John Botte and his love for black and white photography

June 15, 2015 ,

Leica M Monochrom Digital Rangefinder Camera – Page 25

Index of pages covering Leica M9, Leica M9-P, M-E, Leica M 240, Leica M-D 262, Leica M Monochrom, M 246
as well as Leica Q and Leica SL:

 

John Botte and his love for black and white photography

By: Walter Leica (aka Walter Pretorius). January 27, 2016.

 

The pictures by police officer and lifelong Leica photographer John Botte reflect a stark reality: Sincere and down to a point. In this interview, Walter Leica tries to unveil the story behind the black & white photographs of a lifetime in New York. 

 

How did you get into photography?

My Uncle Phil was the smoker; I was to become the photographer.

But before giving an in depth answer to your question, I just want tell how I woke up one morning on a beautiful autumn-day in 1974, with a new camera. It was just days after setting foot on American soil, having come from Europe.

 


9/11 by John Botte. Taken on September 12, 2001 at 8:00 AM.

 

It happened like this: In 1974, if you purchased two packs of cigarettes at the at a convenience market, you received a free 110 camera and two cartridges of 110 Kodachrome Film! Can you even conceptualize that?

Anyway, so this is how my Uncle Phil was the smoker and I was to become the photographer. This photographic wonder was all neatly wrapped in plastic packaging, and after paying the clerk, my uncle unwrapped the package, handed me the camera with film, and on our way we went, and my photographic life began…

Soon I discovered that there were other choices of film available. I befriended the owner of a small photo store in my village that offered me expired cartridges of 110 Kodak Tri-X film and other brands of film at a fraction of the cost of non-expired film.

I discovered that film came in different shapes and sizes and it was the first time I was introduced to 126 cartridges, 35mm and 6×6 medium format roll film.

Just in case anyone reading this is curious if I am mentally handicapped, I forgot to mention at the beginning of answering your question, I had just turned 8 years of age.

I came from a small remote village in Italy where the entire population was less than the population of the elementary school in my new hometown in America. And I didn’t speak a single word of English!

 

Why do you prefer Black & White photography?

My entire savings back then was $2.25, which was enough to get me five cartridges of Kodak Verichrome B&W film that the storeowner promised me I would love.

The owner of the photo store was the one who planted the seed in my mind and encouraged me to shoot in B&W, saying, “Real photographers only shoot B&W film”.

When I saw the prints from those first five cartridges of Verichrome … that 8-year old boy from several days earlier was vaporized and a new 8-year old boy was born.

Since that day, I viewed all around me as if someone turned a switch off in my brain, and metaphorically speaking, never saw nor acknowledged color from that day onward.

 

Perception of B&W

Of course in reality, we are surrounded by color, unlimited colors, in countless shades, hues, saturation, muted, vibrant, vivid. You get the idea. If I were asked to give only one reason why I choose to shoot in B&W and not color, my answer would be perception.

Having spent over two decades of my life dedicated to public service in the largest city in America, I’ve witnessed color as the cause of much distorted perception, opinion, violence, beauty, divisiveness, unity, intolerance, etc.

Color has played a predominant role in identity and status for centuries. Violent street gangs such as The Bloods and The Crips assert their power and dominance by the colors that identify them. Colors that the human race has no control over are responsible for how one human being judges or perceives another.

Color, speaking for myself, can be very deceptive. Distracting. It has an incredible ability to distort one’s reality of what they see. How one chooses to judge something or someone around them. It can alter a mood or ambiance. Photographically speaking, one person can view a color image, or many people for that matter, and miserably fail to convey what the photographer who created that image wanted to convey.

 

Advertisment:
The Lightroom Survival Kit

 

You are well known as the now retired NYPD detective with the Leica M always by his side ready to shoot. Do you think this has molded the way you look at life and influenced your specific style of photography?

Since I joined NYPD at age 19, it’s fair to say that my Leica accompanied me through most of my career, which resulted profoundly in the way that I shoot, think, and most definitely how I perceive and look at life.  It also created several new styles as well as influenced my approach to my subject matter.

