C/O Berlin’s current exhibition ‘Eyes Wide Open! 100 Years of Leica Photography’ uses Oskar Barnack’s Lilliputan camera (later the Leica) as a focal point to tease out changes, revolutions and innovations in photography from its invention in 1914 onwards. In our current selfie-obsessed digital age, it is amazing to think that there was once a time when cameras were static and producing images was slow, expensive and inaccessible to most people. However the Leica changed that, and this exhibition uses over 300 photographs, photobooks, magazines, original Leica cameras and film rolls to explore its impact. Taking a loosely chronological approach, the exhibition discuses Leica’s effect on reporting, ideology, propaganda, social and humanist issues, street photography, fashion and celebrity amongst other topics. The earlier black and white images are very evocative of their era and capture either the buzz surrounding new inventions such as airships, planes and cars or the horror of war, famine and civil unrest very powerfully. Moving into colour photography, there are stunning images on display, however I was struck by how little it added to its mono counterparts. This is not to say that things have become stagnant, and the exhibition excited me about what Leica and other photographic technology will develop next and the reverberations it will undoubtedly have. Countless iconic images are on display (including ones by Cartier-Bresson, Capa and Eisenstaedt to name a few), but a standout photograph for me was Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara which has been reproduced countless times across the globe – becoming such a familiar image, but one that up until this show I would not have been able to name the photographer responsible. This portrait is also displayed alongside negatives of the rest of the photographers’ film roll from that day, beautifully placing the moment this image was taken into greater context.
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