"Click if You Can Afford It" Writes NYT

Alex Williams interviewed yours truly for the "Click if You Can Afford It" article, which explores the increasing trend of celebrities being seen carrying a Leica. It appeared in print on September 20, 2012, on page E13 of the New York edition (and online on September 19, 2012). Sweet!

Articles posted online at the New York Times website reside behind a paywall and you might not have access - so here's a local copy of both the online and in-print versions:

SEAL flashed one on a recent stroll through Central Park with his children. Dakota Fanning huddled with hers on the set of her film “Very Good Girls.” Elisabeth Shue brought hers out at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.

The latest status symbol in Hollywood, it seems, is not the 8 p.m. reservation at the Tower Bar, but the Leica M-system range finder, a retro-chic camera that has become the accessory of choice for the celebrity class on red carpets, film sets or vacation.

Let hoi polloi snap away on their iPhones. In an era when full-size cameras are supposedly becoming obsolete, stars advertise their cognoscenti credentials by being seen with a war horse of 20th-century photography that many design fans now embrace as an art object, one that you seemingly need a movie star’s budget to afford.

“If celebrities are going to be seen with a camera, for better or for worse, Leica does lend a certain cachet,” said Michael Holve, a professional photographer on Long Island who runs a Leica enthusiasts’ blog called La Vida Leica! “It seems a Canon or Nikon is somehow bourgeois, or even pedestrian, by comparison.”

The swelling ranks of famous M-system devotees reach beyond those with a well-chronicled affection for the camera, like Brad Pitt. In recent years, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Louis C. K., Miley Cyrus and many other celebrities have popped up in paparazzi shots toting Leicas.

For stars seeking to prove that they are more than just a pretty face, the allure is obvious. Perhaps no camera says “I’m serious” like a Leica range finder. With its midcentury contours and minimalist chic, the M system has changed little in appearance since Henri Cartier-Bresson, a Leica patron saint, was photographing Gandhi. (Digital models, starting with the M8, were added in 2006.)

The rugged camera, hand-built in Solms, Germany, is still a pro’s tool. With a minimum of automatic features, it demands expertise to master.

But it is also a luxury item, as evidenced by the special-edition Hermès models sold over the years. This past week, the company introduced its latest flagship model (simply called the M) at a splashy unveiling at the Photokina show in Cologne, Germany, with a list price of $6,950 for the body alone; lenses cost $1,500 to $11,000. As if the base model is not exclusive enough, Jonathan Ive, the Apple designer, reportedly will produce an ultra-limited edition (one unit) to be sold at a charity auction by Bono, the company announced.

As an objet, then, the Leica is bling without the bling. No wonder it is the perfect accessory for in-the-know Hollywood actors, who tend to favor a low-key, sporty, Malibu-style elegance (the Land Rover, the Rolex Submariner) over flash.

“It is a restrained fashion statement: the black body, the beautiful red dot that says ‘Leica,’ ” said Edward Earle, the curator of collections at the International Center of Photography in New York. “I liken it to the wonderful Lacoste shirt. They last a long time, they are precision made and they simply don’t go out of style.”

The Leica’s totemic allure reaches beyond the film world. Audrey Tautou brandished one in a Chanel No. 5 advertising film. John Mayer snapped away on a Leica in his recent “Shadow Days” video. In June, Mr. Mayer rhapsodized about his vintage Leica M4 on his Tumblr page, One Forty Plus. The camera, he wrote, has no light meter and no automatic focus, shutter, ISO or aperture settings, meaning it’s all on him.

“I’ve learned that the guessing — maybe the intuition — of the settings is what makes a photograph special,” he wrote.

Mr. Mayer’s post inspired a spirited dialogue about Leica chic among celebrities on rangefinderforum.com, an enthusiast’s site. “If Paris Hilton is packing a DLux does that mean I’ll have to dump my trusty carry-everywhere lest I be labeled a fashionista?” wrote one commenter, in reference to another Leica model.

It is easy for cynics to sniff, but many Leica-toting celebrities take their photography seriously. Brendan Fraser, an aficionado, has had his work featured in the prestigious Leica Gallery in New York. And Mr. Pitt, who has appeared on the cover of Interview magazine holding a Leica M7, earns praise from photographers in Leica forums for his work, including a cover shoot of Angelina Jolie for W a few years ago.

While some purists scoff, others do their best not to generalize about their famous Leica brethren. Mr. Holve, the camera blogger, divided the celebrity Leica class into two camps: “shooters,” like Mr. Pitt, and “carriers,” like, well, they know who they are.

“Carrying a Leica around can be a little like driving a Bentley,” Mr. Holve said. “Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you’re a good driver.”

Correction: September 20, 2012

A previous version of this article was accompanied by a picture of Emmy Rossum holding what was incorrectly identified as a Leica rangefinder. It was, in fact, a Fuji digital camera whose design was inspired by classic rangefinders such as the Leica."


The first image was replaced after people noticed the camera wasn't a Leica and a correction posted at the bottom of the article.

Good article and glad to see that you got some ink too.

Dozens of people on various forums noticed the mistake. Only with Leica would there be such an uproar for a mistake like that.