Laurent Hunziker: A Musician’s Ear and an Artist’s Eye

This is Laurent Hunziker’s winning photo from the ‘Leica for AICR’ Landscape photo contest hosted on Leica’s page on Facebook. The photo is featured on Leica’s profile picture on Facebook this week as part of the efforts to raise awareness about AICR and the ‘Leica User Forum Book‘. Each week during July there is a different themed photo contest that relates to a chapter in the ‘Leica User Forum Book’. To learn more about the ‘Leica for AICR’ photo contest, please visit http://bit.ly/AICRphotocontest.

A professional saxophonist and lifelong photo enthusiast, he creates compelling fine art images with a Leica M8

Laurent Hunziker has been shooting since he was a teenager, using a variety of film cameras from 35mm to 4×5, and later with a DSLR, but the Leica M8 transformed his technique and his vision, enabling him to take his images to the level of fine art. Self-taught and influenced by such great photographers as Robert Doisneau, William Klein, Elliot Erwitt and James Nachtway, his imagery encompasses a mélange of styles, but is invariably graphic, engaging, and highly emotional, often with a tinge of melancholy. A relative newcomer to Leica M photography he explains, “I’ve always been impressed by and loved pictures made with Leicas, but Leica cameras and lenses had always been an unattainable dream for me. I’ve owned many cameras in my life, but never the camera of my dreams, the Leica M6. I had to wait to get my first Leica, a secondhand M8 with 35mm f/2 Simmicron-M ASPH, when the prices came down a bit after the M9 was released. My dream now is to have an M9.” To give you a better understanding of what motivates this accomplished and talented photographer, here are his cogent and illuminating responses to our interviewer’s pointed questions.

Q: We love your irreverent description of your photographic genre as “Happy Random Photography” but we would place it in the fine arts category. Do you agree? Also, many of your images have a surreal quality and are imbued with a definite emotional content. Can you comment on this?

A: I always love to look at the beauty of the world around me, and in the past I’ve often been defined as a desperately romantic-dreamer. I guess I put a dose of romance in all my pictures. Photography can show a lot about what you see by freezing time and capturing the moment, but I think it also reveals a lot about what you are inside, where your attention is focused, and how you see the world. I simply try to express the emotions I feel when a beautiful scene presents itself, and if the result is perceived as art, that’s OK with me. I think emotion has to be a part of a picture, whatever it is. I’m happy when I see some other photographer’s images that make me smile, or dream, or think, and I’m happy when I imagine that one of my pictures does the same for someone else.

Q: You mention that you have a Leica M8 and a 35mm f/2 Summicron-M and dream of getting an M9. What do you particularly like about this combination for the kind of work you do, and what do you think would be some of the advantages of acquiring a full-frame Leica M9 other than giving you wider-angle coverage with your present M lens?

A: The Summicron 35mm ASPH is a very luminous lens—there is simply no other word that describes it. I like to shoot mostly at f/2 and play with shallow depth of field. It also is a very precise lens, and when it’s combined with the M8 I can really feel intimately involved in the shooting process. Compared to shooting with to zooms, with a 35mm prime lens I have to zoom with my feet to get the exact framing I want. When shooting this way you really need to enter into the scene you’re photographing and become part of it. When shooting portraits, you need to get close to your subjects and literally be connected with them. Mounted on the M8, my 35mm provides about the same viewing angle and perspective as a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, an angle of view that’s close to that of the human eye itself. This is ideal for capturing images that faithfully record what your eyes see and the scene actually looks like. I love shooting with ultra-wide-angles too (I often work with a 10mm with my other camera), but a real 35mm is my all-time favorite for all conditions. Shooting with my 35mm Summicron on a full-frame Leica M9 would be a spectacular  combination and provide even better definition due to the M9’s 18MP image sensor.

Q: Many of your pictures include widely disparate elements and make very creative use of unusual perspectives. Are all these images shot in camera, or do you combine images in post-production? Do you use Photoshop extensively or are you primarily a “straight shooter”?

A. I sometimes combine images with textures, or frames, but rarely mix images together. It does happen occasionally though. “Happy random photography” means I take pictures when I think there is something to reveal, or to remember, but this only happens by chance. I rarely plan my pictures in advance—they are spontaneous. Then, when I’m back at the computer, I do what’s necessary to make each picture what I want it to be. It’s a random process! For some pictures there’s no post-production at all and for others there can be quite a lot—it really depends on my mood and what the picture is. There are no strict rules in my approach to photography. The only rule is happiness, or the emotions I feel, and many of my pictures convey a melancholy feeling.

