Friday, June 29, 2007

The Stories They Could Tell...

photo (c) 2004 Marc Williams

...if they could only talk. Leica cameras are about as close to indestructable as you could hope for from a chunk of glass, brass, and chrome. All but one of mine was purchased second hand, and I bought them all over thirty years ago. But this is the story of one camera's journey, my "button rewind" Leica M2.

Depending on which source you take as gospel Leitz introduced the M2 in either 1957 or 1958. The initial production had a little push-in button on the front instead of a flip lever to allow you to rewind the film. Within a year or so they came equipped with the same flip lever as the M3. The first time I saw this camera was in the spring of 1968 at Browne's Photo Center, back when it was still located at the corner of NW 22nd Avenue and 79th Street. It wasn't brand new, but it sure was clean and pretty. I'd recently bought a brand new Leica M4 and still had my III-f. No matter how I ran the figures the wife said "No" to the M2. Another regular customer, a guy about my age with curly dark brown hair (I can't recall his name), was preparing to cover the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics and wanted a Leica body for using with wide angle lenses. His Nikon F bodies were used for everything else, plus the Nikons could be motorized. My wayward M2 spent the summer, between photo shoots, drinking tequila, eating tortillas, and likely enjoying an occasional toke of weed while being fondled by the senoritas.

Sometime that autumn I noticed a familiar M2 in the "used" showcase at Browne's. Once more I hemmed and hawed too long, but I found out that a twenty-something blonde lady (again I can't recall her name) that I knew was now the proud owner. She was probably the only female photojournalist in the state of Florida back then, but nobody would really hire her on as regular staff. She managed to pick up plenty of free-lance asignments though.

Fast forward four years! 1972 was an exciting time here. People were protesting the Viet Nam war, and both the Republican and Democratic Parties had scheduled their presidential conventions for the Miami Beach Convention Center. She got asignments to shoot both conventions. Between the conventions themselves and the protest action on the streets that M2 went through a lot of Tri-X. Then tragety struck! Somebody jostled the M2 out of her hands and it fell to the pavement. Everything still worked just fine, but the main prism in the range-viewfinder delaminated. The view through the eyepiece was just black, solid black! Not even the framelines were visible.

One morning Brownie greeted me with "Have I got a deal for you!" before I could even walk over to the coffee pot. He suggested that I could sell my black dial III-f, get the M2 for the same money, and use the M2 for my Visoflex II as well as with my 19mm Canon lens, which required a seperate viewfinder anyway and didn't couple to the rangefinder. He was convincing! I knew that the camera had recently had a factory overhaul and the shutter speeds were spot on according to Brownie's shutter tester. I bought it.

Perhaps ten years later I had Leitz rebuild the body, replace the prism, and install modern M4 style flash synch sockets. Still more recently I replaced the crumbling vulcanite covering with a new "skin" from CameraLeather.

I was photographing for the North Dade Journal in 1972, essentially a neighborhood twice a week paper owned by the Miami Herald. Somehow my editor (and good buddy) Jim Kukar managed to come up with floor passes for the two of us. I remember that I had to submit a whole bunch of documentation to get the requisite Secret Service clearance, but we both had pretty much free access to anyplace we wanted to go. Since then it's photographed several presidents and presidential candidates, and a host of other important political figures. (Maybe even a naked girl or two.) The entire time I was at the conventions I only ran into that woman PJ one time, but the M2 was in her hand.

This photo of me was shot three years ago by Marc Williams at Mikal Grass's wedding as the bride finished walking down the staircase. I had black and white film in my Leicas while Marc shot color in his Hasselblad.


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