Every year, Leica stages a major event that’s eagerly anticipated by photography buffs of every kind: the Celebration of Photography (COP). Typically held at the German optical specialist’s headquarters, it’s here where new launches for the upcoming months are showcased to the world, as well as the brand’s signature Leica Oskar Barnack Award (LOBA), which was long been considered to be one of the most prestigious photography prizes globally. Here, a look at what went down.
When: October 11-13, 2023
Where: Wetzlar – a historical German town located approximately 50 minutes outside of Frankfurt in the state of Hesse. It’s a special place for Leica; the company was started here by founder Ernst Leitz. The town is also where German inventor, photographer and Leica staffer Oskar Barnack, created the world’s first 35mm camera (known as the Ur-Leica) – the instrument that changed the photography game by making cameras portable, fast, and of high quality.
Today, the company’s headquarters in Wetzlar is located within a massive 290,000 sq ft complex called Leitz-Park, where you can immerse yourself fully into the world of Leica – there are various brand apparatuses such as the Ernst Leitz Museum, hotel, museum, store and factory.
Leica’s sprawling Leitz-Park complex (aka its headquarters) in Wetzlar, Germany, was all lit up for the brand’s annual Celebration of Photography event.
What: A key highlight of the Celebration of Photography event is the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (LOBA), which is now in its 43rd edition and is always a closely watched affair in the industry as winners’ careers typically tend to skyrocket after. It’s also a well-endowed prize – the winner walks away with 40,000 euros (S$58,300) and Leica camera equipment valued at 10,000 euros (S$14,600) , while the winner of the Newcomer Award (open to photographers aged 30 and below) receives 10,000 euros (S$14,600) and a Leica Q3.
60 experts from more than 30 countries submitted names of photographers to the international five-person jury, which changes yearly. From there, the judges selected the winners based on its primary guideline that submitted works must be documentary or artistic in nature, and explore the relationships that people have with their environment.
LOBA 2023 winner Ismail Ferdous
This year, the winner is the New York-based, Bangladeshi lensman Ismail Ferdous, whose submitted series, Sea Beach, was created over the past four years and conceptualised to present a different perspective to his homeland than what is commonly depicted in the media or pop culture.
He focused on Cox’s Bazar Beach, which is located at the southernmost point of Bangladesh and at 120 kilometres in length, it’s often referred to as the longest natural saltwater beach in the world. “The beach at Cox’s Bazar represents a popular escape into nature for an overpopulated country. It’s a place where anyone, from any level of society, can afford to take a holiday. The lack of a sense of urgency is noteworthy, as though time itself is begging people to abandon all their burdens and go to the beach,” says Ismail.
Over the course of four years, Bangladesh-born photographer Ismail Ferdous returned repeatedly to Cox’s Bazar Beach to capture the rich variety of people who visit this famed holiday destination.
Through his dream-like series Sea Beach, Bangladesh-born photographer Ismail Ferdous sought to bring a new perspective to the common narrative that surrounds his homeland.
If the lighting feels surreal, it’s because Ismail wanted to create a sense of wistfulness that alludes to his pleasant memories of the place; Cox’s Bazar Beach is where he would come for family holidays and later on, trips with friends.
The other main prize, the LOBA Newcomer, went to emerging Chinese photographer Ziyi Le. The 30-year-old’s series, also titled New Comer, probes at the sense of spiritual emptiness and isolation that has come to characterise his generation through various reasons such as soaring unemployment rates among youths in China. The country’s famously strict movement restrictions during the pandemic only amplified these feelings.
Emerging Chinese photographer Ziyi Le, who won this year’s LOBA Newcomer prize.
Using Weibo (China’s version of Twitter), he found over 40 youths who responded to his open call. And while each person has different circumstances, they all seem to share a certain pensiveness and a lack of direction, which emanates across these tender portraits.
“I could clearly sense an invisible shadow enveloping most people… Even if I don’t have much in common with most of them, I am touched by each one of them: their readiness to evolve, and their attempt to find redemption in a positive or negative way,” says Le.
Emerging photographer Ziyi Le’s pensive portraits of Chinese youths nabbed him the LOBA Newcomer award this year.
Both Ismail and Le’s works, as well as the rest of the LOBA 2023 finalists, are currently on display at the Ernst Leitz Museum in Wetzlar, before they will go on to tour other Leica Galleries and photo festivals around the world.
What else: The COP also served as a platform to showcase a major new launch for Leica. Cue the ZM 11 watch, a sporty-chic number that marks the German maison’s growing presence in the horological realm.
The new Leica ZM 11 watch was designed to play with shadow and light. The effect is most evident in the model on the right – a titanium case with a black dial that seems to turn red when viewed from different angles.
Armed with its own automatic movement (the Leica Calibre LA-3001 and developed in collaboration with the Swiss specialist Chronode SA), the 41 mm watch is available in three iterations (a steel case with matching strap and a blue dial; two titanium cases with rubber and fabric straps, with a black-and-red and warm brown dial respectively). In Singapore, the ZM 11 watch series will be available exclusively at Leica’s Raffles Hotel Arcade store from November 23.
Last but not least: It only makes sense that Leica has its own Hall of Fame, and this year’s COP saw the renowned Magnum lensman Elliot Erwitt being inducted into this space. While the photographer has shot many of the world’s most famous figures – from Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Seven Year Itch (1954) to Che Guevara and Jacqueline Kennedy, he’s best known for his ability to capture life’s everyday moments with consummate wit.
Legendary photographer and dog lover Elliott Erwitt, who was inducted into Leica’s Hall of Fame this year.
50 of his works – hand-selected by the photographer himself – are now on display at Leica Gallery Wetzlar till the end of January 2024. Naturally, it follows that Leica’s Picture of the Year was selected from Erwitt’s extensive oeuvre – titled Bulldogs, it’s a photo shot in 2000 that humorously seems to meld together the figure of a dog owner with that of his canine companion.
The renowned Magnum photographer and new Leica Hall of Fame-r Elliott Erwitt’s playful photograph of two bulldogs and their owner has been selected as the brand’s Picture of the Year.
And to think Erwitt stumbled upon the dogs and its owner by chance while walking around his local neighbourhood. “I had set out from my studio, just around the corner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, taking a walk with my friend Hiroji Kubota, but I wasn’t carrying a camera. I saw this scene and asked him if I could borrow his camera. He kindly handed me his Leica and I used up the whole film,’ says the 95-year-old.
The Bulldogs photograph is exclusively available at Leica Galleries come November, with a limited run of 80 copies worldwide, each bearing a signature and a unique edition number, accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, all presented in an ornate folder.