Thomas Brichta: 20 Years at Leica Camera, Part One

This year, Tom, as he’s known to friends and colleagues, celebrates his 20th anniversary of working at Leica Camera. Tom has built a reputation as a gentleman, a grand photographer and a bit of a prankster. As the Leica Camera representative for Northern California, Tom was also recently appointed as an instructor for the North American Leica Akademie and this upcoming April he’ll be leading a Leica Destination workshop in Monterey and Big Sur.

Thomas Brichta was born on December 25 in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in the area. He went on to attend Cleveland State University where he majored in marketing. After college, Tom worked in the retail furniture business moving to California in 1977 where he worked as an independent furniture representative for about a year. Around this time Tom began to get serious about photography and soon he was able to quit his day job and start a photography business. From there he worked for Argraph Photo Distributors as a rep then moved to Southern California to be National Sales Manager for Tokina Optical. In 1992, Tom moved back to the San Francisco area to work for Leica Camera as part of the sales team. In this first part of our interview, we talk with Tom about his history with Leica, his photography and his infamous birthday pranks.

Q: Your position at Leica is Sales Manager, can you tell us a bit about what that entails?

A: The position of Territory Sales Manager at Leica is a bit different than most camera companies. We are left to manage our own territories pretty much on our own. Like myself, most of the sales representatives for Leica have been with the company for many years. I have been with them for 20 years. Leica management feels we know the needs of our dealers better than anyone else; however, management is there to help when we need them. My everyday duties include making sure the dealers’ employees are trained on our products, trying to keep stock on order for our dealers and helping dealers and consumers if there are any problems. I have been recently appointed to the Leica Akademie. My duties there include teaching seminars and workshops, along with planning the locations for workshops. I will be hosting a Leica Destination workshop in April with Leica Akademie along the California coast from Monterey to Big Sur.

Q: Can you also tell us a bit about your history working at Leica?

A: I started working for Leica in 1992 as an Independent Representative and within six months I was asked to join the company full-time. Since then it has been a dream come true for me. I get to work with what I feel is one of the best companies in the world, making some of the best products out there. I really enjoy working with my dealers and the consumers we sell to. I did not think I would have as much contact with the consumer as I do, but I feel that with the money they pay for our product, I should be there to help them. I really do enjoy working with them; I’ve made many friends over the years. I have also conducted my own seminars and workshops to give people the opportunity to learn how our products work and just to have fun with other photographers.

Q: We hear that there’s a prank you like to play at sales/staff meetings? Can you tell us about that?

A: Ahhh, you heard. Yes, I am the class clown. After a long day at a meeting or training seminar, I feel it’s good to lighten up a bit. At the evening dinner, I’ll tell the wait staff that it’s someone’s birthday and ask if there is something we can do for them. It’s always fun just to see the look on that unsuspecting person’s face when their surprise shows up and the laughter from the others. It makes a nice ending to the day. I think one of our colleagues is about 142 years old by now. I tried it on a plane one time when myself and another rep. were flying back for meeting. The flight attendant actually brought us a bottle of champagne to enjoy cross-country!

Q: You take amazing landscape photos, but you also dabble in street photography. Are there any other genres you currently or previously have worked in? Is there a specific genre or type of photography you consider to be your specialty?

A: Thank you! I love landscape photography. I always have enjoyed photographing people. I started my career as a wedding and portrait photographer. I enjoy taking candid photos of people, which lends itself to street photography. I like to capture the relationship between people and the environment they are in. As you can see from some of my photos, I also like the viewer to feel the emotion of my photography. I just love connecting with the environment with my landscape photography. Because of that, I appreciate the world we live in so much more.

Q: Conveying an expansive feeling of spaciousness in a vertical landscape is often challenging, yet you succeeded very well in doing so in your serene picture of what looks like farmland in rolling hills somewhere in Europe. Where was the picture taken, and why did you compose it in this way?

A: This was taken in Greve, Italy, which is the in Chianti part of Tuscany. The reason I shot this image vertically is because I wanted to show the rolling hills throughout this region. I just could not relate it on a two-dimensional plane horizontally. Using the “Elements of Design,” (a line in this case), your eye travels from the trees at the bottom through the rolling hills on top.

Q: Many of the photos you’ve shared are taken with the Leica S2. What other Leica cameras do you regularly shoot with? Do you have a favorite?

A: There is a use for all our cameras. The S2 is my favorite. I like having the larger format for my landscape images when I enlarge them. Having all that information in the file is great for huge wall images. I use the M9 for my street photography because it is so discrete and quick to operate. When I don’t want to carry a large or heavy camera, I like to take the X1 or D-Lux 5 for my street photography or the V-Lux cameras for landscape and just point-and-shoot.

Q: When did you first discover your interest in photography?

A: I purchased my first SLR in the early ‘70s. I really got serious in the late ‘70s when I moved to California. I met one of my mentors at an art and wine festival. He is a great landscape photographer. After him, I met two wedding photographers that got me interested in wedding and portrait photography. My last mentor was the Director of Education at Leica when I first started and he was a master of light. These four people were my education in photography. The landscape photographer gave me a black 5 X 7 matt board with a 3.5 X 5 cut out and said, “Look through this.” That changed the way I looked at the world. Randy said, “Photography is capturing light.” The wedding photographers would say, “Capture the emotion.” Seeing the work of these four people made me realize that I could express my vision of our world through photography. My artist statement reads, “Capturing the Beauty of our World One Moment at a Time.”

Thanks Tom!

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Tom’s work on Flickr and on his website, thomasbrichta.com. If you’d like to learn more about the Leica Destination workshop that Tom is leading, visit leicaakademie.com.