Home Events Stardust in Boston: A visit to the International Leica Society’s annual meet

Stardust in Boston: A visit to the International Leica Society’s annual meet

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Last month I attended the AGM of the LHSA — the International Leica Society — in Boston, Mass. I’d enjoyed last year’s outing at Wetzlar and made many new friends in the world-wide Leica scene, so I didn’t need much persuasion to make my plans to fly to the USA this time around.

At the annual dinner during the event, Dr Andreas Kaufmann, the Chairman of Leica Camera AG, showed the following slide, which featured, among others, Louis Armstrong looking into a Leica.

I am a member of the Louis Armstrong House Museum which holds Louis’s Archives, but I had never seen this before. I don’t believe that Louis ever had a Leica. The later jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis, had an M3 and famously always kept it on the settings suggested by the store clerk who sold it to him.

It is interesting that Louis’s picture is shown juxtaposed with that of actress Charlotte Rampling, who appeared, lolling around the floor, in Woody Allen’s film Stardust Memories, while Woody celebrated the perfect Sunday morning by listening to Louis’s version of ‘Stardust’, which was one of the favourite versions of the song’s author, Hoagy Carmichael.

M into the future

Enough about jazz. In his speech. Dr Kaufmann emphasised that the Leica M had an assured place in Leica’s future. He also congratulated the LHSA on the success of the joint venture with Leica whereby the introduction of special membership offers in Leica system camera boxes had resulted in a trebling of the membership of LHSA from about 800 to over 2,500. Here is a video interview, which Dr Kaufmann made with LHSA while he was in Boston

On the first day of the event, we paid a visit to the Leica Store and Gallery in Boston. Some of us decided to walk across Boston Common to get to the event. There I took this photo of my good friend and LHSA colleague, Wilbur Norman.

Wilbur and I, along with fellow LHSA member, James Handsfield, visited the graveyard near the Common where we saw this appropriately dressed young man showing the grave of John Hancock, the first (and largest) signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Boston Leica Store

When we got to the store we met the much-respected Leica expert and author, Jim Lager, looking bemused at all the goodies on display and probably thinking, “it was not like this at Ken Hansen’s”.

With my new role as a director at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin, I was particularly interested in the Leica Gallery, which had an exhibition, called ‘Slant Rhymes’, by Magnum Photographer Alex Webb and his wife Rebecca Norris Webb.

According to a distinguished professor on our board in Dublin, ‘slant rhymes’ (also called feminine rhymes) are words and ideas almost, but not quite, the same. In the exhibition, the photos by Webb and his wife are shown side by side in pairs and featured common themes or colours or locations.

What amused me was when the manager of the Store and the curator of the exhibition gave us a little talk they were doing it side by side in the form of slant rhymes, almost but not quite the same.

The experts

The second day of the event started with talks by three photographers. First up was Pulitzer Prize winner (for his 9/11 photos for the New York Times) Ed Keating. I had met Ed in the hotel restaurant the previous night and we got on well, particularly when it emerged that his ancestors had come from Cork and he was wearing a Donegal wool pullover.

Ed started his presentation by saying that he brought no photographs and I could feel the sentiment in the room falling, but he then went to give us a most wonderful talk for an hour, straight from the heart, about his career and what photography meant to him, which earned him what was a ‘standing ovation’ by LHSA standards.

He started by describing a chance meeting with Richard Avedon and then went on to describe how he had got to work with Robert Frank. His speech was not mere name-dropping, though, as he went deep into what it meant to him to be a photographer.

Ed Keating

Next up was Sean Patrick Reid, with no Irish connections despite the name1, who featured recently on this site, see his website. There is a paywall, but it’s worth every cent in my opinion. After Sean’s talk I discussed his sojourn in my country in the 1980s, as an artist in residence with the Arts Council, and he had even remembered some words of Irish relating to photography from that time

Finally, we had Constantine ‘Costa’ Manos, who is one of the most under-rated of the great Magnum photographers.

I had been familiar with Costa’s work for some time and had met him in Chicago in 2017. Like a fine wine, his work improves with age and, what is more, he is a complete gentleman, only too willing to discuss photography even with the most amateur of amateurs, like myself.

In the afternoon we went on a boat trip around Boston Harbour. Here is LHSA Executive Director Richard Rejino enjoying a well-deserved break at the start of the trip.

