Leica denies it has shifted away from the basics of photography, as the company's new UK boss outlines plans to inspire more enthusiasts to use rangefinder cameras.
At its launch, Leica said the T system would become ‘as big as the M’
The comments, by Leica Camera general manager Jason Heward, come as Leica steps up production to meet global demand for the Leica T, a compact system camera that was launched in May.
Heward also hinted that photographers can expect ‘exciting news’ from Leica at Photokina – a biennial kit fest that opens in Germany next month – amid online rumours about what kit we can expect.
‘At Photokina we will make a real statement about the brand and our ambitious plans,’ said Heward in an exclusive interview with Amateur Photographer at Leica UK’s base in Mayfair, London, yesterday.
Heward denied that Leica has moved ‘too far away from photography’, in response, he says, to ‘lots of comments’ accusing the firm of doing just that.
He told AP: ‘Our products are always about photography first and foremost but we are, perhaps, guilty of not communicating enough with that core audience.’
Rangefinder photography ‘still relevant’
Heward stressed that rangefinder photography is ‘still very relevant’. He plans to use Leica’s training Akademie, and messages posted on social media, to help spread the word – using the work of Leica photographers to inspire consumers.
‘Most people who are into photography want to produce their own iconic images… a Cartier-Bresson – a decisive moment. I think we can help them to do that.
‘It’s not always just about us trying to sell people products, it’s about us trying to help them become a better photographer – hit their creative goals.’
He added: ‘It’s about being clear about who our audience is – connecting with them in better ways and making them more aware of what inspiring products we have.
‘We are particularly lucky to have the M system that we can focus on… 60 years of M this year.
‘It has created, and still creates, the iconic images of our time and that is probably something we haven’t said enough recently.
‘We have been quite shy about the M and, therefore, a lot of people are still wondering whether an M and rangefinder photography are still relevant.
‘One of the first things I want to do is make sure we give that message to more people and introduce more people to rangefinder photography.’
Leica Camera Ltd general manager Jason Heward
Heward’s primary aim for Leica is to be ‘the camera brand above and beyond the shrinking traditional consumer camera market’ – helping people understand that Leica cameras are ‘accessible’, despite the ‘premium product pricetag’.
He wants more people to understand that Leica is ‘the essence of photography’, and that using an M is like ‘going back to the basics of photography’.
The Leica training Akademie will be key to this, a facility he describes as, currently, ‘very London centric’. Heward plans to expand its reach.
‘Our Akademie is one of the best tools we have for introducing people to our products and helping them use our products well,’ he said.
‘I think it is under-utilised. There’s a role we can play in taking the Akademie, and the whole experience, more outside London.
So far, Leica has taken the Akademie to Sheffield, Manchester, Dublin and Bristol, in partnership with Leica stores.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Leica UK’s former managing director, David Bell, resigned for personal reasons.
Heward credits Bell – whose departure was announced last month – with more than doubling sales during his tenure. Turnover rose from £6m in 2009, to just under £13m last year.
Former Leica Camera Ltd managing director David Bell at the official opening of the Leica store at the Burlington Arcade, Mayfair, in February. He has left the firm for personal reasons, says Leica
In a brief statement, issued on 17 July, Leica had not make clear Bell’s reasons for leaving.
Commenting on the legacy left by his predecessor, Heward said: ‘We are sitting in it [the Mayfair base]. [Bell] took Leica from shared offices in Milton Keynes… he brought it to the heart of London, built a headquarters which we are very proud of.
‘We have a store, a café, an Akademie, a studio. It really is a great way for people to experience the brand, and I suppose that journey from being a traditional camera company to a being a premium photographic brand.
‘Obviously, accompanying that journey was a good growth in sales, particularly with the introduction of the digital M.’
Though Heward has been appointed general manager, rather than managing director, the new boss says there will be no difference in the day-to-day role.
Leica has no current plans to bring in another MD.
Before joining Leica in 2012, Heward worked as a management consultant, working across different companies to help them improve sales and efficiency.
He admits he is lucky to have access to Leica cameras, as part of his job.
‘I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but I used to use a Canon DSLR.
‘I haven’t picked up that Canon since I joined Leica…
‘I think once you start using an M, it’s hard to go back to a DSLR.’
Leica will be hoping that more photography enthusiasts are on the same wavelength.