For example, during my five years as an undercover agent infiltrating the illicit narcotics trade, I noticed that my images had a look and feel as if my subject was being watched or under surveillance from a hidden place; my angles and compositions were from a lower point, giving the viewer the experience that the photographer was hiding somewhere.

 


John Botte interviewed on CBS ten years after 9/11.

 

This was in contrast to the images I created in the eight years I spend in a forensic homicide unit, where my images had more of a hard linear structure. Many of my compositions were shot from a higher angle with wide angle. This no doubt, was influenced by the necessity to take in and view a crime scene in its entirety.

At the time of 9/11, it was a daunting undertaking to multitask the first responder, the human being, and the artist within me. Each had a specific task to perform at an appropriate time. For instance the human being had to be suppressed when the first responder’s responsibilities required fearless and decisive acts, yet the human being needed to emerge in order for the artist to conceive and compose.  In this circumstance, my choices for camera settings, film, lenses, and filters were defined by the visual limitations caused by the thick smoke and ash.

 


9/11 by John Botte. Taken on September 13, 2001 at 11:40 AM.

 

NYPD Officer with a Leica

In summation, in my day to day with the NYPD working and patrolling the streets of NYC, I would find myself in photographic situations as a result of my access. Access that I wouldn’t normally have in civilian life. However, the NYPD was simply a chapter in my photographic exploration. I received my fist camera in 1974 when my family and I came to the United States from Europe, and I received my first Leica in 1976.  From that time onward, photography for me was an unexplainable calling; it was also my way of getting to know myself, getting to know my surroundings.

 


9/11 by John Botte.
Taken on September 13, 2001 at 9:00 AM.

 

Photographically speaking, the most pivotal point for me was at the age of 12, when I was embraced by whom I consider to be one of the greatest master printers I have ever known.  I worked for him as his darkroom assistant and he quickly saw my passion and dedication to the art. He took me under wing and became my mentor, and to this day my greatest photographic influence.

At the time of my apprenticeship, he had two very strict rules for me:

1) I was not permitted to look, view or study any work form any other photographers from any era, and 2) I was to surrender my camera and not permitted to take any photographs until he felt that I could properly interpret and translate a negative into a fine art print.
This left me somewhat baffled, but it did not deter me nor have any effect on my passion. For some unexplainable reason, the scenario just felt right to me, and it was where I wanted to be.

9/11 by John Botte.
Taken on September 13, 2001 at 2:35 PM.

 

Now looking back, I believe those two lessons were the backbone, or rather the foundation that molded me as a photographer. Not only was I able to find and use my own voice creatively, and have the knowledge of understanding the negative that enabled me to interpret my vision photographically. I was able to pre-visualize the end result by factoring in ahead of time my film selections, camera settings, and darkroom development techniques to achieve the look that I wanted.  In closing, it made me a confident shooter.  I now had total control of the camera- the camera didn’t have control of me.

What is the deciding moment whether to take a picture or not?

The only word I can think of is Instinct. If you think about it for a moment, day-to-day life is really a fluid series of still images. In motion pictures, a cinema camera exposes 24 frames every second to record a scene that the human eye by way of the brain perceives as natural movement. That’s how I’ve always viewed, and still view every day life. Very little goes unnoticed in my day to day living, and in absorbing everything around me virtually every waking minute of my day can be quite exhausting, but it’s something I have no control over.

The only way I can explain it is, time and motion literally stop. As if my brain activated a pause button, time is frozen and I’m the only one moving. It can be instantaneous. The very moment a composition calls me, I can execute the entire process of lifting my camera, compose, pull focus, adjust exposure, fire my shutter and be on my way, and go completely unnoticed.

It can also be the complete and total opposite. I see a scenario and I can feel it possess a composition within it. Then everything around me moves as normal, and I’m the one who is frozen in time and all I see is the frame I’ve blocked within that particular scenario.

I’ve held on to compositions for as long as 30 or 40 minutes, sometimes longer. Especially if I position myself where I can take as much time as I need to hold on to a shot until I get what I want, which has always been the case most, if not all of the time when I find myself in a situation like that.