The members on the boat trip included Rosalynn Tay (below), a very talented photographer from Singapore who is a great supporter of the Leica brand. She will be featured in the next issue of the LHSA’s Viewfinder magazine and will even capture the front cover. She is a new member and cancelled her previous plans to come to Boston to be with the group.

There were some local members on the trip, including Sean Sweeney from Boston who enjoyed looking at his native city from the water.

I presume that I don’t have to say where his folks came from originally and we had a good chat while on the boat.

The craft in the harbour were many and varied and for a moment, with this one in the foreground, I thought that I was on the Mississippi.

The formal dinner that night, with the aforementioned Dr Kaufmann as the main speaker, was a good social opportunity to meet old friends such as Dan Tamarkin, the Leica dealer and auctioneer from Chicago.

Seeing Boston

With the meeting over, I stayed in Boston for a couple of days to see some of the sights, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, where I was moved by the truly magnificent photographs from the Howard Greenberg Collection. The main exhibition while I was there included treasures from ancient Nubia, but the building which houses the museum was also a treasure in itself.

After the museum, I went to see the Trinity Church in Copley Square and on my way in I noted a celebration of the life of Imam Husayn, one of the founders of Shia Islam.

On the way out of the Trinity Church I spotted another event in the square, a protest against the Government of Lebanon. Clearly, the right to free speech holds sway in Boston.

On my last morning in Boston I went for a walk around the neighbouring Beacon Hill to see the lovely houses and Autumn (Fall for the locals) leaves and seasonal decorations.

My journey ended at the Massachusetts State House, beside the home of the previously mentioned John Hancock, who was the first and third governor of the state.

Dublin beckons

As ever, the LHSA annual meeting was a very enjoyable event and I was also able to see Boston, a city with close ties to my country, in more detail than on previous short visits. Next year, the event will be in Seattle and in 2021 the plan is to have it in my home city of Dublin. Macfilos readers will be very welcome to come to see and enjoy Dublin. We are already working on a program for the event.


More articles on Macfilos by William Fagan

  1. [Editor’s Note]: William, you are failing. This is the very first time you have been unable to find an Irish connection to any camera, place, person or object on earth. I am disappointed.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful write-up William. I enjoyed seeing you in Boston and look forward to going to Dublin in two years. The mysterious lady from Singapore is Rosalynn Tay, a very talented photographer. I will be featuring her work in the next issue of Viewfinder.

    • Thanks Bill. I enjoyed meeting you again and exchanging all the gossip about our favourite cameras. I look forward to Rosalynn’s article.

      William

  2. As usual, William, you have a wonderful way with words. Your writing is always first class and I never fail to learn something new (i.e. the Louis Armstrong notes). Many Thanks for the photo of me, tho it lowers the otherwise high standards of your work (Mike Evans ought to have noticed that!) See you in Dublin, my friend!

    • Thanks Wilbur. I look forward to bringing you around Dublin and, particularly, to the some pubs that you might have visited during your time at Trinity College. I will send you a link to that scene from Stardust Memories. Woody is Woody, Charlotte Rampling looks well, but Louis’s playing and singing, from the early 1930s when he was at his peak, are sublime.

      William

    • Thanks Jean. That is the thing with Leica M lenses, once you get them focussed on the right spot, you can shoot wide open and the lens takes care of the rest. No other optics give such quality in such a small package. Expensive alright, but they will last a lifetime.

      William

  3. Thanks John. And the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Patriots in Foxboro. The Patriots are probably the best known outside of the US, particularly here as they have been led for many years by a man called Brady. This was a somewhat longer visit for me than previous ones to Boston and I found everybody I met to be really friendly and helpful. That area around Beacon Hill is lovely. I visited the Museum of African American History in Beacon Hill where I saw an exhibition featuring two of my greater passions, photography and jazz. I spoke to the women in charge and she told me that she was a part time jazz singer and that her great heroine was Billie Holiday. I was able to remind her that Billie and I shared a surname, as her real name was Eleanora Fagan.

    William

  4. I’ve just noticed Mike’s Editor’s Note above. I presume that it is ‘tongue in cheek’ as I seem to have slipped at least Ed Keating, Sean Reid and Sean Sweeney past the editorial Praetorian Guard!

    William

    • I got to the end, and then laughed at Mikes footnote – very amusing after a long day at work, and while I play catch up with the real world this evening..

