Interview with Leica’s Andreas Kaufmann and Alfred Schopf: Cars, Camera Design, Cinema, and Monochrom (B&W)

Andreas Kaufmann (l) and Alfred Schopf (r)

Last month in Berlin, Leica Camera introduced the new M Monochrom, X2, 50 mm Apo-Summicron-M f/2 Asph lens, and M9-P Edition Hermès. We spoke with Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Leica Camera Supervisory Board, and Alfred Schopf, Leica Camera Managing Director.

Jon Fauer: Can you please tell us about Walter de’Silva, designer of the Leica M9-P Edition Hermès camera?

Andreas Kaufmann: Walter de’Silva is one of the leading automobile designers in Europe. He started at Alfa Romeo and worked on the Alfa Romeo 156, 145, 146 and 147. He was part of the design team of the RZ, a fierce-looking car done at the end of the ‘80s that today still looks like a car from another world. He was famous for what you could call the rebirth of Alfa Romeo with the 156. Later on, Volkwagen’s Mr. Piech sort of poached him from Alfa Romeo and put him into the Volkswagen group.

We got in contact with Mr. de’Silva around 2009. It had to do with a classic car event, Schloss Bensberg Classic, which we were doing for the first time. Leica was one of the key sponsors, along with Volkswagen. We met Walter de’Silva, and as he’s one of those Italian design geniuses, we said, “Have you ever done a camera?”

He replied, “No, but it would be interesting.”

In Autumn 2009, I was in Wolfsburg with Volkswagen Chairman Martin Winterkorn. He gave us his “te absolvo” – and gave us carte blanche.

Jon Fauer: Wasn’t Walter de’Silva also the designer of many Audis?

Andreas Kaufmann: He’s on top of the whole Volkswagen group’s design team, so he also oversees Audi design. His idea was to develop a unique corporate identity for the Audi. Nowadays Audi design is headed by one of his former pupils, Walter Egger, who was also with Alfa Romeo. Walter de’Silva is basically the pope. He looks over everything and says yes or no.

Jon Fauer: How did a car designer become a camera designer?

Andreas Kaufmann: He initially showed us five designs. The Leica M9-P Edition Hermès is only number two. So we still could do a little bit more with him. On the other hand, we also developed a really good working relationship with the special Audi design group.

Alfred Schopf: The Leica M9 Titanium, launched at Photokina two years ago, was also designed by Walter de’Silva.

Andreas Kaufmann: The interesting thing about the automotive industry is that they work with completely different materials than we do. We both learn a lot from each other. They come from mass manufacturing, from different materials and applications. I think that’s a great learning process for all of us.

Jon Fauer: Is there a relationship between the design and function of these cameras?

Andreas Kaufmann: We learned a lot about Walter de’Silva’s way of thinking, and the way of his designers. For instance, the strap. The strap of the camera is still awful. Sorry to say that. A company like ours shouldn’t do a strap like this. One of the first questions from Walter de’Silva was, “Why, Andreas…why are you doing the strap this way?”

I said, “Because we always did it like this.”

And that’s probably the problem. He also commented on the Hot Shoe. So on the new Hermès Leica, there is no Hot Shoe. Because he said, “Andreas, this looks ugly.”

Jon Fauer: I agree with him. I think the Hot Shot forces people to put the flash right at an unfortunate place—flat, front light.

Alfred Schopf: And you put it on the highest place, unfortunately.

Jon Fauer: Perhaps the flash could float like a hot air balloon, or hover like a dragonfly off to the side. Without the Hot Shoe, does the camera become a luxury item?

Andreas Kaufmann: No, we are not a luxury industry. Hermès refuses to say we are a luxury company. Because the French verb is“manufacturer,” meaning we craft things by hand, they say we are craftsmen. Hermès crafts something for a certain price. I think that’s the connection to Leica. Because it’s about knowing how to build cameras and lenses. They cost a lot of money to build. It’s a complicated process. Which means lenses are highly priced. But they’re not highly-priced because we use gold or silver or diamonds. That would be a luxury industry. The price is based on what we have to do to create this lens or produce this camera.

Jon Fauer: Here’s a tough question. In the audience yesterday, I think I saw more limited edition, first edition Leicas than any other place on the planet. Collectors and photographers were comparing them. These guys are absolute fanatics. But does this improve the quality of the pictures they’re taking?

Andreas Kaufmann: You know, when you want to have something beautiful, it means you care about things. That means you would probably also care deeply about photography. It doesn’t mean if you have a cheap camera you can’t take great pictures. But these Leica users love what they’re doing. And they love to individualize what they have. It also means they love to take pictures in a certain way. They love to learn from the great masters. I think it’s about passion. Curious, when you translate passion into German, the word is Leidenschaft. This is a word that has a few different meanings. Because Leiden means suffering.

Jon Fauer: Suffering for your art.

Andreas Kaufmann: Yes. And Leidenschaft has a little bit to do with suffering along with the  passion. The German word is quite apt.

Jon Fauer: Like Jacob Aue Sobol, the Danish photographer who tested your new Leica M Monochrom by traveling with it on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing.

Andreas Kaufmann:  OMG. That’s definitely passion. There was another Danish photographer attending last night. Torsten Overgaard. He walks around you with two or three Leicas and an Hermès scarf. He has a great blog.

Jon Fauer: It’s good to see that still photographers are just as obsessed as we cinematographers are about technique and technology.

Andreas Kaufmann: At the moment, Leica is only a little bit connected to the cinema world. We have something called the Summilux-C lenses. I think, in the years to come, you will see more cinematography products from us. We know that cinematographers often started shooting still pictures. That has been one of several career paths. Cinematographers know how to capture light and paint with light. Whether still or motion, many of the tools or techniques are similar. To capture light in the right way and to use the light creatively means painting with light. I think that’s what we at Leica also stand for. It’s all very interconnected. We have delivered more than 30 sets of the Summilux-C series prime lenses. And we’re ramping up production for more.

By the way, the M Monochrome you are holding at the moment will be on the way at 2:00 PM to Brad Pitt. He is a Leica user.

Jon Fauer: Connecting Leica users and the cinema. We look forward to new Leica mysteries being revealed in September at Photokina.


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