Can I Take Your Portrait?

Take & Give

There are a lot of amazing cameras out there to explore the streets with, but nothing comes close to shooting with a Leica rangefinder. Ever since I picked up my Leica M7 I’ve felt empowered to do what I’ve wanted to do for many years, take better street portraits. I’ve done this in the past with other cameras, but nothing as bold as I have since shooting with the M7.

As I was developing this batch of Kodak Portra 400, I was thinking about what’s changed in me; and the only thing I can come up with is using the right tool for the job. I believe that I am a better photographer because of the M7.

Now, before you judge me and label me as a fanboy, let’s break this down for a minute. What’s stealthier with the functional range of a Leica M7 for street? Nothing. I believe that fact paired with the general knowledge from the public of the brand and it’s value, along with the long history of amazing photographers that have used this tool has opened me up to be the photographer I want to be and capture the photos I want to capture instead of going home empty handed wishing I would have taken the shot.

I saw this very pale tattooed person in the alley behind the hustle of sidewalk traffic on Broadway in Nashville, TN. I passed him twice as I was going up and down the sidewalk looking for subjects. On my second pass I stopped after I passed him and said to myself “quit being a chump”. I turned around through the crowd and the conversation went like this:

Me: I like your work (pulling my hand across my face). Can I take your portrait?

Tattoo: Nodding gesture as he puffed out smoke from his cigarette.

Me: ‘Click’… (repositioned) One more ‘click’ (I smile) Thank you.

Looking back at it, I felt bad. The entire impromptu relationship was one sided. I approached him for approval and offered absolutely nothing in return whereas he offered everything. Is this how it is? I just take and give nothing back? This person will never see these portraits to enjoy or hate. I feel bad about that. I approached him, he deserves something in return.

“Matt, you take photos of people all the time without asking.”

Very true, and in that I feel like we are even in value, the unknowing know nothing and I take from a scene, not a person. For that I don’t feel bad, but for asking someone to specifically be open to me interrupting their day and be vulnerable is something completely different.

“Why are you telling us this?”

Great questions. I believe in balance and when things are unbalanced I’m thrown off. I’m probably not unique in that and want to share my story with you so you can be better prepared if/when similar scenarios come up in your life.

This is my story. I hope you enjoyed following along.

Matt Pittman / Leica M7 / Zeiss ZM 35mm 2.8 / Kodak Portra 400 / Nashville, TN