      Also William thank you for the wonderful journey to Boston. Did I miss what camera you used during your time out there – I’ve read through the article twice and I cannot see a reference – I assumed a Leica naturally, but not which one.

      And I see a reference to the great Ken Hansen in mid article, the last I had read about Ken was on Steve Huffs site earlier in the year, that he was very ill, and then nothing more.

      • Thanks Dave. The Irish reference thing is a longstanding joke between Mike and myself.

        I used a Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron and 75mm Summarit lenses. I also brought a 24mm Elmar with me, but did not use it. You already know my view that it is the photographer that counts rather than the camera, but the Leica M lenses are failsafe once you can crack focussing with a rangefinder.

        Ed Keating started his speech with a reference to a chance meeting with the great Richard Avedon at which Avedon told the young Keating that ‘Leicas are great cameras, but a ****er to focus’ or something similar.

        Keating also mentioned how kind Ken Hansen had been to him during the years when he was a young photographer attempting to acquire a Leica. Jim Lager, who worked with Ken Hansen for many years, also mentioned Ken with great affection in his talk.

        Ken Hansen sadly passed away last April.

        William

        • Thank you William,

          Sorry to hear of Ken’s passing, oddly Steve Huff didnt update his last article to reflect the changing news.

          I have to admit my musings with the M10, left me hankering for more, but while I love the lenses, and the image quality. I didnt feel comfortable parting with walking around with a piece of wonderful camera architecture that cost half a queens ransom.

          As for Keatings comments, It’s probably closer to what I would say, as I felt it was a focus system that I would grow in to, but it would take time.

          • Thanks Dave

            According to Jim Lager, I was correct in my conclusions about his bemusement. He says that while he was with Ken Hansen for many years the emphasis was on allowing the customers to use new equipment with their existing equipment and staff had to build up expertise on this aspect. He does say also that he is glad that Leica and others provide a range of adapters for their current models today which allow something similar.

            Ed Keating said that Ken Hansen allowed him to acquire a Leica for a down payment with a promise that he would pay Ken the balance when he earned enough money from using the camera. Despite Richard Avedon’s statement, Ed still uses film Ms for his professional work today. M6s with Tri-X, if I remember correctly.

            William

            PS I do know of a case where an English photographer, who was also a painter, obtained a grant from the Irish Arts Council in 1952 so that he could acquire a Leica in order to photograph Dublin. I doubt if that would happen today.

      • Great article and photos. You are making want to get out to one of these Leica events. Your comment on Sean Reid is spot on – very educational. Do not tell Sean I would gladly pay double or more for access to his wisdom. Sean and Jono Slack are responsible for a number of my camera system adjustments and my wife is now supportive of my somewhat expensive hobby because of the clear Leica difference in my images. I am almost afraid to attend one of these events because it might encourage temptation but it would probably be a fantastic experience!

    • But you said Sean Reid was wholly unconnected except by name. Did I tell you I’m a quarter Irish, hailing from my Shannon grandparents, a quarter Scottish from the paternal side and a quarter Welsh, also from the paternal side. There must be some English mixed up there as well.

      • I did say that Sean and I had exchanged some words in Irish. These related to work he had done with schoolchildren in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) part of County Galway in the 1980s. As for your heritage Mike, I know that there is at least some Wigan in you, so if that makes you English, so be it.

        William

  5. Great article and photos. You are making want to get out to one of these Leica events. Your comment on Sean Reid is spot on – very educational. Do not tell Sean I would gladly pay double or more for access to his wisdom. Sean and Jono Slack are responsible for a number of my camera system adjustments and my wife is now supportive of my somewhat expensive hobby because of the clear Leica difference in my images. I am almost afraid to attend one of these events because it might encourage temptation but it would probably be a fantastic experience!

    • Thanks Brian. Pencil in Dublin for October 2021. You will be most welcome. I have just been told by the Vice President of LHSA that his mother has joined LHSA so that she can come to Dublin in 2021!

      William

  6. I was prepared to find an account of an International Leica meet in Boston somewhat turgid! (I am a Fuji man after all). I should have known better, William, since your article was beautifully written, memorable and full of insight. It was a delight to read.
    I could no more resist your lovely images of the characters you describe so well in words, a great series of portrait images. There must be something special about Leica lenses after all! However, being a Fuji man, I would rather associate the quality of the images with the skills of the photographer than with the gear he used. No mean feat to get these quality images while participating in a busy meet like this.
    Well done, William, however you did it!

