The film is an introspective journey inside the life of Christa after her experience with the Velvet Underground, through drugs and a suicidal son that she had from a man when she was very young. Because of the reckless life she led, the boy was adopted by his grandparents and this had a great influence in her music.
The struggle of being Nico, the model and tambourine player of the band, the addiction to many types of drugs, the carrier as a solo singer, has made Christa an "ugly, old junkie" as she says in the film. The desperation in her music, the wildness of her personality has been well interpreted by Trine Dyrholm, who has been able to depict the demons with which the singer fought everyday.
The soundtrack of the film has been entirely performed by Trina, who not only looks like the real Nico but also has a voice that looks very much like the original. Every song is full of emotions and speak about a life of struggle and broken-hearted.
The editing of Nico,1988 helps the spectator identify with Christa and makes him look right into her eyes. The close-ups on Nico’s face – while she stares into the camera or the empty space in front of her – makes one feel as if she was in front of the viewer. The editing also alternates what seems like old footages of the real Nico and the Trina-Nico.
After what seems a redemption, Christa is finally serene and wants to settle down, quitting music for good. The end of the film is a symbolic way to represent the death of the singer, and I think that it couldn’t have been more explicit.
Nicchiarelli has directed the perfect portrait of a legendary woman and what it ment living during the 60s. Not only what drugs have done to most of those people, but what it means to get old after living a youth full of experiences.
The Shape of Water is set in the 1960s during the Cold War in an experimental centre where the main female character Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works. One day, a strange and cruel man arrives in the centre and he brings something incredible: a monster from the deep waters of the South. The story of this merman and woman also includes Sally Hawkins notes on a love story and a mermaid.
In fact, he plot revolves around the encounter between Elisa and the merman, and the love story that develops from that point on. Many things in Elisa’s life remind the viewer of water: her scars on her neck – very fish-like; the colour pattern for her flat, that goes from cyan to light blue; even her sexuality, which she takes care of in the water of her bathtub, and even the colour through which the merman communicates feelings. Blueish colours are not the only present: red is the colour of love, and it begins to appear when Elisa falls in love with the creature.
Guillermo’s idea of fantasy and fable is not to tell a nice, romantic story, but to place the present political situation in another context, so he can explain it better, or even say things that would’ve been hushed. “Fantasy is a very political genre” are the words Guillermo uses to introduce his films, especially this one, where it’s actually very explicit on the real political situation he wants to represent: nowadays, the Trump political situation. For this reason, the monster, which doesn’t have a name, is central: he is something different for each of the characters; he is a divine entity that makes everything go in right direction.
Music, and also cinema, has a great share in this film. The composer Alexander Desplat has been chosen by Del Toro because he wanted something emotional, full of feelings and sensation. Even the music and the sounds from the films playing in the background are part of the soundtrack and part of the things that unite Elisa to the creature.
Guillermo is famous for his political fables, for his eccentric style, and for this reason he is very appreciated, but I must say that with The Shape of Water he created a perfect work of art. All photographs by Alessio Costantino
BeepStreet has provided us with a lot of good apps over the years. Apps like GyroSynth, Impaktor, iSequence HD, and Sunrizer. But BeepStreet has been quiet for some time, and now we know why. BeepStreet has been working on Zeeon. Zeeon is a virtual analog synthesizer, powered by an advanced analog circuit modelling engine.
According to BeepStreet:
We spent a lot of time analysing iconic analog synths, both vintage and modern, to find out which parts of the circuit contribute most to their specific character. We used this knowledge to create a unique synth, with focus on what’s most important – the pure, organic and detailed sound. Many analog synth emulations sound dull. Not Zeeon. We take care of the entire spectrum range from deep lows to sweet highs. All audio and modulation signals are processed at 176 KHz (4x oversampling).
So, here are the main features of Zeeon:
It’s both an Audio Unit v3 and a standalone application together with a simple polyphonic step sequencer
It has 2 oscillators with continuously variable waveforms, hard-sync and and also a sub-oscillator. Apparently the app carefully simulates analog drift and PSU influence too (I’ll be keen to experience that)
The Filter has 3 models available: Transistor ladder low pass, OTA cascade low pass and State Variable Filter with continuously variable LP-HP + BP mode.
