Leica Spotting & at the Movies

We'll have a break now for some harmless fun. Presented below is an alphabetical list of motion pictures where Leica cameras have appeared. Click on the movie's title to find out more about each film.

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

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Famous Leica users

Actors

Some film stars also appear to be serious Leica fans off the set. As I note above, Brendan Fraser is a keen amateur Leica photographer — you can see examples of his work on his www site. Likewise Brad Pitt has used Leicas in at least two films — maybe this is no coincidence as he also appeared with a black M + 75 'lux on the March 2007 cover of Interview magazine. Similarly Spike Jonze gave a press conference a few years ago with a black M6 hung over his chest. Whereas in May 2003, the photo.net Leica forum at <Photo.net: #005CiI> had a small discussion about a photo of Matt Damon in NW magazine "properly" holding a black M6.

Also in May 2003, [38] noted the following of a Bar-Mitzvah he recently attended:

I was at a Bar-Mitzvah yesterday and was stunned to see that one of the guests was also carrying her M6 with a 50mm ƒ1.4 lens and firing away. It was none other that Jamie Lee Curtis. We chatted for a few minutes and she has been an avid Leica M6 user for the past twenty years! She has her camera with her at all times (well maybe when not on the set!)

In this January 2004 AARP magazine profile, Jessica Lange is depicted using a chrome Leica while visiting refugees in the Panzi Hospital, near the Rwandan border in Africa. [48]

Upon my remarks above about Yul Brynner using a black M3 on the set of "The Magnificent Seven", [39] sent me the following note:

Yes, Yul Brynner was a very avid and excellent photographer who used Leica. After his death, his daughter Victoria published a book of his photographs, many on movie sets he was in, many of his fellow movie stars.

The book is called: "Yul Brynner: Photographer" by Yul Brynner, Victoria Brynner (ed) Harry N Abrams (1996) ISBN 0810931443.

Directors

Noted film director David LeanBridge on the river Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, A passage to India — was also a huge Leica fan when shooting stills during preparation for his movies. In the biography of him by Kevin Brownlow (ISBN 0-571-19168-1), at p.594 Mr Lean is quoted:

[…] The trouble with the Hasselblad is that it's bloody heavy and when you make an exposure and press the shutter it goes off like a cannon and every bird in the district takes flight, so you can't creep up on things.
 
Through my brother, I gradutated to Leicas and I've got a beautiful Leica now. I've taken slides on that — I alternate between slides and negative film — and I've blown them up to six feet across and they're pin sharp from side to side. I cannot recommend a better camera than the Leica. I've got thousands of photographs scattered all over the place.

Did Stanley Kubrick use a Leica when he was a PJ at Look Magazine from 1945 to 1949? Maybe — see this Kubrick self-portrait on the Stern Magazine website. Also in the book "Stanley Kubrick - A Biography" (John Baxter, 1997, Harper Collins London, ISBN 0002555883), at p.28 it notes he only used 35mm film. Later on it reproduces a group photo of the "Fear & Desire" crew and one of them has a Leica III around his neck. As this was Kubrick's first movie and made only about a year after leaving "Look", it is not too unreasonable to speculate that Kubrick was a Leica man.

Musicians

Natalie Merchant in the B&W "Carnival" music video clip (1995) can be seen walking around Manhattan doing street photography with a late-model Leica M3 + 50 'Lux.

In September 2005, "Useless Spice" tried to use a Digilux 2 — and failed. Maybe she didn't have time to read the manual…

US singer-songwriter John Clayton Mayer appears to be a keen Leica M8 + Noctilux user. See his December 2006 blog entry and sample NYC photos.

Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame is, according to his website, also a keen Leica photographer [63]. Maybe he's not quite as "Thick as a Brick" as we've been led to believe :?)