    • Thanks David. Being an amateur writer with no editorial deadlines, I usually wait a while after a trip to let all of the impressions, images, and colours etc sink in, before I put my fingers on a keyboard (it used to be ‘pen to paper’). I also save my photos in time sequence, so that I can dip back into them to choose the ones that fit what I want to say. Sometimes, I know when I take a photo that I am going to use it in an article. Other times I only see something in a photo when I get back home, such as the synchronicity between the gallery curator and her manager.

      William

      • Interesting thoughts, your reflective and considered approach shines through in your writing.
        I am reminded of the opposite practice of Anthony Trollope who, when in full time employment as Postmaster General (or Victorian equivalent) used to knock off 5-8,000 words a day before going off to work. Perhaps only he could achieve both quantity and quality.!

  7. Thanks Dunk. I like musicians from most of the history of jazz and blues, but I have a special place in my heart for Louis. Not only did his innovations with improvisation, swing (syncopation) and the blues in the 1920s and 30s change the face of all Western popular music for ever, I regard his as a friend rather than a hero, even though I never met the man or even saw him perform. I was just 22 when he passed away in 1971. Some people did not like his stage and screen persona, but that was a ‘self protection mode’ born way back when things were very rough for his people. When the time came to be counted he stood up, such as on Little Rock, when some ‘cooler dudes’ stayed sitting down.

    Ralph Ellison mentioned and, indeed, featured Louis’s version of the song ‘Black and Blue’ in his book ‘Invisible Man’. Louis performed a memorable version of that song in East Berlin in 1965 during the height of the Civil Rights campaign. Louis knew exactly what he was doing that night. He was loved all over the world and at one time, long before ‘stadium rock’, he attracted an outdoor crowd of over 100,000 in North Africa. On another occasion, both sides in the Congo Civil War stopped fighting for a day so that they could watch him perform in a football stadium. The US State Department rightly regarded him as the best Ambassador for America that they ever had. I’ll leave it at that as I have way too many stories to tell about Louis.

    William

  8. Mike, speaking of Mongrels, I am half German, a quarter Irish and a quarter Danish. My affinity for Leica with its quality and precision comes from the German side of me. When I would do something my dad would really like, especially with Leica, he would say, “William you’re more German than I am!” From my Irish roots, my writing and story telling. Not sure what influence from my Danish ancestors other than a fear of Trolls under bridges!

    • The Irish are storytellers, but the real trick is to spot when we are yanking your chain. I will give free lessons to LHSA members on arrival in Dublin.

      David Bailey mentioned the English writer Anthony Trollope. Now that our esteemed editor has admitted defeat, I now feel free to mention Trollope’s early works, ‘The McDermots of Ballycloran’ and the ‘Kellys and the O’Kellys’ both written while he was here. It has been said of Trollope that “Even as an Englishman in Ireland, Trollope was still able to attain what he saw as essential to being an “Irish writer”: possessed, obsessed, and “mauled” by Ireland.”

      William

  9. Wonderful article William and super pictures, also brought back a few memories again for me of photographing the great ‘Satchmo’ arriving at Southampton on either The Queen Mary or Elizabeth and several times at The Savoy.
    He was a lovely guy with no side on him whatsoever, which is more than can be said for some of the so called ‘Stars’ I used to have to photograph, and so incidentally was Charlotte Rampling who you also mentioned and who I once fell in lust with many years ago!
    I am going to take the liberty of sending yourself a shot I took of Charlotte on The Kings Road in London back in the swinging sixties, purely for your photographic perusal of course.

  10. Thanks Don. That is a lovely photo of a very young Charlotte which you sent to me. I have never seen her so young in a photo before. I have sent you the video of Woody, Charlotte and Louis together (in sound only in Louis’s case) in Stardust Memories. I have also sent you a photo of Louis in Southampton in 1932 before you were born. He played there in 1932 and 1933.

    Thanks also for the Muhammad Ali photo from Croke Park. I have sent you a video of an interview which he did with Cathal O’Shannon for RTE on the night before the fight.

    In your long career you must have photographed many of the ‘great and good’ and it is nice to hear that you met some truly good ones along the way.

    William

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