There are 2 low frequency oscillators and envelope generators per voice
Overdrive – diode clipper and transistor saturation, pre and post filter.
Up to 2 layers per voice. Layers can modulate each other.
There’s a powerful modulation matrix offering self-modulation and cross-layer modulation, 8 modulation slots, 17 signal sources and 41 targets available, both from modulation modules and audio signal path. This takes Zeeon into semi-modular territory. Imagine oscillator waveform, panning, filter cutoff, resonance or LP-HP mode modulated by oscillators or another layer!
Effects unit built in: Circuit modelled BBD chorus, bass booster, zero-delay Phaser, Stereo delay and Reverb
The app comes with 144 presets and Tutorials bank too, plus more presets to come
So this looks like a very capable and worthy synth from a developer with some really good pedigree. I’m hoping that it’ll be a great addition to anyone’s collection of iOS synths.
“The Combine” is from the forthcoming album Screen Memories by John Maus available October 27, 2017. Screen Memories is also a part of a career-spanning limited edition 6 LP box set being released in April 2018.
Who doesn’t need a good chorus? FAC Chorus is a good choice for iOS as a AUv3 plugin. In version 1.2 this app gets better with a brand new preset manager, automation support, which will be extremely useful. If that wasn’t enough the new version also has a new stereo VU Meter, together with some UI improvements, the obligatory minor bug fixes, which no update should be without. Finally this version makes the bypass button visible everywhere as apparently it wasn’t always supported by hosts.
Once a week, during electives at primary school in 1980, I walked with a group of girls to the local hairdressing salon where we were taught how to apply eyeshadow, lipstick and smooth foundation onto our perfect skins. We also played AFL with the boys during sports period, but the news from women’s liberation about make-up and women’s oppression hadn’t yet arrived at my little school in the sleepy seaside town of Sorrento.
Second-wave feminism, to a large extent, defined itself against the beauty industry. As Susan Magarey writes, one of the Australian Women’s Liberation movement’s first actions was a 1970 protest against Adelaide University’s “Miss Fresher” beauty contest. It was inspired, in part, by a protest in the US against the 1968 Miss America pageant.
Women’s liberationists did have their disagreements about individual choices and tactics. Anne Summers, writing in the newsletter MeJane in 1973, said she was abused for wearing make-up at a Women’s Liberation conference. Carol Hanisch, a member of the New York Radical Women group behind the 1968 protest, argued later that protesters should target not the women who enter beauty contests, but “the men and bosses who imposed false beauty standards on women”.
In 1963, Betty Friedan had argued women’s magazines were central to creating the feminine mystique, an infantalising image of womanhood built around a myth of beautiful women in beautiful homes tending to handsome husbands and beautiful children. By 1975, Summers agreed. In Damned Whores and God’s Police, she wrote:
Popular magazines have as their principal raison d’être the codification and constant updating of femininity.
And by 1991, feminists were still linking beauty to women’s oppression. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth argued that women’s progress in the public sphere was matched by a fashion and media industry that promoted increasingly narrow standards of physical perfection: the superwoman also had to be a supermodel.
Wolf’s thesis was an important and galvanising one, but by the 1990s popular culture was in some ways outrunning popular feminism. As an undergraduate, I nodded along with my feminist friends reading Wolf during the day, while at night we frocked up and painted our lips to visit inner-city clubs where androgyny and queer culture were increasingly visible.
Celebrity figures such as Bowie, Prince and Madonna had prompted fans, as well as gender and cultural studies scholars, to ask if fashion and make-up, rather than necessarily being oppressive, could be seen in terms of play, choice and experiments around gender and sexuality.
Scholars had also started to ask whether women who consumed fashion and beauty products really were all passive dupes of big corporations. In more recent years, some have convincingly argued that beauty and fashion magazines might have been slipping feminist messages and empowering information into their pages all along.
The women’s magazine formula
The relationship of feminism to the beauty industry and women’s magazines, in other words, has a complex history. Still, as I listened to Elaine Welteroth, the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, speak to the Sydney Writers’ Festival in June this year, it occurred to me that today’s popular feminism would be unrecognisable to many of the Miss America protesters half a century ago.
For Welteroth, an African-American former beauty editor at Teen Vogue, women’s magazines and beauty products are feminism now.
“Beauty and style are just really great platforms to open up important conversations,” she said.
