The Visual Metaphysics of Thomas Sandberg: Medical Leica and Russian Lens (4)

The Visual Metaphysics of Thomas Sandberg: Medical Leica and Russian Lens (4)


© Thomas Sandberg

© Thomas Sandberg

Knut Skjærven:

You photograph with what you describe as an old Medical Leica and a Russian lens from 1975. What is the story behind the camera and the lens and how do they influence your photography? Is there a reason for this particular combination? What is a Medical Leica? It must have another name as well, right? Is this the equipment you use for all your photography?

Thomas Sandberg: 

A medical Leica is in German called „Dokumenten-Leica“.  The official Name is Leica MD and later MD-2. I use a MD-2 black.

It is just a normal M Leica but it has no optical system. No range- or viewfinder. Those were not necessary for the use at a microscope (medical) or for reproductions of Letter or A4 size documents. Leica also provided a special lens and a special tripod for that propose.
I bought that lens 1975 in Russia and gave my jacket for it to a guy on the street, who saw it and said “Charoshi Klufti“ (good clothing).

It was an East German made replica of an US Army M65 field jacket. The similar shape, but awfully fabric. But more important the lens is called Jupiter-12 has a M39 screw mount and I use it with a M bayonet adapter.

It is from a time when things still had names, especially in Russia where the named a car like „Wolga“ after a river.

Originaly the lens is a replica of the German Zeiss Biogon 2,8/35mm by Ludwig Bertele from 1936 made in Dresden. He constructed it for Zeiss Icon Contax cameras.

When the Russian troops came to Dresden in 1945  they took the blueprints and probably also some machines to a place called Krasnogorsk (Red Mountain) near Moscow. They made millions of it and you’ll find it these days at sale on ebay for something like 60-120 Euros. It is pretty sharp and rock solid made. Only you shouldn’t come to much in to backlight.

Of course overall you can’t compare with today lenses like the Leitz Summicron. But I am not interested in perfection. I believe art lays beyond perfection. In a way sometimes I feel a picture is too sharp so that lens  is good enough for me.

There is another reason why I am using it.  The meter scale is a bit longer than on modern lenses. That gives me a better opportunity to prefocus. That’s what I mostly do on the street. I estimate the distance and just shoot.

I do the same with exposure time and f-stop. I just estimate and I very rarely go wrong.

I am not against all the achievements of modern photo technique, I only feel more liberated without it. But of course I sometimes use different lenses. Usually I carry a 50mm with me. I use very rarely a 90 and sometimes a real wide angels like 28 or 24 mm.

But this is so seldom, that I could leave it at home. Well, you never know.

I also carry a light meter and two closeup lenses +1 and +2 with me since rangefinder cameras have the disadvantage of short distance focusing. Even in this case I estimate the distance.

I should carry a measuring tape with me, but wouldn’t it be strange, if I’m measuring the distance from my lens to someone’s nose on the street? So I estimate which isn’t so hard, as you might think. Just start to measure your body as a reference.

I remember sitting in a cafe in England and had a discussion with my wife about the old English none meter scales. So an old lady sitting next table, got up from her tea and showed us the front limb of her thumb and said: „This is an inch“ and than holding it to her nose and stretched the other arm away from her and said, and that is a yard. It was very funny and we were laughing together.

I won’t forget that incident and learned that we have all scales with us and very often they are precise enough. The old words like an inch, a foot, etc. is telling us what we had forgotten by seeking precision.  But honestly, how precise do I have to be for what I do? Estimating is my autofocus.

When I was a trainee, my master said: start estimating exposure time, each time before you are using the light meter, after three days I knew what stop and time I had to use.

It’s not different with calculators. As soon you stop using your brain and give your trust totally to the machine, you start forgetting how to calculate.

Many of my students don’t know the exposure time and the f-stop they are shooting at since they gave up the control to automatics. In a way, they never were in control of their camera. Even the manual winder of my camera giving me a feedback about the amount of shots I already did.

I’m feeling it as an advantage being in control of the technique and decide by myself when and how much I gave up of it, which is necessary too.

Photography, as I see it, is physical matter. It has to do with your body. I am sure there are 35mm photographers and mid-format and large format photographers and that has to do with their physis of their bodies more than their way of thinking.

The photographer and his camera go into a symbiotic relationship. That is what I try to make my students aware of.

These are Thomas’ words. I have made a few correction but have made no attempt to rewrite the text into a grammatically more correct English. It is ok to share this article but the text and the photograph must not be downloaded, copied and distributed in any other way. To read more of the talk with Thomas Sandberg just open this link.

Copenhagen, October 16, 2016.
© Knut Skjærven.

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About author

Knut Skjærven

Knut Skjærven is a Norwegian photographer, writer and researcher working out of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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