Though the astronauts made it to the Moon in 1969, my wife and I barely made it to DC! We were about 40 minutes late but the store was packed with people and an enthusiastic din of chatter. I lost my wife to the complimentary wine as I navigated through fashionable, fascinating people to review Mr. Burnett’s work in the gallery.
What’s striking about the images Burnett shares in his latest book and this accompanying exhibit, is that he chose to document the hopeful observers of late 1960’s America as oppose to the launch of the Apollo rocket itself. I’d seen some of these photos before but many were new to me and they all stood well together. His photos convey the Summer of Love anticipation of Man leaving the known world while the country watched, shirtless in horn-rimmed glasses, from air-cooled Volkswagen’s. Brilliant vintage color palettes. Telling compositions. Sometimes humorous. Sometimes dramatic. Time capsules from a different and defining age.
Then I saw a bespectacled Mr. Burnett at the center of a small group and decided that what would make me most comfortable in this moment would be to start shooting.
I loaded a roll of Kodak TMAX P3200 into my Leica M6 TTL and pegged the ISO to 6400. I considered pushing some Tri-X to 1600, but I wanted to be able to stop down and hey, I love the grain! I burned four 36 exposure rolls in the next hour, using my 1950’s Leica 50mm 1.5 Summarit for all of them. As I buzzed around the store and and gallery, people stopped me to talk about my lens and film and share their histories with each.
Shoe-gazing whilst reloading film, I observed worn and torn Converse All Stars, neatly polished Florsheims with unwavering wax laces, casual ballet flats and at least one pair of Louboutin pumps. But at the heart of this fashion show were the cameras. Instead of asking “who are you wearing,” “what are you shooting” was the mantra of the night.
Fuji X-whatever’s, Sony Alpha’s, a sea of iPhones. And yes, quite a few Leica’s. Mostly M10’s with their breathy shutter clicks.
Eric Konohia showed that there’s no shame in shooting Voigtlander at the Leica Store with his 40/1.4. See how he and his M10 fared on Instagram. Spoiler alert, the Voigt and Leica are a killer combo when used by such a talented shooter!
I was the only photographer shooting film at the opening but Walter Calahan beat me to the award for craziest retro rig. He was sporting a Panasonic body with a full compliment of tiny vintage chrome Kodak cine lenses. You can check out his awesome photos of the event on Facebook.
David Hume Kennerly, a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist was also in attendance. He famously covered Vietnam, was President Ford’s chief photographer and really just defined the genre as we know it!
While eyeing up the photo books in the Leica Store library, I spotted DC concert shooter Nalinee Darmrong’s book about her journey photographing Britpop band, the Smiths. I shot alongside Nalinee a few months ago. She was an absolute doll and referred to my Leica as “that little guy,” HA!
As I was skimming the other titles, Werner, a Leica Store manager greeted me, “Johnny Martyr?” I need to come up with more clever responses like, “in the emulsion!” Instead I think I was just dumbfounded to be recognized among the glitterati.
Werner excused himself and then introduced Mr. Burnett.
Straight out of the gate, Mr. Burnett made it known that he mostly shoots Sony (which is what he was wearing) but he’s happy to be welcomed by Leica who he admitted “also makes some pretty great cameras.”
Burnett’s demeanor and commentary were that of an unexpectedly successful every-man than a world-famous photographer. He gesticulated enthusiastically, and genuinely happily, as if it were the first time he’d ever been recognized. Yet he dropped phrases like “published by TIME” so casually that if I didn’t already know who he was, I’d be inclined to stop and ask “come again?”
As Mr. Burnett read and commented on passages from We Choose to Go to the Moon, each of my film advances sounded like a Morse Code dash among long strings of dots produced by all the digital camera clicking around me without the need to wind on.
After Mr. Burnett closed his speech, I made another circle around to chat and enjoy a white wine. My wife picked up a copy of Burnett’s book and we waited in a talkative line to get it signed. Mr. Burnett was drinking Stella from the bottle and, in his best faux French accent, he offered my wife a slice of cheddar via tongs from his reception table of light fare. It’s not everyday that a lady is presented with cheese from a legend!
The man who is known to cover the Olympics with antique Speed Graphics and Holgas told us he doesn’t shoot 35mm anymore but just shot 4 sheets of 4×5 that morning. And that when he shoots film now, it’s b&w because it “still has that certain something,” Burnett confessed. He went on to say that he appreciates that I’m still shooting 35 though. Mainly, I think he’s just a nice guy but that was very gracious of him to say anyway.
A couple paraphrased, quotes from Dave Burnett talk that will stick with me were:
“I’m just thrilled that I did something fifty years ago that people are still interested in today!”
“If you’re not pissed off at your own work, you’re doing something wrong.”
“All the cameras today are so good that you don’t have an excuse to take a bad photo.”
“Always keep your work! Never delete it. You never know how you’ll look at an image you once passed over many years from now.”
It was an honor and a pleasure to meet Dave Burnett, see some of his work close up and to talk to so many interesting and accomplished photographers at the Leica Store.
David Burnett’s Apollo XI launch photos are currently on display at the Leica Gallery in Washington DC until the end of January and Mr. Burnett will also be speaking on November 5th at the Smithsonian.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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