She told her Sydney audience that fashion and beauty are portals to sisterhood and political awareness:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the bathroom with another woman … we feel we have nothing in common but we talk about a great lipstick shade or great hair … and it’s just this doorway for connection and for understanding and for dialogue.
While acknowledging earlier magazines that pioneered this path, like Marie Claire, Sassy and Ms. Magazine, Welteroth claimed Teen Vogue’s pairing of “fashion and beauty” with “radical information” is “special and unprecedented”.
On my most Pollyannaish days, I want to cheer Welteroth and other online publications that mix politics with fashion and beauty for the way they are mainstreaming feminism. In Australia, Fairfax’s Daily Life blends wide-eyed articles about Miranda Kerr’s wedding dress with stories about Rosie Batty and smart commentary by writers such as Ruby Hamad about the relationship between feminism and Islam.
Mia Freedman’s Mamamia mixes stories about making waxing less painful with articles on reproductive rights. Freedman’s websites were described as being at the epicentre of the mainstream Australian women’s movement three years ago, although even then, as writer Chloe Hooper observed, Freedman had become “something of a lightning rod for contemporary feminism”.
On closer inspection, though, this lashing together of feminist politics with a women’s magazine sensibility has produced some odd results. In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan ridiculed a 1960s edition of the women’s magazine McCall’s for running articles on baldness in women, on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and on finding a second husband. In 2015, when Freedman launched a new (and now defunct) site called Debrief Daily, the site included stories on why women’s hair thins out, the name of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby, and one titled “Four reasons why second marriages are happier marriages”.
In other words, the women’s magazine formula runs deep in many online publications newly rebranded as “feminist”. And as Freedman’s recent and widely criticised podcast interview with feminist writer Roxane Gay suggests, the relationship between feminism and online women’s magazines may be at breaking point (more on this below).
But does this mash-up of fashion and celebrity and feminism have to be incompatible? For Welteroth the answer is no: she says you can cover hard-hitting political and social issues and beauty, fashion and fame. Teen Vogue, she told us, takes news stories that “maybe needed a little bit more context for a younger audience, needed maybe a personal narrative to make [them] seem relevant to them”.
It’s this making the political personal that echoes the second-wave idea of the personal being political, albeit in a reversed way.
The personal is neoliberal
In my PhD research, I’ve looked at the origin of the phrase “the personal is political”. Gloria Steinem once said crediting someone for coming up with it would be as absurd as assigning credit to someone for inventing the term “World War II”. Still, its first use in a publication is commonly cited as being the headline of an article by the member of New York Radical Women I mentioned earlier, Carol Hanisch, in the 1970 collection of essays Notes from the Second Year.
Hanisch’s article was a defence of second-wave feminism’s consciousness-raising. Meeting in small groups, women told stories about their lives to understand how their personal problems were actually political ones. And they planned collective action.
Women in the left and the civil rights movement felt that while they protested inequalities between black and white, and the imperialist war in Vietnam, there were glaring injustices in their personal lives. Women took the bulk of responsibility for housework and childcare, did the “shitwork” (Hanisch’s word) in protest movements, were judged on their appearances, and took all the responsibility for contraception and abortion.
Second-wave feminists wanted sexual emancipation and the right to work alongside men, but they didn’t want to do everything. They discussed all kinds of solutions, from communal living to state-provided free childcare, to a total revolution in the consumerist capitalist system.
The jarring thing about the feminism of sites such as Daily Life or Mamamia is that they seem to want to make women responsible for doing everything again. Take a look at the sections at the top of a magazine’s website and you’ll see a list of topics such as “relationships”, “health”, “beauty”, “careers” and so on.
The endless articles and lists of ways to improve and excel in all those areas can make these sites exhausting just to look at. It seems no coincidence that the same sites will carry articles about managing anxiety, or “ten ways to cope with your depression” and, most famously, Freedman’s own tale of using Lexapro to cope with anxiety, a drug she endorsed to readers.
Many second-wavers were influenced by the counter culture and, with their radical therapy groups and interest in personal growth, they were also interested in self-care. And medication, of course, can be life-saving. But when second-wave feminists like Friedan saw large numbers of women who were anxious and using anti-depressants, they asked how the world needed to change. Or as Hanisch said in 1970:
There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.
