kind of images you want to create?

A: I honestly cannot see myself ever “going digital.” It isn’t that I have something against digital; I simply enjoy using my Leica-M with no motor or burst mode and shooting on film. There’s no fuss, no presets, no modes, no screen to look at—nothing to confuse me. Load the film properly, shoot two blanks and I’m set to go. Basically, I believe that it is that ‘one frame’ captured at the right moment that counts. You either get it or you don’t.

Q: You mention that you use Photoshop to do certain things that would have traditionally been done in wet printing before the digital era. Can you elaborate on this?

A: In simple words, I would like my photos to remain photos and with no exaggerated enhancements. Photoshop is a vast and elaborate tool of which I only use a very small fraction, such as bringing out the tonality, contrast, dodging and burning. I hate using presets or actions where everything is done for you. In other words, I’d like to be in control.

Q: In describing your participation on the Leica Forums you noted that you “gained some respect” for your constructive criticisms of some of the posted images. What role do you think criticism plays in helping people enhance their technical or creative skills?

A: This question is the most difficult to answer of all! It is difficult because not everyone can handle constructive criticism. As a matter of fact, there was a heated debate about all this recently on the Forum. I believe that one has to tread carefully and choose his words very carefully when giving constructive criticism. He or she also has to know exactly what they’re saying or it’s best not to say anything at all.

Q: How do you see your photography changing going forward. Do you plan to explore any other genres or picture-taking techniques in the immediate future?

A: I’m not so sure that I want to change anything in my style. What I really wish for is for more time to spend in different locations, studying the light and assessing the potential for some good photos.

Thank you for the interview, Ivan Azzopardi!

-Leica Internet Team