Eric Clapton appears on one of his DVD's using a Leica M8. According to a Dec 2008 e-mail from George Spencer:

Eric Clapton puts on guitar festivals to raise money for his Crossroads (drug) clinic in Antigua. He has made two DVDs called "Crossroads Guitar Festival" (filmed in Dallas) and "Crossroads Guitar Festival" 2007 (filmed in Chicago). In the "Crossroads Festival 2007", in disk one of two disks, you can see Clapton off stage watching some of the acts. On the 5th track Doyle Barmhill II is playing "Rosie". If you look closely you can see a Leica hanging around Clapton's neck. At the end of the second song that Barmhill plays, again you can see Clapton with the Leica. Then as Susan Tedeschi performance "Little By Little" you can see Clapton snap a picture and hold the camera up as if he is looking at the monitor on the back of the camera. So I'm thinking it must be an M8. Of course this isn't product placement as you would find in a regular movie but it is a Leicaphile (Eric Clapton) using a Leica.

Political Leaders

It shouldn't come as a surprise, but Leicas were popular amongst Nazi party members as well. Along with Leni Riefenstahl, [39] sent me the following remarks about Rudolf Hess:

When Rudolf Hess landed in Scotland during WW2, one of the things he carried with him was a Leica. The Duke of the estate where he landed kept and used the little Leica for five years before they decided to return it to Mrs. Hess in Germany.

Speaking of autocratic, undemocratic rulers — our very own Queen, HRM Betty Windsor, is also a keen Leica photographer. When not opening parliament or bagging grouse, she likes relax by shooting her corgi's with a Summicron. You can see a photo of her using a chrome M6 on p.144 of Sartorius "Identifying Leica Cameras" reference book [46].

Mrs Windsor has also appeared on at least one set of postage stamps with one of her Leicas. In April 2005 [54] sent me the following note:

I recall receiving a letter [in New Zealand] from the UK which had a commemorative postage stamp picturing HM the Queen holding a Leica M3 with the accessory Leicameter fitted. I imagine the year was 2002 and this stamp was one of a set issued to celebrate the Queen's 50th Jubilee Year.

On t'other side of the Atlantic, Neocons should take pride in various members of the Republican party also being card-carrying Leica users. According to [41] in March 2006:

Casper Weinburger (Sec.of Defense under President Reagan) was a M Leica user I believe. Sen. Howard H. Baker, Jr., former Minority leader in the US Senate, was also a Leica user (R). Seem to remember he published a book of his photos taken on the job, almost all Washington candids. ["Howard Baker's Washington" 1982 - AZN] As I recall he was pretty good. Both were Republicans. Guess good Democrats wouldn't be seen using such an 'elitist' tool.

Not so much a polical leader, but WW2 General George S. Patton, Jr was an avid Leica photographer, even during campaigns. In 2006 his photos were collected together and published in "Patton's Photographs: War as he saw it" by Kevin M. Hymel (ed) (2006) ISBN 1574888714.

Photojournalists

Leicas also made an impact during the otherwise Nikon-F dominated Vietnam War.

Larry Burrows, who covered the Vietnam war for Life Magazine for nine years (1962-71), was a Leica user. You can read a detailed biography and even see a Roger Mattingly photo of him with a couple of M3s, in this Feb 2003 Digital Journalist article by David Halberstam [8].

Ditto Tim Page, the 'Nam photojournalist who apparently was also the inspiration for the Dennis Hopper character in Apocalypse Now (1979).

Nick Ut, the PJ who used a Leica M2 to take the famous "girl burned by napalm" image, is also featured in a Digital Journalist article. (If you are wondering about the exact names of people involved in that particular photo, see this informative July 2003 post at <LUG - 25/msg03717.html> about Vietnamese names.) Ironically, Mr Ut took another famous photo of an anguished woman in Beverley Hills exactly 35 years later…

Meanwhile Eric Draper, White House staffer and Personal Photographer to the President, could be seen on TV using a Leica M during the US State of the Union Address in 2003. Apparently Leica Ms have to be used in the White House (and Oval Office) to keep the (shutter) noise down. See this Jan 2003 discussion at <Photo.net: #004RmHa>.

Speaking of Press and White House photographers, in April 2008 Randy Leffingwell [70] sent me the following note:

I believe most U.S. Presidential photographers since Yoichi Okamoto have used Leicas. I know first-hand that David Hume Kennerly documented Jerry Ford's presidency with Leica Ms because I introduced him to Ms during a Nelson Rockefeller campaign stop in Chicago in the late 1970s. DHK shot for Time and never had tried Leicas. He "played" with mine and quickly saw the benefits of their size and near-silence. Over ensuing years, I saw Kennerly frequently; he sometimes had two or three M cameras and lenses.
 
