The British collaborative artists extol the virtues of Leica's classic rangefinder
For the past 30 years, artists Olly and Suzi have been tracking, painting and photographing endangered wildlife in remote Arctic, desert and jungle environments, and underwater in the oceans.
Recently, they have embarked on a new series of small landscape works inspired by Mkomazi, a region in Tanzania near Kilimanjaro, which they have been visiting for 20 years. They work in the field, and use sketches and photography for reference in their London studio. Throughout their collaboration they have been using the 35mm Leica M6 and, latterly, the fully manual Leica M-A as their expedition cameras.
Olly: Our art-making expeditions are elemental, especially in the Arctic. Often there is no guaranteed power source for recharging. We need to carry the kit we use on our backs, so weight is a consideration. Essentially, we need the camera to be operational whether we're at -40ºC in Alaska, at +40ºC in the jungle, at 40m underwater or at 14,000 feet. Mechanical Leicas give us that relentless reliability.
Suzi: We travel with 35mm film; it is a discipline. On average we take just ten rolls of black and white and colour. We have to think about each and every exposure.
Olly: We do meter - the M6 has basic centre-weighted metering, but this is battery powered and we have had it go down, hence why I now use the Leica M6. We carry a small backup metre sometimes too, but if it's too cold we often don't meter; we know our f-stops - the 'sunny 16' rule works well in bright sunlight. I do think it's genius that Leica still make the fully manual M-A 35mm film cameras in this high-tech competitive market. In any temperature, it's bomb proof, dust proof - it's a phenomenal piece of engineering. Historically we're massive fans of Leica - both cameras and binos. The glass is the finest out there. I recently tried the Leica Q and it was amazing. My brother Greg Williams uses it daily for his portrait photography. The Q is possibly the end of having to worry about the technicalities of taking a photo because you just press 'go' - it has auto everything. It's the ultimate 'urban' Leica. But in the wild, out of the comfort zone, that digital battery life is potentially a big problem for us.
Suzi: In the high Arctic on Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg at 82 degrees north, tracking Arctic wolves and musk oxen on foot, living for weeks in a tent - we have no power source. We're not photojournalists – we're artists. We need our cameras to work at all times. I love my M6. It's all I've ever used and it's the only camera I own.
Olly: And the quality... you'll see on our Instagram. You can tell it's Suzi's shot because it's spontaneous, unmetered, high-speed film. There is just a beautiful resonant quality to her 35mm images.
Suzi: And slightly blurred...on purpose. It's all about tone, shape and composition for me.
Olly: Suzi shoots at ISO; 3200 or 1600 black-and-white film. It is massively fast, great in low light but what I think is truly unique is the way she produces the shot, the angles she gets. Lying prone in the dirt, six inches from a skittish wild dog.
Suzi: Olly shoots reportage, documenting our process, he also has my back when I get in close through the viewfinder. The M6 and the new M-A viewfinders are ultra bright, and allow us to keep a real-time track of our surroundings, scrutinising every movement of a potentially dangerous predator and avoiding the danger of the tunnel vision of a conventional SLR prism.
Olly: That really means something now, in these days when everyone's snapping away on their phones, looking at the back of their cameras and their iPhone screens. Leica are clever. They really get what we need and what we do.
For more information on Olly and Suzi, please visit ollysuzi.com or follow them on Instagram @ollysuzi