Reflecting on her original article in 2006, Hanisch did acknowledge that we can change ourselves at the same time as we change the world. But now websites like Mamamia are increasingly asking how women can transform and adapt themselves to fit into a competitive, individualistic world. The emphasis is mostly on individual achievement and adaption to the status quo – rather than on changing the status quo.
The political becomes personal
The use of first-person stories on women’s websites like Daily Life and Mamamia exploded around the same time as media budgets were cut (a trend writer Jia Tolentino has written about in the US). They have been immensely popular, as researcher Kate Wilcox found in her study of Daily Life website.
At their best, these contemporary personal stories are a new form of feminist consciousness-raising, helping women to realise they aren’t alone and to understand that their experiences have social and political contexts. Some great writers with extraordinary stories, such as Mamamia’s Rosie Waterland, emerged from this process.
At their worst, today’s personal story trend never gets beyond the personal to be political, focusing instead on the scandalous, the trivial or sensational, as Roxane Gay recently found.
Gay is an accomplished writer and academic who makes the personal political in her latest book Hunger. She places the story of her body in the context of her past traumatic sexual abuse. She writes that her body has been pathologised by the medical profession, by the media (singling out shows such as The Biggest Loser) and by people who treat her as an object to be feared and commented on, rather than as a person with opinions and feelings.
Freedman’s interview with Gay was not terrible, but it wasn’t very enlightening either. It mostly glided over big political questions. Instead she asked Gay to repeat a series of stories: about her experiences on planes, her relationship with her parents and where Gay sources her clothes.
Freedman’s most egregious mistake, however, was to introduce her podcast by going into minute (and questionable) detail about Gay’s access requirements. Freedman revealed discussions with Gay’s publicists about lifts, stairs and chairs: reducing Gay to a freaky body that doesn’t belong in the world – the very thing her book asks people not to do.
Feminist books, magazines and now websites have allowed consciousness-raising to move out of small intimate groups, opening up a proliferation of stories for women to read anywhere at any time. Observing the US scene, Tolentino says the personal essay trend is all but over.
But books marketed as popular feminist texts have been (and remain) increasingly personal and memoir-based. Often now written by women who are celebrities (Lena Dunham, Sheryl Sandberg, Caitlin Moran …), their life story becomes both the example and proof of the author’s feminist credentials.
The very personal tone in which popular feminism is conducted today can be traced back to both second-wave consciousness-raising and the confessional column of women’s magazines. Although Gay is an academic and cultural commentator as well as a feminist celebrity, as the Mamamia interview debacle showed, these two traditions can collide, creating a new set of problems where the political can become unhelpfully personal.
I’m not suggesting we give Freedman, a publisher who made her name as the youngest editor of Australian Cosmopolitan, a free pass. I am suggesting, though, that we shouldn’t have been surprised by the way this story turned out. Freedman apologised to Gay almost as soon as her interview was published, but her No Filter personal podcast thrives, with Freedman recently tweeting it has reached 4 million downloads.
With their roots in the new left and anti-capitalist counter culture, it’s not surprising many early women’s liberationists opposed the beauty industry and the commodification of women’s bodies. They weren’t against sex (who is?), but rather the “commercial exploitation of sex”, as an early Sydney women’s liberation group told Julie Rigg in a 1969 interview with The Australian.
Now, on Welteroth’s Teen Vogue, articles about make-up and hairstyles, or a bathing suit brand worn by model Bella Hadid, jostle with serious stories about cinematic representations of eating disorders. And while Mamamia will run body-positive stories, it’s often tied to products you can buy, like active wear and tights for larger women.
Welteroth and Teen Vogue haven’t been described as “woke” without good reason. And they are challenging publishers and the broader community’s preconceptions about what young readers are interested in.
But the site is still bound to the genre’s code of presenting attractive bodies and aspirational lives. So it will run a critical article about cultural appropriation at Coachella music festival – and illustrate it with Instagram images of stunning models and a Jenner family member wearing an American headdress.
On the face of it, it was encouraging when Welteroth told her Sydney audience her plans for Teen Vogue include bringing young girls together “IRL” to “actually have conversations around the table where they can have their voices heard and work together to try to now solve some of these problems in the world we talk about”.