The current crew photographing Bush alternated between Leicas and Contax rangefinders - Contax winning out early on because of its focusing and exposure aids. (In less noise-sensitive situations, they all use Canons, however.)
 
My first newspaper job sas as KC Star staff shooter. I met David Douglas Duncan […] he shot the Viet Nam War (and perhaps even latter days of Korea) using 2 MPs with (I believe) Nikkor RF 25 and 50mm lenses. He told me part of the reason was their quiet shutters - when it was necesary to be silent, the Nikon Fs were far too loud. The other reason was that Nikon F only had a 28mm f3.5 that was difficult to focus and not sharp.
 
I met Larry Burrows and Don McCullen. Burrows used a similar kit, and for a while McCullen did as well.

In 2005, the Photo-Agency "Group M35" proudly claimed they were the world's only agency whose photographers exclusively use Leicas. From their website:

We also share a common belief in the one tool of the photographic trade that has, since the inception of 35mm photography, been without equal: the Leica Camera.
 
Our members are all Leica photographers, which is the most obvious explanation for the superior quality of our printed work (over that of any other 35mm camera).

Make of this what you will…

Professional Hunters

Here are couple of famous big-game hunters who were also leica users [10]:

(1) Famous American writer Robert Ruark mentiones in one of his books from his big-game hunting in Kenya, that his no-less famous proffesional hunter Harry Selby, who acccompagnies him during a month-long safari, carries a Leica. In fact Ruark mentiones it when it is stolen from Selby by some natives.
 
(2) Famous female pilot of the thirties and well-known "femme fatale" Beryl Markham (once a mistress of the prince of Wales and later king in England) was also the owner of a Leica wich she used to take pictures of the game in Kenya.

In May 2007 I received the following correction about Selby's Leica from [65]:

I actually still have the first book where Ruark describes his first African safari: "Horn of the Hunter" (1957). Harry Selby was indeed the white hunter, but the stolen gear belonged to Ruark himself.
 
Ruark says that his Leica, Ikoflex and Rollei were stolen on his first African safari. "What makes me furious is my Leica. It had thirty five very fine exposures of game in it…" There are photos of animals and safari scenes in his books credited to several white hunter folks.

Other appearances…

National Geographic

Lots of Leicas can be found poking around in the National Georgraphic www site. Just type "Leica" in the "Search Our Site" box at the top of the NGS page — this will return a (long) list of all the pages with Leica pictures [1].

Flickr

By using their "Camera Finder" feature, you can obtain a statistical display of different Leica camera models used by Flickr community members. Grain-of-salt however as the data is derived from EXIF tags embedded in the photo uploads, which are often missing in "optimized for web" JPEGs.

Cinematography

According to Charles Klopman, from 1954 onwards all of Paramount's "Vistavision" movies were filmed using Leitz lenses. For those who don't know what VV is, it's basically 35mm still photography applied to motion pictures, whereby each frame of the movie is actually a standard 24mm x 36mm frame — double the size of a normal "35mm" movie frame.

Furthermore, Nico Beyer, German director who makes TV commercials and video clips, still uses Lecia R lenses mounted either onto vistavision cameras, or else directly onto a R9 for stop-motion "techno speeded-up" MTV effects (LFI magazine, 6/2003 at pp.47-50) — <chasedbycowboys.com>

For more information on Vistavision, see the Widescreen Museum site.

NASA

Leicas have also made their mark at NASA [17]. See the following link for a story about a beaten-to-death M3 used to photograph astronauts, politicians, flight-controllers and other behind the scenes topics from the Mercury missions up until the latest shuttle launches:

<www.chron.com/…/space/archives/96/113.nasa-pat.2-0.html>

Books

A Leica unexpectedly appears up in a history of the 1930s Depression in Frederick Lewis Allen "Since Yesterday - The 1930s in America" (1939), at Chapter 10 § 5:

[…] During the early years of the Depression one began to notice, here and there, young men with what appeared to be leather-cased opera glassess slung about their necks. They were the poineers of the camera craze who had discovered that the Leicas and other tiny German cameras, which took postage-stamp-size pictures capable of enlargement, combined a speed, a depth of focus, and an ability to do their work in dim light which opened all sorts of new opportunites to the photographer. […]

Leicas were at an early Watergate trial, back in the days when the working press weren't all Canon Zombies — see G.Gordon Liddy "Will" (1981) at Chapter 24:

Nikons clanked and Leicas whispered in the hands of backwards-scuttling photographers while swarms of reporters, like so many Middle Eastern street vendors hustling microphones, milled around us as I made my way with Peter Maroulis [Liddy's attorney - AZN] into the United States Courthouse at the foot of Capitol Hill for my arraignment on 19 September [1972].

