Me and My Leica in Africa

By | March 9, 2011




I recently returned from a three-week trip to Africa, on back-to-back assignments for two different foundation/non-profit groups. I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the assignments was for a group I have worked with before, the Eastern Congo Initiative. I traveled with founder Ben Affleck and a delegation that included Cindy McCain, to areas in Goma and Bukavu in the DRC. Yesterday, Ben testified before the U.S. House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights and also did a round of media interviews about his work in the Congo. Here is a slide show of my photos that accompanied an interview with Ben and Cindy on ABC News.

In an effort to push myself creatively, I brought along a Leica M6 camera with a Elmarit 28mm 2.8 lens on the trip, with the idea of doing some personal work. I bought the Leica camera body back in 2005, but never took it out of the box because I didn’t have a lens for it. I finally convinced myself that I could afford the lens I had been wanting (which I really couldn’t, but isn’t that what credit cards are for?) found a used demo (that looks brand new!) online and purchased it before my trip.

Looking for a new book for the trip, I bought “The Lotus Eaters,” a novel by Tatjana Soli about a woman photojournalist during the Vietnam war. Helen, the main character, and her fellow photojournalists all shoot with Leica cameras. So, with my Leica packed in my camera bag, along with a gritty novel about photojournalists for inspiration, I was on my way.

I hadn’t used a Leica rangefinder since my days as a White House photographer. We were still shooting film during the Clinton Administration, so juggling film types and speeds was always a challenge. Back then, I always carried two Nikon bodies loaded with color film and one Leica M6, reserved for black & white. My award-winning photo “Primping for Peace” was taken with a Leica. I am still amazed that I got that frame in focus. I’m not very fast when focusing a rangefinder.


Anyway, a few observations after using my Leica M6 in Africa………..

  • as I said, a rangefinder is much more difficult to focus, especially after being spoiled with using auto-focus with my DSLRs.
  • the Leica is so light compared to a digital body with a lens. It was refreshing to have such a small camera – much less obtrusive in intimate situations. Plus, less strain on the shoulders!
  • because I wasn’t able to get that immediate satisfaction of seeing an image on the back of my camera, I found myself taking my time and framing, determining exposure and being just a bit more choosy about what I was photographing. Without the luxury of hitting the delete button, I was much more calculated about my imagery. Film is money, after all.
  • shooting digital, I can make mistakes, check the camera back, correct my mistakes. Not with film…….I missed a few good moments because I underexposed (should have bracketed,) was not in focus or just framed the scene poorly.
  • it is limiting to just have one body with one roll of film at a constant ASA (ISO.) As I go in and out of varying lighting situations, the flexibility of being able to change the ISO reading with a digital camera, on every frame if necessary, is so extraordinary.

In conclusion, well, I have no conclusion. I LOVED shooting with my Leica film camera. I am excited to continue to push myself to use it for both work and personal projects, while keeping my Nikon digital cameras as my main tools.

I have always felt that a Leica sees the world a little differently, records light in a special way. I also like seeing the grain of film again. All of these negatives were scanned at the time of development, so I am able to upload low-res to my blog and website. Now…..what to do with the negatives………do I need to find a darkroom? Or maybe I just need to buy a Leica M9 for the next trip……….


randy blythe on March 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm.

your pic makes us thinks how luck we are !!!

Paul Kinney on March 10, 2011 at 8:32 am.

Barb: Fantastic pictures of your African trip. So very proud of you and your accomplishments. Luv U. Dad