Tom A. Smith: Behind The Scenes With Leica Akademie

Tom A. Smith, the Manager for the Leica Akademie in North America, recently guided participants on a PhotoWalk in New York City featuring the Leica M-System and the Leica X2. He was kind enough to give us a few moments of his time to tell us more about what Leica Akademie has in store for 2013.

Q: What is the Leica Akademie and how did it originate?

A: The original Leica Akademie started in Germany in 1932. It continues today and has now grown into the Leica Akademie International. This international network of workshop experiences, all have the same mission of bringing the Leica experience to a whole new generation of photographers. In addition to the ongoing workshops in Germany and North America there are now outposts in Moscow, London, and Singapore.

Q: What topics do you cover during the workshops? Which programs seem to be the most popular?

A: We have a diverse line-up of programs from one-day photo walks, like what we did in New York, to M9 Owner days, Monochrom, Leica Weekends and longer Destination programs, which combine great locations, fine food, and photography. The one-day programs tend to focus on products offering a chance for those new to Leica to experience a rangefinder for the first time or new owners to thoroughly understand their cameras. The multiple day programs give you an opportunity to get feedback on your photography and develop your point of view as a photographer.

There has been a great deal of interest in the new Monochrom, so we have recently added additional Monochrom workshops stops in Atlanta, GA, Dallas TX, San Francisco CA, and Vancouver, Canada.

Q: What does it seem like the students like the most, based on their feedback, about the Akademie events?

A: In the two years that the programs have been running in North America, the response has been very strong. Our strongest markets have been selling out as soon as workshops are announced. The workshops provide a mix of technical information with creative inspiration, but its always the hands-on learning experience that students enjoy the most, this and having access to the latest gear in the field versus just reading about it or seeing the equipment behind a counter.

Q: What kinds of photographers are attracted to these workshops?

A: Our programs appeal to first time Leica shooters to professionals. One day workshops tend to attract those new to Leica, while Leica Weekends, Destinations and Monochrom programs appeal to intermediate and experienced photographers. For many a workshop is a chance to get away from everyday life and for a short, uninterrupted, period and push themselves creatively. As our programs are expanding, we are starting to offer more specialized programs for both the M and S systems.

Q: What Instructors and Guest Photographers have you had or plan to have in 2013?

A: At each one of our workshops we have made it a goal to feature local photographers as well as world-renowned photographers. These have included, Peter Turnley, Kim Komenich, Maggie Steber, Eli Reed and Craig Semeko, to name just a few.

We are in the process of finalizing our 2013 schedule now, but some programs I can tell you about now include, Leica Destinations programs to Big Sur, California lead by Leica Akademie instructor Tom Brichta and Street Photography workshops with Justin Stailey in New York and Washington DC.  We will expand Quinton Gordon’s popular, The Truth about Photographs workshops, which are designed for photographers who want to focus on visual story telling. We have recently added additional Monochrom workshops stops in Atlanta, GA, Dallas TX, San Francisco CA, and Vancouver, Canada.

Early in 2013, the Akademie will be involved with Leica store openings in Soho, NY and Miami, FL.

Q: It’s clear, when you teach that you enjoy your job. What makes you excited about facilitating them?

A: It is gratifying when someone who has never shot a Leica rangefinder starts to get why people are passionate about using these cameras. Leica cameras and lenses are truly lifetime products and it’s exciting to play some role in seeing someone understand hyper-focal distance for the first time or when someone who has owned every camera since 1954 says “I didn’t expect to learn anything new, but I did!”

There is an interesting thing that happens at every one of our workshops. In the beginning, we start talking about the technical aspects of the camera, but by the end we’re talking about making images, capturing moments, starting projects and developing your point of view as a photographer.

Whether you are a professional, serious enthusiast or brand new to making pictures, I think it’s at the point that you go beyond just learning the technical that the camera starts to disappear. This is when photography gets interesting.

Thank you for your time, Tom!

Learn more about Leica Akadamie International. A direct link programs in North America can be found here.