A Leica pops up in the cartoon book, "Tintin - The Castafiore Emerald". You will find lots of drawings of a photographer with a M3 [5]. Believe it or not, Leica have even released a special edition "Tintin" minulux to commemorate this [8].

[5] notes that there is a reference to a Leica camera in the book "Uncle Tungsten, memories of a chemical boyhood" written by Oliver Sacks.

In the chapter "Images" Oliver Sacks writes about his cousin Walter: "Walter had a beautiful little Leica, with ƒ3.5 lens — the first 35-millimeter miniature camera I had seen. The Leica was his favorite camera when he went hiking."

Not obscure enough?… [15] reports that an early 1930s Leslie Charteris "The Saint" novel also features "a Leica negative" as a piece of crucial evidence, depicting the villain with Hitler. In the later "Senor Saint" series (1953-55), in "The Golden Frog" the Saint is described thus…

The slacks were tailored of the lightest Italian shantung, the shirt was a still finer silk, even the sandals were of beautiful leather and finished like expensive shoes. The camera was the newest and most costly model Leica.

Finally, Dutch author W.F. Hermans, in his novel "de donkere kamer van Damocles", also features use of a Leica camera for WW2 espionage work [5].

Credits

Many thanks to the following contributors to this topic:

[1]    Ken Geter
[2]    Tristan Tom
[3]    Frank Sheeran
[4]    Andy Piper
[5]    Bert Keuken

[6]    Brooks
[7]    Jeff Voorhees
[8]    Mani Sitaraman
[9]    Douglas Kinnear
[10]    Troels Hojer

[11]    chaz
[12]    Phil Marcus
[13]    Mark Langer
[14]    Sonny Carter
[15]    David Killick

[16]    Dave Doyle
[17]    Kyle Cassidy
[18]    Claesson Pipping Henrik
[19]    Henry So
[20]    Howard Cummer

[21]    Paxton's Photographics Sydney, Salesman "H"
[22]    Chad Hahn
[23]    Andrew Bachchaconne
[24]    Joe Buechler
[25]    Todd Phillips

[26]    Pat Dunsworth
[27]    Sal Ortega
[28]    Christopher Williams
[29]    Alfie Wang
[30]    Alan Walsh

[31]    Luke Dunlap
[32]    Alex Lofquist
[33]    Tom Abrahamsson
[34]    John Osterholm
[35]    Kevin Sarsfield

[36]    John Wilton
[37]    Gary Trendler
[38]    Dr Albert Knapp
[39]    Phong
[40]    Alejo Fernandezsasso

[41]    Jerry Pfile
[42]    James Mitchell
[43]    David Eppstien
[44]    Jake Tauber
[45]    Mark Wahlster

[46]    Robert Byrd
[47]    Robert MacDonald
[48]    Craig Roberts
[49]    Neal Frieden
[50]    Christopher Chen

[51]    "David"
[52]    Aizan Sasayama
[53]    Joel Halbert
[54]    John Martins
[55]    Christiaan Phleger

[56]    Joseph Esmilla
[57]    Fazal Majid
[58]    Val Pantoja
[59]    Hans Berkhout
[60]    Elaine Ashton

[61]    Roger Michel
[62]    John Francis — Montreal
[63]    Jacques Prudent — Montreal
[64]    Rei Shinozuka
[65]    Geoff Hopkinson

[66]    Tim Delbeck — Germany
[67]    David Gray
[68]    Sjef Janssen — Norway
[69]    Brian Belliveau — USA
[70]    Randy Leffingwell

[71]    Steve Barrett — USA
[72]    Christopher Marciano — USA
[73]    Joe Lee — Hong Kong
[74]    Alan Magayne-Roshak — USA
[75]    Howard Cornelsen — USA