But this is consciousness-raising version 2.0, branded VogueTM. It has to be a good thing for a struggling and isolated teen to read about a celebrity coming out, or coping with depression, or the mechanics of safe anal sex. But I find it hard to celebrate what is also, in many ways, a major corporation effectively “selling your politics” back to you, as one friend recently put it.
I’m not the target audience. And I don’t think it would be terrible if those Vogue-convened consciousness-raising sessions came with a gift pack of a rainbow tattoo for Pride Week, a T-shirt with a Black Lives Matter-endorsed fist logo, and even purple eyeshadow for feminism. But I can’t help feeling like I’m back in primary school, being marched down to the beauty professionals to learn how to be a woman.
Kath Kenny does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Every year, there are millions of people die from malaria and dengue carried by files, but it’s difficult to eliminate all those flies at once. Flies Trap Concept Lid offers a functional product that also helps to catch flies, this lid gives a second life to a disposable coffee cup. When people finish with their […]
We are also partnering with some local Arizona small businesses to donate all of the proceeds from Thursday’s sales to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. We would love if you joined us in raising as much money as we can for the people of Texas.
An ode to the art of relationship sculpted in time.
“A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence,” advised a nineteenth-century guide to the art of epistolary etiquette, “but also as a work of art.” Virginia Woolf made a beautiful case for letter writing as “the humane art” and Lewis Carroll proposed that it be governed by a set of rules which, if applied to today’s dominant communication media, would make the whole of modern life kinder and more humane.
A century after the golden age of the epistolary art began to set as the letter commenced dying its incremental death by telegraph, telephone, and email, the polymathic playwright Sam Shepard (November 5, 1943–July 27, 2017) both enacted and explicitly extolled its unsetting splendors in Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark (public library) — the magnificent volume of his correspondence with his dearest friend, former father-in-law, and spiritual brother, which also gave us Shepard on love.
In the late summer of 2010, four decades into their correspondence, 66-year-old Shepard writes to Dark:
One thing I realize I love about the ‘letter’ as a form is that it’s conversation; — always available. You can just sit down any old morning & have a conversation whether the person’s there or not. You can talk about anything & you don’t have to wait politely for the other person to finish the train of thought. You can have long gaps between passages — days can go by & you might return & pick it up again. And the great difference in all other forms of writing is that it is dependent to a large extent on the other person. It’s not just a solo act. You’re writing in response to or in relationship to someone else — over time. I think that’s the key — over time. We’re very lucky, I figure, to have continued the desire to talk to each other by mail for something like 40 years. But then again, what else were we going to do? It is probably the strongest through-line I’ve maintained in this life.
Counting his letters as not only a part of his body of work but an essential part of the same meaning-making that animates his art, Shepard adds:
Everything else seems to be broken — except, of course, my other writing which has been with me constantly since about 1963. I’ll never forget the elation of finishing my first one-act play. I felt I’d really made something for the first time. Like the way you make a chair or a tale. Something was in the world now that hadn’t been there before.
He ends the letter with the very thing that makes the epistolary art so singularly powerful — its ability to transport the recipient to the sender’s world and welcome one consciousness into the felt experience of another:
Another beautiful morning here. Dew on the pasture. Horses grazing. It’s a ‘Kentucky Bluegrass’ postcard. Just a hint of fall in the air, the humidity has lifted & it’s like somebody just pulled a big heavy blanket off yr shoulders.
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In 1974 Leitz Wetzlar introduced an evolutionary camera to build on the foundation laid by the first and second Leica SLRs, the Leicaflex and Leicaflex SL. This new camera, christened with the wild abandon so typified by the Germans as the Leicaflex SL2, was designed and built under an uncommon ethos in which no expense was spared. The camera was extremely expensive (double the price of the comparable Nikon pro-spec SLR against which it was directly competing), remarkably beautiful, built to exacting standards, and was the first truly complete system SLR from Leica.
If all this sounds like the first chapter in what would become a stratospheric success and subsequent dynasty of SLR dominance, that’s because we’re only telling half the story. In the same era in which the SL2 debuted, Leica was in dire financial straits, with every Leicaflex the company sold reportedly losing the brand money – not a good business position. The result is that the SL2 was only in production for two years, an incredibly short lifespan in the world of professional SLR systems.