Because the moment I see and feel it, I become completely hyper focused to that scenario and all of my energy go toward connecting with it as quickly, yet discretely as possible to avoid attracting attention and possibly compromising the organic and undisturbed state of that particular moment.

In other words, I don’t do the paparazzi scream and frantic shuffle with a monster motor driven camera with a zoom lens that’s the length of my arm and sounds like a machine gun.

In my opinion, the image living in your brain, once you hit that shutter, will be lost if they’re aware they’re about to be photographed.

It’s human nature. On many occasions in my duty as an NYPD Detective, when I was on the scene of a high profile homicide in my 8 year tenure of Forensic Homicide Investigations, you have 200 lenses pointed in your direction capturing your every move as millions of people are watching on live television; you act completely different, paying close attention to every move you make.

Though none of my images are planned, I do at times pre-visualize images consciously or subconsciously, such as when in a dream state.

 

Advertisement:
Lightroom Survival Kit 6

 

I’ve had compositions awaken me from a deep sound sleep. On one occasion, I was awakened at 3:00 am by an image that was so real it took me a moment to realize that I was at home and sound asleep. Of course my obsessive nature was not going to let me go back to sleep, and I got out of bed, dressed, grabbed my camera bag and drove almost one hour to the location where the image that I saw just moments ago in a complete subconscious dream state.

I didn’t even turn off my car ignition when I arrived to the location. I took my camera out, fired 3 or 4 frames of film, climbed back in the car and drove home and back to sleep. This has been pretty much the norm for me for most of my photographic life.

Thinking back on a moment in my early teens when I was about 12 or 13 years old. My parents received a call from a counselor in my school expressing concern that I possibly had an attention issue. Describing to my mother that on numerous occasions my teachers would notice me in an intense motionless state.

My stare, paralyzed and frozen so deeply, I had to be physically shaken by my teacher in order to be released from my trance. I recall on some occasions, being so removed from the reality around me, it would take me a moment to realize where I was once my teacher physically retuned me from wherever I was subconsciously.

Unfortunately, school wasn’t the only place this sort of thing happened. Behavioral traits were handled differently back then. I was plagued with many obstacles and challenges when I came to America. I was an 8-year-old boy and didn’t fit in. I could not speak a word of English, and there were no programs in the school system to teach how to speak English. Culturally, I felt like I was on another planet.

I could not relate to other boys or girls my age because I was years ahead of my time. I would walk to school and witness mothers engaging in “Baby Talk” with their children. This was abnormal to me. I had a job when I was 6 years old. I was driving a Fiat 500 with stick shift when I was 7.

I was begging to go back to my hometown in Italy where life was beautiful, where everything made sense and everything felt right.

 

Advertisement:

 

 

In America, I was completely lost. I would cry myself to sleep. I would cry endlessly on my mother’s lap. Though she would console and nurture me with an intense and soothing energy you can only feel from a mother’s love, and I always felt safe within her embrace. To no fault of her own, the attitude was, “You’ll be ok once you get used to it”.

Reflecting back on the past forty years of my life, and being the type of person who is constantly reflecting back on virtually every day I’ve lived, I came to the realization that on the day I set foot on American soil was the day I would never know or experience the feeling of inner peace.

Every time someone asks me how or why I chose photography, my immediate and natural response was always, “I didn’t choose photography…It chose me”

As an outgoing boy with endless energy and a voracious appetite for life and everything around it, along with the inability to sit still for even five minutes, I felt completely deflated, with no desire to engage in anything. I felt as if I were robbed of my soul.

I can see the slow and systemic pattern that began at that very young age that altered the blueprint of the man I am today, which is one who possesses a mass of contradictions and who is at constant battle with himself.

I evolved into a fiercely private and solitary individual, yet I’ve dedicated over half of my life to public service as a police detective in the largest and highest profile city in America, if not the world. I engaged in assignments that were highly visible and scrutinized by the media and the public. I created a body of work during 9/11 that 14 years later still commands much, if not more attention, curiosity and fascination from all over the world as a result of the unique circumstances and in the manner in which I created it.

I suppose the point I’m making is, that within a very short time after arriving in this strange new land, I had to come to terms that it was going to be “Home”.

