Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PROBABLY THE MOST UNUSUAL LEICA DEALER IN THE US - KEN HANSEN






With the prices of Leica equipment what they are, it is important for many of us to select a Leica dealer that is no just out to make a profit.  Knowledge and service are two aspects that are extremely important.  Besides the many Leica stores, Leica dealers range from huge camera stores in the bigger cities, especially New York, to, what with any other venue might be called a mom and pop store.

Many people wish that the small stores, with trustworthy employees from days past, would make a comeback.  But big box stores have all but made an end of that era.  Add to that the ever growing business of mail order and today’s marketplace looks quite different.

The same is true with camera stores and, especially Leica dealers.  Sure, if you know what you need, mail order might save you a few bucks and you might walk away, happy with your purchase.  But what if you need some advice?  Making a mistake with the purchase of Leica equipment can be quite costly. 

This is where a dealer you can trust is invaluable.  One such dealer is Ken Hansen in New York City.  Not only does he have a stellar reputation of being totally trustworthy, he also has all the advantages of a mom and pop store of years gone by.  Ken Hansen is a tour de force one man operation in a town that has made mega stores, photographic megastores, a household word.


Ken Hansen is the largest Leica dealer in the US without a website or even a store.  He operates strictly with just an e-mail address.  As improbable as that might sound, it works.  It works because Ken Hansen has a huge fan base of Leica owners who consider him to be the friendliest and most easy going person in the world. 

According to one customer, “Ken Hansen is a legendary Leica dealer, and my go to guy for all things Leica. I have been dealing with Ken for years and never once have I encountered an issue, problem or ANYTHING similar to that.  His customer service is 2nd to none and he usually has everything in stock.”

Another customer stated, “One of the most popular purveyors is Ken Hansen. The man has a reputation for setting the standard.  You're virtually guaranteed to walk away happy.”

And finally, “Ken Hansen did introduce me to my first Leica and every Leica I have acquired since then. Ken said something like, “These are the best lenses in the world, choose your f/stop, set your shutter speed, start shooting, and throw away the owner’s manual. It’s that simple.” What got me excited was that it became about shooting images in their purest form. My mind became free of what I like to call the technical waste. Other cameras have that, and I do not want it.”

Ken Hansen was born in Kiel in the very Northern part of Germany.  1961 he boarded a ship to New York and got a job the same day he arrived. He worked in that camera store until 1973, when he decided to start his own business.  He borrowed $20,000 from his family and began to purchase used equipment from every camera store he could find. 

“I knew what would sell, so that was what I was buying."

He stated at a later time.  “I placed a $350 ad in the New York Times every weekend with 10 items for sale, and by Monday they were sold out.”

Twelve years after that beginning Ken Hansen opened a 600 square-foot office on the 10th floor, across from the Empire State Building on 34th Street.  Next year he expanded to 1,000 square feet on the 11th floor, then a little later, the whole floor of a building on 21st Street.

In an interview with Thorsten von Overgaard Ken said, "It was a large photography store with really competent staff. Everybody was well paid without commissions. The business of photography wasn't an honest one, but we were. That's what made me open my own store and what worked the best about it. We tried to be straight and honest. Everybody came in our store. All the great photographers and everybody else."

Even though Ken does not like to drop names, he did let it slip that the last lens he sold to Helmut Newton was a Leica 50mm Summilux-M f/1.4 lens.

Ken does not operate a large store any longer.  He told me that the rent alone was over 30 thousand dollars plus the salaries of his 18 employees.  Instead he is running his business as a home office.  He likes email because "the phone is ringing constantly."  But his expertise and service are just as invaluable today as they were in the past.  Anyone interested in the purchase of any Leica equipment, new or used, would do well to e-mail Ken and ask what he can do for you, tell him I sent you.




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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ONE OF THE GREATEST LEICA PHOTOGRAPHERS EVER – ERNST HAAS




Ernst Haas (1921–1986) is considered one of the best, most celebrated and influential photographers of the 20th century and considered one of the pioneers of color photography. Haas was born in Vienna in 1921.  He did not become a photographer until after the war. His early work showed Austrian prisoners of war returning home. This brought him to the attention of LIFE magazine. Initially he declined a job offer as staff photographer in order to keep his independence. But an invitation from Robert Capa changed his mind.  Soon after,  Haas joined Magnum in 1949.  There he developed a close associations with Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Werner Bishof.

In 1951 Haas moved to the United States where he began experimenting with Kodachrome color film.  He soon he became the premier color photographer of the 1950s. In 1953 LIFE magazine published his groundbreaking 24-page color photo essay on New York City. This was the first time such a large color photo feature was published by LIFE. In 1962 a retrospective of his work was the first color photography exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Throughout his career, Haas traveled extensively, photographing for LIFE, Vogue, and Look, to name a few of the many influential publications that featured his work  He created four books during his lifetime: The Creation (1971), In America (1975), In Germany (1976), and Himalayan Pilgrimage (1978).

Ernst Haas continued to work until 1986, the year of his death. He has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions and publications such as Ernst Haas, Color Photography (1989), Ernst Haas in Black and White (1992), and Color Correction (2011). The Ernst Haas Studio, located in New York, continues to manage Haas's legacy, aiding researchers and overseeing all projects related to his work.

   
 Ernst Haas with Leicaflex                                                   Ernst Haas with Leica R4

It would be wrong to claim that Ernst Haas used only Leica equipment, but Leicas have definitely been an integral part of his professional life, and many of his famous photographs have been taken with Leica cameras.

When Ernst Haas began photographing in color, he soon created an entirely new approach to color photography by purposely using rather slow shutter speeds to blur the image.  However, as he explained, this was not left to chance.  He used the colors of the scene, and by deliberately blurring the image, he was actually able to create additional colors through the blurred overlap of the various subjects in the scene..  This approach was made especially famous by his photographs of bullfights in Spain.

 

 

 

 
Obviously, Haas applied his blurring technique to other subjects as well

 
Photograph from his book "The Creation"

The above photograph was later used by Kodak for the Kodak Colorama at Grand Central Station in New York City in 1977.  The original picture was taken with a Leicaflex SL and a 50mm Summicron-R lens on Kodachrome 25.  The finished Colorama consisted of 20 vertical panels of 3 feet width and 18 feet height for a total size of 18 x 60 feet This was the first time a 35mm picture had been used for this project.  It presents a 508 times enlargement to achieve the width of the image.  It was a definite testament of the quality of the film and that of the Leica camera and lens.

 

 
From the book "In America"

Ernst Hass quite often tried to take photographs of ordinary subjects and to present them as an apparently abstract photograph, although, as he explained, that is a contradiction of terms.  A photograph cannot possibly be abstract because a camera can only record actual subject matter.

 
"The Cross"

 
"Snow Lovers"

 Holy Underwear © Ernst Haas
"Holy Underwear"

"Red Bird"

Ernst Haas had an uncanny ability to find ordinary subjects and by seeing beyond the obvious, was able to create extraordinary photographs.

The first time I met Ernst Haas was at a meeting of the Leica Historical Society of America.  He had been invited as the main speaker for the event.  One thing that struck me immediately was that here was a person who gained international fame with his wonderful color photography and his masterful use of colors, yet he was clothed all in black, black pants, black shirt, black jacket, black tie.  I saw him talking in German to Walter Heun, the former director of the Leica School.   That in itself was quite an interesting conversation.  I knew Walter Heun and, upon noticing me, he introduced me to Ernst Haas.  I was fortunate to meet him again on a couple of other occasions.


There have been many excellent and important photographers, past and present.  Ernst Haas was without question one of the greatest of them all.

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