The computer-lab is a fantastic tool, and you can really appreciate its speed and versatility when you’ve formerly worked as I did with traditional labs and chemicals in the darkroom. I’m happy to use computerized enhancement if I think the feeling of the picture will benefit from it. For me taking a picture happens in two steps: Shooting with the camera, and finishing with the digital lab process. These two steps are often not in balance—it can be 99% shooting and 1% computer, 50% shooting and 50% computer, etc. Shooting is a start, and the better I do in camera the less I will rework it—there are no restrictions. The resulting photographs may or may not be faithful to the original subject, but they are always faithful to myself!

Q: You stated that you are essentially a self-taught photographer who learned by reading books and by taking pictures with your best friend, but you also mentioned a number of renowned photographers whose work you studied. Do you think that any particular photographer or photographers has had a direct influence on your work, and if so how has it affected your technique or the subjects you choose?

A: I guess they have ALL had an influence on my work, just as listening to a wide variety of music has influenced my musical career. Some images by great photographers can express life in the same manner as great poetry. I think Robert Doisneau was one of those transcendent masters. They present their vision of the world like poets or singers use words or phrases to create something timeless and resonant. Their pictures are very melodic. There are others that bear witness and capture images that make you stop and think. One of these is James Nachtwey, a war photographer who has the unique ability to show the most terrible scenes with an amazing sense of graphics and style. Bombs may fall around him, but this guy takes his time to get the right framing and the right place before he shoots. His pictures are simply awesome!

So I don’t think my way of doing photography is inspired by any one definitive style, but is the result of many melted together. I love black-and-white and I love color. I just don’t think about style when I take a picture. I simply let myself  go and express the way I feel at the moment.

Q: Do you think that shooting with a Leica M has transformed your photography in any way other than giving you more sheer pleasure in taking pictures? What characteristics does the Leica M possess that are particularly suitable for your kind of work?

A: I must say I’m rather beginner with rangefinder cameras. I’ve been dreaming of owning a Leica for many years and now I have one I can tell you how I’m delighted to use it!

I’ve been using DSLRs for years and I’m very happy with them. They’re a bit big, but they’re fast shooting, have zooms, autofocus, stabilizers, etc. and they’re easy to use. In some situations they’re irreplaceable thanks to autofocus and auto exposure. BUT, discovering the Leica M gave me a totally different approach of taking pictures. It’s really hard to describe. I simply take different pictures that differ from those I would have shot with my Nikon. The Leica seems to have the ability to capture some instants in life that my other camera wouldn’t. The underlying reason is that with the Leica, I take my time with every picture; to get the right framing, play with focus, select my speed, etc. This slower process puts me in a closer relationship to my pictures and maybe my pictures are now getting closer to what I want to express as well.

Q: Can you tell us something more about how you took the picture that was chosen as the winning photo for the ‘Leica for AICR’ Landscape photo contest and what equipment you used? We agree that it has “amazing picturesque power, but why do you think it does?

A: This picture was taken in northern England, between north Yorkshire and Cumbria. I always use the same equipment, my M8 with the 35mm Summicron. I believe that my photography is also linked to my other principal activity, which is music. I’m a professional saxophone player, and was a fan of Supertramp since the 80’s. I was lucky enough to meet my saxophone master, John Helliwell (Supertramp’s saxophonist), and become his friend. This picture was taken during walks we took together near the place where he’s living. The sites are beautiful and recall to me some of the dark English literature. The landscape is as rough as the climate and strong as a heroic tale. Rain falls a lot and muddy roads add to the strangeness of the place. This place is music, and I was there with my music master, so all these things together explain the deep personal feeling I have about this picture.

Q: We can certainly understand why you love the quote from Edouard Boubat that “Taking pictures is all about expressing gratitude” because it is a profound and heartfelt statement. How do you think this observation ties in with the fact that your image is helping raise awareness for a book of which sales benefit a worthy charity, the Association of International Cancer Research (AICR)?

A. Yes, that’s exactly it! I sometimes wonder about the point of taking pictures, and what it really means. I can’t pretend that my goal is giving people something to think about like many photographers do, or creating a nice little feeling with good lines and colors that people can relate to. But I’m overjoyed to be a part of expressing my gratitude for life itself through such a nice vehicle as the AICR charity book! Yes, taking a picture is for me like saying “thank you” to the scene brought to my eyes in the random experience of life! This thank you now does something positive in the real world as well, and I’m absolutely delighted to be a part of it. Thank you!

-Leica Internet Team

This post is part of the special ‘Leica for AICR’ series. To purchase the ‘Leica User Forum Book’, please click here. Proceeds benefit the UK-based Association for International Cancer Research (AICR). Please visit our page on Facebook to enter the ‘Leica for AICR’ photo contest; this week’s theme is Architecture. Based on Leica’s Twitter initiative, Leica is donating €3,000 to AICR – thank you for making this possible!