I had no other choice but to “Get used to it”. And without even as much as a millisecond of a thought, an entire new way to see, speak, feel, communicate, express, and all that stands in between…was born in the soul of an 8 year old boy who couldn’t possibly conceptualize what life had in store for him.

All this as the result of a brief stop at a convenience market that resulted in a 110 camera and 2 cartridges of film.

I can truly say with unquestionable certainty, that not only have I lived the lives of 100 men. Every dream I’ve ever had, has come true 1000 times. But there exists an odd and perfect balance in my existence.

If I experience a moment of joy, I know a moment of sadness awaits me. The amounts of energy I expend to not only manage, but also understand my complexities are ever so daunting, and it doesn’t mellow with age. It too continues to grow, change and intensify with the passage of time.

I embrace it as part of who I am. The light and the dark.

Like every other human being, I’ve made many mistakes. And while I bare witness to so many who are angered or become embittered from their mistakes, which can and did result in a profoundly negative impact on their lives, I am thankful for everyone I’ve made. Mistakes and failures on their own are not sustainable emotions. They’re essential and necessary ingredients to success.

 

Advertisement:

 

The multitude of changes and the amount of unimaginable and unpredictably impossible uncertainty that have been the norm for most of my life, and continue to be as each grain of sand continues to fall from the hour glass of time, is something that has become second nature to me. Change and uncertainty is an extension of my existence that I have little or no control of.

From the very first press of the shutter on that 110 Camera in 1974, to the most recent press of the shutter on my Leica Monochrom, the one certainty I can assure is that no one, no thing and no circumstance can ever change, take, dictate, sabotage and most importantly violate, the sanctity in my gift of visual expression. The gift has never failed me.

 

 

Photographing the AC/DC

You have photographed many famous people. Tell us about a unique moment while photographing them?

I think the most wonderful, unique as well as uncommon photographic experience I’ve had with people of celebrity, was in October 2008, when I was asked by the creative director of Rolling Stone magazine to photograph the Australian rock band AC/DC.

The band was putting the final touches on their latest studio album Black Ice as well as rehearsing for the launch of the North American leg of their world tour.

They were to be the cover feature for the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone and as the deadline was approaching, the creative director felt more content was needed.

I had been an AC/DC fan since my early teens.  This is a band that I grew up with and had such great respect for, musically and artistically, that I felt honored and graced to have the opportunity to photograph them.

During my time with them I found them to be beyond what I ever expected. Aside from being iconic rock musicians, they were really down to earth great guys.

 

AC/DC by John Botte
AC/DC by John Botte. See more at johnbottephoto.com

 

Today, especially in the music industry, attaining access to the actual talent is very difficult. There are handlers, tour managers, public relations managers and others that can hinder you by limiting your time with the talent, or putting you in a compromised location to get your shot done.

In this particular case, the tour manager told the creative director of Rolling Stone that I had about an hour to photograph the band during their rehearsal, which for me was more than ample to get what I needed.

When I arrived in Pennsylvania and was escorted into the rehearsal room they immediately welcomed and embraced me.

I humbly conveyed my respect for them and told them that I wouldn’t be a disruptive presence. I would be a fly on the wall so to speak. They were so happy that I was there and were so accommodating; they made a point of including me in their antics when they were between songs and just goofing around and joking with each other.

They would rehearse a song and then stop and have a conversation about football or whatever. I photographed these wonderful candid moments, and in those images you sense that I am very much in there with them.

During one break, Angus called me over to ask about the seven vintage cameras and lenses that I had strapped to me. We had a wonderful conversation about analogue creativity because AC/DC has always only recorded analogue.

Angus had made a comment to me that he didn’t remember the last time he had seen a photographer shooting film, let alone a rangefinder camera.

He was very familiar with Leica cameras and so forth.  So that was something we had in common.  Two creative entities, a musician and a photographer, both creating in an analogue environment.

It turned out to be seven or eight hours that I was in the studio shooting with them. Probably the most wonderful photographic experiences I have ever had.

A creative bond was made between us, so much so that they invited me to their concert at Madison Square Garden, (which I also photographed) and to their backstage party afterwards.

