11.13.2016

Staying on the topic of gear catastrophes and close calls I thought I would share my Leica M3 story.


Many years ago, here in Austin, Texas, I was working the night shifts as a short order cook at a diner/restaurant called, Kerbey Lane Cafe. I worked the Thurs., Fri., and Sat. night shifts because they were the busiest and those shifts paid the most. They also left my days free to go out and show my portfolio to the handful of magazines and advertising agencies sprinkled around our (then) small town.

The time period was in the waning years of the 1970's. At the time all of my photography heroes, Garry Winogrand, Alan Pogue, Ralph Gibson and William Klein used Leica M series rangefinder cameras and I was certain that if I could just get my hands on a nice, clean Leica M3 with a 50mm, dual range Summicron that I'd be equally famous in no time at all. With the fame would come lucrative assignments and I would finally be able to quit my job in the restaurant and become a full time photographer. I'd never have to come home smelling of gingerbread pancakes and bacon again.

I finally lucked into a few small writing jobs for the healthcare industry and for a home builder (I'd shown a portfolio of photographs but they liked the writing better....) and I scraped up enough cash to buy a used, but minty, Leica M3 (single stroke) camera and an un-cloudy seven element, dual range Summicron, for the princely sum of $345. It took every cent I made from the writing I'd done over the course of several months. But, at last, I had the tool of the imaging demigods. I too would enter their rarified Pantheon and take amazing images that would cause the users of lesser cameras to gasp in astonishment. Or, at least that was my hope...

In the first few weeks I took the camera everywhere. One evening I went to a pizza place at the corner of 19th Street and Guadalupe St. and my (then) girlfriend and I had a large cheese pizza, and we split a salad. I was new to the art of carrying a camera everywhere and since I was focused on the pizza I carelessly hung the camera over the uprights of my chair. Since I was a camera-carrying neophyte in the presence of an attractive young co-ed I quickly forgot all about the camera as I looked into her big, sparkly, hazel eyes.

We finished our pizza and walked, hand in hand, to my old, beat up, blue Volkswagen Fastback automobile and headed back to my place. When I walked in the door of my apartment I immediately realized that my prize camera; the M3, was no longer attached to my shoulder. I was devastated. I thought of the money I'd spent and the time it took to accrue that money. I headed back to the pizza place more or less certain that I'd be met with blank stares and NO camera.

I went straight to the table we'd been sitting at. No camera. I looked on the floor but no happiness was found there. Finally, I walked up to the front of the house and asked for the manager. "Did you happen to find a camera in the last half hour?" I asked. I was nervous and distraught.

"Actually, we did." the manager said. "Can you describe it?"

I said, "I think it's probably the only Leica M3 camera in your lost and found."

He smiled, walked into the office and emerged with my camera in hand. I was so happy. So absolutely happy.

And you would think after this experience I would never leave a camera behind again, right? But many years later, when Ben was a young child, we all went to eat at a restaurant called, Asti. I'd upgraded cameras by then and was toting a Leica M6 .85ttl with a 50mm Summilux on the front of it. We sat at a banquet and I took numerous photos of my young son during the course of dinner. We always requested the table next to the front window because the late Summer light was so good....

We had a delightful meal and headed home. When I walked into the house I noticed the answering machine had a blinking light on it indicating a message. I pressed the button to hear it and there was the voice of Asti's owner telling me that I'd left my camera behind, on the banquet, and that it was safely awaiting me at the hostess's station. That camera didn't seem as precious as the older M3. It was less of a struggle to buy. But I was still very happy not to lose it. There was a photograph on that roll of film that has been one of my favorites now for at least 15 years. That one frame is worth (to me) the entire value of the Leica and lens I had carelessly left behind.

Absent minded, but that's how I roll.

2 comments:

Daniel Walker said...

Almost the very same thing happened to me in a little side street restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas. It wasn't pizza and I left it on the seat and it wasn't a Lecia, however the feeling was the same "gut wrenching". I had to wait until the next day to re-claim my life again. The life lesson I learned from this is don't every give up on people to help you out when you need help.

thequietphotographer said...

Interesting stories, nice to know they both ended well :-)
robert