Luiz Melodia on stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival. (Images: Michael Agel)
Luiz Melodia on stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival. (Images: Michael Agel)

Leica Camera

Montreux Monochrom

Last year, Michael Agel photographed the stars of the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival on and backstage with the Leica M Monochrom.

Nobody could have foreseen that this photo of Claude Nobs – head and heart of the Montreux Jazz Festival for over 45 years – would be one of the last. It shows the Swiss culture manager at home in his chalet joking with American blues musician Buddy Guy. What they have in common? Their passion for music, of course, and evidently a penchant for ornamental shirt patterns as well. And they were both born in 1936. This special moment was captured by photographer Michael Agel. Six months later, Claude Nobs failed to regain consciousness after an operation resulting from a skiing accident.

Among living legends: the Leica M Monochrom

In summer 2012, Michael Agel spent several weeks on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva. On assignment for Leica, his brief was to photograph the young and young-at-heart stars performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival, of which Leica is an official partner. His equipment included a relatively new camera that can already be hailed as a living legend: the Leica M Monochrom. It is the world’s first purely black-and-white digital camera fitted with a sensor that only processes different brightness values, so that its 18 megapixel resolution produces significantly higher definition and less image noise than comparable color sensors. “With its outstanding definition and dynamics, the Leica M Monochrom is fun to work with on its technological merits alone,” says Michael Agel.

Agel knows what he’s talking about, as the pronounced light/dark contrasts of the stage lighting at concerts present the photographer and the camera with a particular challenge. They both master this challenge impressively: Buddy Guy steps out of the darkness onto the stage like a figure of light. In the haze of the fog machine, the spotlight follows the vivacious Alanis Morissette. Meanwhile, singer Erykah Badu poses at the side of the stage, showing off her extravagant costume in the twilight zone between genius and madness. The lighting is almost tender in the way it accentuates the imposing figure of American saxophonist James Carter.

Characteristic toning effects of analog black-and-white photography

At the edge of the stage, the Leica M fully plays to its strengths. I ask Michael Agel if using a black-and-white camera makes you take photos differently. “The longer you work with the Monochrom, the more you learn to think in a different way. Or, in other words, when you’re choosing your subject through the viewfinder, you concentrate much more on image composition, patterns and contrasts,” he explains. As a result, the viewfinder and the sensor deliver a “true” black-and-white image which assumes the characteristic toning effects of analog black-and-white photography at the press of a button. “For specific post-processing, Silver Efex Pro software even offers the possibility of emulating more than twenty different black-and-white film types – from Agfa via Ilford to Kodak,” says Michael Agel.

While some people look back on “good old” black-and-white photography as just a quaint pastime, the digital Leica M Monochrom is a true gain for Michael Agel: “Maybe it’s just because this camera achieves a quality of black-and-white photography that was inevitably lost in the transition from the analog to the digital age,” he says. At any rate, it’s true to say that every one of his photos would be worth a vintage print.

 

Additional Information:

www.leica-camera.com

Sébastien Tellier.
Sébastien Tellier.
Erykah Badu.
Erykah Badu.
Alex Clare.
Alex Clare.
Claude Nobs (left) and Buddy Guy.
Claude Nobs (left) and Buddy Guy.