At the end of the NYC run, Malcolm invited me to have tea with him and the band at their hotel before they left for their next venue.

Looking back, I am so very grateful for the personal time I had with them and for the wonderful intimate images that came from it.

It was truly a privilege, and to that end, it was also the very last time the original line-up was to play and record together.

 

Your favorite camera and lens?

My favorite camera is the Leica M2-R with the Leicavit. It was my first rangefinder. I just love the simplicity of it.

I had it custom-painted in 2-tone safari green and wrapped with black vulcanite leather by my friend David in Vancouver, Washington. He is a heavy weapons painter and also a Leica shooter. His work is immaculate.

I have kept very few of my cameras in their original form. I just had him do my Leica M Monochrom in burnt bronze with navy lizard. Over the last five years I have gotten into customizing my cameras. Leicas are now more accessible, and Leica shooters are accessorizing like never before.

There are companies popping up that are creating these great custom add-ons, straps, and cases. I took it a step further and started creating these wonderful custom paint and leather ensembles through my friend David.

I feel that today it’s no longer the photographer solely communicating their identity through his or her images, I find that the new crop of younger Leica shooters are also expressing their identities and creativity in how they accessorize their cameras.

Aside from custom leather and paint, my technician, Sherry Krauter does all of my modifications.  She knows my habits, such as that I don’t like too much of a throw on my shutter.

She loosens the throw for me and with a very light touch it just fires away.  She also puts heavier springs on my film advance because I can be very aggressive in hand winding, (which also explains why I prefer the Leicavit).

In addition, the Leicavit adds weight and inertia to the camera, which enables me to shoot at slower shutter speeds, which I do quite often.

My favorite lens – if I can only have one – would be the 50mm f1 Noctilux. The original Canadian version from 1978 designed and formulated by a gentleman by the name of Walter Mandler.

As far as Leica lenses goes, they’re all great of course, but I find myself favoring the Walter Mandler optical computations.

I love the feel of it. Most of the time I shoot it at f1, but if you have to stop it down, it’s an incredible performer. The Noctilux has a visual feel that no other optic can give you.

I also have the very latest Noctilux 0.95, which I love and it is actually one of the very few current Leica optics that I own. Two-thirds of my optic portfolio are vintage from the early 1970’s to the mid 1970’s.

 


Nicole Botte by John Botte. Leica M2 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0.

There is an image that I took with the M2 and a 50mm f1 Noctilux of my daughter, Nicole. It’s one of my favorite photographs of her.  She has the Leica with my signature engraved on the top plate around her neck and she is earnestly taking photographs with it.

It is the camera that I shot most of the 9/11 work with. I captured this beautiful image of her shooting with my camera at the age of 8; the very age that I first discovered that photography myself.

 

 
One Woman by John Botte (2012). Leica M Monochrom, 10,000 ISO.

 

The One Woman Project

Your wife plays an important role in your photography career, would you contribute your success to her support?

I came to realize with my current wife that the true meaning of marriage is from a spiritual sense. But also what it truly feels to love and be loved unconditionally.

Unconditional love in its purest sense knows neither time nor age.

One Woman by John Botte (2015). Leica M Monochrom, 8,000 ISO.

 

As silly as it may sound, in describing myself in how I define the act of giving and receiving unconditional love is exchanging affection with my two Jack Russell Terriers. One of them an “ugly” female: When I first held her in my arms, I experienced a euphoric sense of well being that was so paralyzing, it literally crippled me where I stood, for a moment, I was completely out of my body. I couldn’t assemble a cohesive sentence if my life depended on it.

Reflecting on that experience, it was virtually identical to the very first moment I set eyes on my wife. It was so intoxicating, in the five or so hours I was in her company at a restaurant with the rest of the dinner party I was invited to dine with, I avoided any verbal exchange with her other than, “Nice to Meet You”, when I arrived at the restaurant, and “It was Nice to Meet You” when the evening came to an end.

Aside from those two brief moments, I exerted every bit of my effort to avoid any eye contact as well.