But even this isn’t the full story, because the book on this entirely mechanical camera is still being written more than four decades after the final example rolled out of the factory. The SL2’s all-mechanical construction, advanced technical abilities, exceptional lenses, and sheer durability make it an heirloom machine that’s as capable today as it was back then, and the SL2 is the Leica SLR to own in 2017.
The first handshake with any camera is made with the eyes, and this camera grasps with a hand that inspires confidence. That’s because it’s gorgeous. Aesthetically speaking, the SL2 is everything I want in a camera. Though fans of Leica’s more famous M and that machine’s bauhaus simplicity might find the SL2 downright inelegant, as a professional SLR, this thing is quintessentially classic, with a profile and silhouette that’s timeless and utilitarian. The pentaprism is squat and compact, the body muscular with stoic angles. Top plate controls are reminiscent of fine machine tools and built and deployed with a nod to symmetry. Like all the best machines in the world, there’s an economy of form that those in-the-know will recognize as the brass ring of design.
This purposeful and timeless aesthetic carries through to the camera’s feel in the hand, mostly. There are some little annoyances, chief of which is the sheer heft of the machine. Like the Minolta XK, which was found to be a technically incredible camera with a major failing in the weight department, the SL2 will be simply too heavy for some users. Shooters who travel or the adventurous type may be put off when packing an SL2 and a couple or three lenses in a bag. For those shooters there are certainly better SLRs to choose.
But this substantial weight is a natural product of the camera’s old-world construction. The materials selection department at Leitz in 1974 had not yet been seduced by the siren song of plastics. A shooter holding an SL2 would be hard-pressed to put his finger on anything not made of brass or some other alloy, and if some users will be turned off by the camera’s heaviness, an equal number (or more) will accept this heft to hold such a strong, all-mechanical, all-metal camera. It’s a heavy machine, yes, but it’s a good heavy.
Functionality could also be described as timeless. This is a tool camera in the same way that a Rolex Submariner is a tool watch. It’s been meticulously designed to not only look good, but serve a function in the most direct way possible. All knobs, dials, levers, and switches are placed in a position that makes simple sense, with a clarity of purpose that eschews the “multiple-functions-for-every-switch” design sensibility of other contemporary and today’s cameras. The ISO dial is an ISO dial. It’s not an ISO dial with a build in exposure compensation dial and multiple-exposure lever. To call this camera a simple camera is accurate, and not a disparagement.
On the top plate we have the shutter speed selector, ISO dial, film type indicator, rewind knob, and film frame counter (which is a gorgeous jewel-like affair reminiscent of the M3’s. Atop the pentaprism is a hot shoe, and an ingenious light meter illumination button, which when pressed, activates a light within the pentaprism to assist in meter readings in low-light situations. The front of the camera carries this simplicity of layout, with only a self-timer (which you’ll never use), a depth-of-field preview lever (which you’ll use), and the lens removal button. On the opposite flank of the lens mount are the flash connectors and a battery compartment (which holds a battery to power only the viewfinder illumination). The bottom shows another battery compartment for powering the light meter, and a film rewind button. On the back, there’s nothing. Except a viewfinder. And in the case of my 50th year edition, a special serial number. Neat.
This simplicity of design shouldn’t surprise long-time Leica fans – their M series has forever been a minimalist machine for discerning shooters (or so the marketing goes). This camera is no different. The only shooting mode the SL2 offers is fully manual with meter assistance. That’s it. So you’ll be in charge of controlling your shutter speed, lens aperture, and everything else necessary to make a photo. For new shooters, this might be intimidating, but don’t let it be. The CdS light meter is extremely accurate, and its match-needle display is simplicity itself. Wide open through-the-lens readings are taken from an average area mostly in the center of the frame. Point your camera at your subject and the meter will tell you how much light you’re seeing via a delightful analog needle that swings up and down in the viewfinder. Now align this metering needle with the needle that corresponds to your settings and you’ll make a properly exposed image. No big deal.
This ease of use puts the SL2 in a surprising category of machine that’s equally at home in the confident and weathered hands of an experienced photographer as well as in the cold and clammy hands of a brand-new shooter looking to learn. For a camera to serve those two markets equally well, and be so damn perfectly built at the same time, is quite rare.
Of course, there’s no auto-exposure modes here, so users who absolutely need aperture-priority or full auto should probably look elsewhere, perhaps to Minolta’s XE series. And as the auto-focus revolution had yet to occur in 1974, this is a manual-focus only machine. Something to keep in mind for the lazy slobs among us.
