A lot of iconic images shot on Leicas and these are the 10 most famous Leica photos ever, and the reason why behind their fame.
Why Leica = History
Before getting into the most famous Leica photos, let’s get something out of the way: Leica is an integral part of history. Nothing to do with loving the brand, it is the same thing as Polaroid who invented the instant camera.
Leica practically invented the 35mm format (When Barnak used motion picture film) and gave the world one of the most practical small cameras. Making it possible for photojournalism, street photography and documentary to flourish.
Compare the first Leica, a technical marvel to a Kodak Brownie camera and you see why it’s part of history. Now let’s get on to the most famous Leica photos.
Famous Leica Photos
One this is for sure in the selection of the most famous Leica photos below: There’s a lot of photojournalism in there. First of all it is because it’s small but also because of reach. Back then there was no internet and the easiest way for people to actually see a photograph was in print, in a newspaper.
1. Portrait of Che Guevara
|Date shot||March 5th, 1960|
|Camera||Leica M2 + 90mm|
This is without a doubt THE most famous Leica photo ever. The reason is simple, it was a “meme” before the term even existed. This image is SO iconic, it became a symbol seen on shirts, mugs and graffiti. The image is of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, giving a deep and charismatic look. This is one of the most reproduced images ever, the fact that the background was plain made it easy to do so.
The Leica III that was sold as the one that shot this iconic image is not the one that actually shot it. It was shot with a Leica M2 with 90mm f4 according to Magnum Contact Sheet. Alberto shot two versions, one horizontal and one vertical, with both showing the same expression.
2. The Napalm Girl
|Title||The terror of war|
|Date shot||June 8, 1972|
|Camera||Leica M2 + 35mm Summicron|
This shot is one of the most iconic photos because of its content. Shot during the Vietnam war between the north and the south, it highlighted the horrors of war by showing the effect on children. Napalm was dropped on what was believed to be enemy soldiers, the little girl in the middle, Phan Thi Kim Phuc was 9 years old and had to rip off her clothes because she was so hot.
This earned the photographer, Nick Ut a Pulitzer prize but probably the biggest prize is stirring the hearts against war, eventually ending it. It is considered one of the best war images of all time so it is also one of the most famous Leica photos of all time too.
3. Victory in Times Square
|Title||V-J Day in Times Square|
|Date shot||August 14, 1945|
Yet another iconic image shot by a Leica. This is of the victory celebration of the capitulation of Japan in 1945, essentially the end of the war. During the celebration in Time Square, a drunk Sailor kissed a perfect stranger and made one of the most iconic moments in history possible.
The body language of both and the composition make this a winner, another photographer (Victor Jorgensen) was slightly at an angle shot the same moment but didn’t have the same effect.
4. Russian Flag
|Title||The flag of victory|
|Date shot||May 2, 1945|
|Camera||Leica III, Elmar f/3.5 50mm|
This photo was shot to symbolize the victory of Russia over Nazi Germany after Hitler’s suicide. While this is an iconic picture, many point out that it was doctored. The photographer added smoke and removed one of the two watches that the soldier was wearing (implying looting). It was later claim that this was not a watch but a compass.
5. The moment of death
|Title||Death of a Loyalist Militiaman|
Robert Capa is one of the most celebrated war photographers and he is known to have said “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough”. Close enough he was for this image that depicts a solider falling as he is shot. The timing of the image is so that many dispute its veracity, claiming that it is staged.
6. The guardia civil
This iconic image is part of Eugene Smith’s Spanish village collection of images. This features 3 members of the Guardia Civil, a feared spanish militia. The ample dark shadows really give this image an omnious feel, as if the subjects have a lot of darkness to hide.
7. Flood in Wetzlar
|Title||Flood In Wetzlar|
In this list of the most famous Leica photos, there’s photos that are iconic because of the reach of photojournalism. This one is famous because of its place in history. Before the Leica was invented, cameras were big and heavy, Oska Barnack wanted a small camera he could take on a stroll, so he invented a small body that could take the readily available 35mm film (used for movies). His series, including the Flood in Wetzlar are some of the first reportage photography shot on a small format.
8. Dog street photography
|Title||New York City|
|Camera||Leica M3 (?)|
Eliott Erwitt is a celebrated street photographer and this image from his series on Dogs is probably most iconic because it subverts your expectations. At first it looks like there are two pairs of human legs and a dog on the right. Upon closer examination, the pair of legs on the left is also canine!
9. Photo of James Dean
|Title||James Dean on Times Square|
Yet another iconic image shot with a Leica. This one is of famous actor James Dean as he is walking in Times Square. The overcast sky, the wet floor and all of the background clash with Dean’s cool demeanor in a rain-coat, making this image one of the most well-known of the actor.
10. Portrait of Muhammad Ali
|Camera||Leica MP-88 + Summilux 35mm f1.4|
There’s plenty of photographs of Muhammad Ali, considered to be the boxing GOAT (Greatest of all time) but this one is the most iconic. The reason is simple, it absorbs Ali’s essence in one image. You know what he does due to the body language. But more importantly the story is told with the scruffs and dings on Ali’s hands and not his face, making it interesting.
I hope you enjoyed this article about the most famous Leica photos. Leica practically invented photojournalism and street photography because it’s the first to create the small, portable camera. That is why some of the most famous Leica pictures are of war and street photography. One thing is for sure, if you have a Leica, you have a lot of history in your hands.