I can’t explain how or what role she specifically plays except to say that she is a very creative person. She is an extremely talented designer.  She is virtually the closest thing to a perfect human being.

I don’t know where I would be creatively without her. She is just a presence and – I don’t want to sound cliché, but – she is my reason for everything in my life.

I am an extremely complex and tortured individual and she is my serenity and my peace. My heart beats because of her, and I breathe because of her, my blood flows through my veins because of her.  She’s my everything.

One Woman by John Botte (2012). Leica M Monochrom, 10,000 ISO.

 

It’s her essence, her energy, her soul, her vibe. It’s so wonderful that for the first time in my life I am completely consumed by someone, and I find great relief in it, where in a prior married life it was my biggest fear and I would always have walls up and I was not very trusting. I was very cautious. It feels good to let go of that, if you can understand.

She is a very brilliant creative person and we are true collaborators.  Some times she will ask me to help her with one of her projects. She has been in the photographic field for a long time and we just feed off of each other. We find that in so many aspects of both of our creative outlets we think so much alike and its wonderful to have somebody to collaborate with like that.

That is something I was never comfortable with before. Not because I didn’t want to. I had always found in any given situation when I was asked to collaborate with someone that the scale would tip, where the person I am collaborating with would suddenly monopolize the project and take control.


One Woman by John Botte (2013). Leica M Monochrom, 8,000 ISO.

 

I would just sort of let it go, as I don’t want to get into a confrontation, or a disagreement or anything.  But I don’t find that with her. When we collaborate it’s just wonderful.

It’s rewarding for both of us, especially when whatever it is that we collaborate on is complete.  We both get that equal sense of gratification, not only in having realized this vision, but having realized it together. But also, on a personal level, she is my best friend, my soul mate and my confidant. Spiritually I would be dead without her, and I know she feels the very same way about me. She really is my everything.

 

Do you have any specific plans for the future? A bucket list?

Really, whatever comes to me. A body of work has to call me; I have to stumble on it. I cannot consume myself in thought to come up with something to shoot, it has to call me, and it has to come to me.

If it does not, I won’t pick up my camera. Right now I am working on a body of work with my wife. This project began unexpectedly one evening after dinner. I had just acquired a 75mm lens and I asked her to model for me briefly so that I could put this lens through its paces with one of my Monochroms. As I fired off about a dozen frames, she glanced at them in my camera, excused herself and came back into the room a few moments later looking like Pricilla Presley circa 1968-1969. She had changed her blouse, her hair was in a bouffant and her eyes were made up thick with liner and long lashes.

We continued shooting and got into a flow. Later that night when we were viewing the test shots, she appeared stunned and asked if I would take some other photographs of her, as she had a photo project in mind that she had always wanted to realize but had never found the right dynamic or fit for.

After spending a quarter of a century in the photo industry on both sides of the camera, she had resigned herself to it never happening. But that night, through my lens, “One Woman” was born.

 


One Woman by John Botte (2012). Leica M Monochrom, 1600 ISO.

In each one of our photographs she portrays one of the many women who have influenced her life, real, fictional or historical.

Each photograph tells a story of a woman that has inspired, formed, or shaped her life in some important way. As of now, we have a collection of about seventeen personas completed.

 


One Woman by John Botte (2015). Leica M Monochrom, 10,000 ISO.

 

Before we shoot I usually have no idea who she will be portraying. I don’t think about it or conceptualize anything because I don’t know what is going to appear before me.

Often while she is doing her own hair, makeup and wardrobe, I use that opportunity to take a nap and try to get some sleep because most of these photo shoots start at 11:00 at night and can go until 2:00 in the morning.

When she is ready, I take it all in at that moment and then let it hit me. Right there my concept just comes to me and we start creating together. During most of our photo sessions there is very little conversation between us, basically no lights. I work with very low wattage and it yields a very vintage, film noir look.

 


One Woman by John Botte (2014). Leica M Monochrom, 8,000 ISO.

 

It’s been a wonderful collaboration and one of the most rewarding bodies of work that I have ever done for two reasons; not only creatively for me but also because I have helped her in realizing her lifelong vision.