What makes the SL2 the Leica SLR to own today? For me, it’s the combination of improvements over what came before it and a lack of the superfluous stuff that came after. The SL2 improves on the Leicaflex and Leicaflex SL in ways that seem insignificant on paper, but are practically very important. The viewfinder is much-improved, showing both the selected shutter speed as well as the selected lens aperture. This makes the process of taking a photo intuitive and effortless in that we never have to remove our eye from the viewfinder. The inclusion of a split-image focusing screen with micro prism surrounding band brings the SL2 up to speed with its rivals and makes focusing a breeze when compared to the earlier Leicas. We’re also benefiting from a more sensitive light meter, which is always helpful.
But the greatest improvement is one that reaches to the very core of what a pro-spec system SLR camera should be. Leica and Minolta were both producing R mount lenses at the time of the SL and SL2’s production cycle, and due to a design element within the SL’s mirror box, certain wide-angle lenses were unusable on that older machine. The SL2 rectifies this with a new mirror design, allowing for the first time the use of the full range of wide-angle lenses.
And when we consider the SL2 against the SLRs that came after it, the R series machines built in cooperation with Minolta and later Leica cameras, there’s little competition. Sure, the R3, R4, and later machines topple the SL2 on the spec sheet, and these cameras even feel pretty good in the hand, but they just don’t have it where it counts. They’re less reliable, rely on electronics just a bit too heavily, and lack the finesse of the earlier machine. Plus, if you’re buying an R body you may as well save some cash and go for the excellent Minolta versions, which are often simpler and better-designed.
Of course, all of these improvements, the desirousness of its looks, and the robustness of its construction mean very little if the camera isn’t very fun to shoot. Happily, it is.
This machine is the very essence of why I shoot old cameras. There’s something here that you simply cannot get with today’s digital machines, no matter how nice they might be. There’s a tactility that is impossible to convey accurately (how many times have I read about how great something feels, and dismissed it as hyperbolic brand worship?), but it’s here. The film advance mechanism actuates with a refined ratcheting feedback that reminds us that something fantastically mechanical just happened inside the dense body. The shutter release button offers a perfect resistance before finally clicking home to release the shutter. The lens mounts with a robust click that’s impossibly satisfying.
And more than these unquantifiable tactile pleasures, the camera just works. The viewfinder is gorgeous and bright, looking more like ground glass than any other SLR finder I’ve used (there is, in fact, an optional ground glass focusing screen that was available as an install from the factory and standard equipment on the SL2 Mot). The metering system has never guided me wrong. The shutter is indestructible, as is the body itself (I’ve heard a story about an SL2 falling from an airplane to the floor of the Mojave desert, and still being repairable). And the images this machine can make are, without bluster, beautiful.
And since the image is the reason for any camera to exist, this is imporatnt, and something Leica has always understood. Their range of R mount lenses are second-to-none. The standard 50mm F/2 Summicron, which could be described as this camera’s kit lens, has quickly become my favorite standard lens. Images made with this lens are consistently surprising in their color rendition and sharpness. Leica’s coated glass does exceptionally well at coaxing as much punch out of film as any lenses I’ve used, and on my a7II it performs just as well.
The all-metal lens hoods feel pretty damn sweet, too.
What we have with the SL2 is something that’s rare, not only in the world of cameras, but in the whole history of stuff made by humans. It’s rare to own an object that we can use for fifty years, that can then be passed onto our kids or a friend for their use over the next fifty years. The SL2 is this kind of object – it’s an heirloom machine in a segment of consumer devices that is and has always been obsessed with improvement, advancement, and replacement.
There’s a term in the German language, verschlimmbessern, that roughly describes something we’re all familiar with – the act of accidentally making something worse when trying to improve it. With the SL2, Leica avoided doing this to their SLR. The SL2 is better than any Leica SLR that came before. Unfortunately, the verschilmmbessern was strong with the cameras that came after the SL2. For me, this camera is the high water mark of Leica SLRs, and it’s right there in the conversation for the high water mark of SLRs on the whole. For users who love the feel of Leica machines and the rendition of Leica glass, but who don’t find themselves falling in love with rangefinders (like myself), the Leicaflex SL2 is the SLR to own.