This particular body of work (and not because it’s my wife I am doing it with) is the best and most pure collaboration I have ever experienced. The success of this work for me at least is that it is a true collaboration in its purest form; we come to it without challenge or doubt… I would never question her portrayal, and she would never question or dictate my choice of light or my look and so forth.

One Woman by John Botte (2013). Leica M Monochrom, 2800 ISO.

 

To complete the project and the vision of One Woman, I see it as a fine art photography monograph. Joan Brookbank Projects is representing the book project. Whether we self-publish or someone publishes it, it will be a beautiful book about a true collaboration that represents a photographer’s relationship to his subject and craft and a woman’s exploration of her sense of self and identity.

I recently shared some of the images with my good friend Josh Lehrer at the Leica Store Miami and he has expressed interest in exhibiting the work at their gallery next year. They held an exhibition of my 9/11 photographs there in September of 2013, and they did an absolutely exquisite job presenting the work. He loves the interesting concept and the fact that this body of work is shot entirely with the Leica M Monochrom.

One Woman by John Botte (2015). Leica M Monochrom, 8,000 ISO.

Being a black and white film shooter all my life, I can’t say enough about the image quality that the Leica M Monochrom produces. It has given me a lot of pleasure to marry the past with the present by pairing it with my vintage lenses to create this whole new body of work.

 


One Woman by John Botte (2015). Leica M Monochrom, 10,000 ISO.

 

Any advice for fellow photographers and newcomers?

With the advent of digital technology, photography is very accessible today and there are a lot more people pursuing the photographic field.

To a newcomer today that is pursuing photography as a career or a hobby, I would just say, “Enjoy yourself!”

There are no rules in photography. Some collectors and enthusiasts will say that you have to have this brand camera and shoot only with this brand film with this brand accessory and you’re not supposed to use that lens hood with that, etc.

You don’t need to spend twenty thousand dollars on a camera and one lens. A $30 Pentax K1000 with a Takumar lens from 1973 gave me some of the most beautiful photographs I have ever taken.

Find your own voice by trying things. For example, I was shooting aerial photography of NYC in a helicopter with a Leica 90mm Thambar; a vintage optic that produces this beautiful soft focus feel. It’s a portrait lens and it does that by way of a filter with a black circle in center that screw on the front element, which creates that very, very angelic soft focus look.

 


The Chrysler Building in New York by John Botte. Leica 90mm Thambar f/2.2.

I was using it with a high resolution film which doesn’t have an anti-halation backing.  It is a clear based film that was designed for high resolution scanning. The person that was with me told me that I had the wrong film with the wrong lens for doing aerial photography. But where is it written that I can’t use a soft focus portrait lens with high resolution film for an aerial photograph?

In my mind I am taking a “portrait” of the Chrysler Building, which coincidentally turned out to be one of my favorite photographs.

When they design the lens and give you the selling point to market the lens, that’s one thing. But you can use it for whatever you want.

That’s the whole point of creativity – experimentation.

Get a camera, get a lens, get film or a memory card and just go out there and shoot. That’s it. Experiment!  Don’t worry about what anybody thinks and don’t concern yourself with seeking approval or notoriety for your photographs.

There is only one person you are out to please and make happy: That’s you.

If anybody likes your photograph aside from yourself, consider that a bonus.

And for the older cut, where I came from, I would just say- stay open minded and embrace technology.  Whether we like it or not, we have to get to know it. Just like film.

Anytime a new stock of film would be released I would work with it, test it. I would see how it behaved, get to know it.  And even if I hated it, I still kept it around.

Because a situation may arise that it’s the only film that will behave properly for your subject matter. This turned out to be the case in point for my 9/11 photographs. The film that I liked the least was the only one that could perform under those atmospheric circumstances.

All in all, I believe that the older cut and the new comers can benefit from one another in great and wonderful ways. We can learn valuable things from each other when there is respect for the old ways and the new. The common ground is our shared passion for the craft.

 

 

Photos are all © Copyright by John Botte. All Rights Reserved.
Article © 2015-2016 Walter Pretorius. Webpage © 1996-2016 by Thorsten Overgaard.