There are plenty of brands with Leica’s prestige, though none of them make cameras. From car manufacturers to clothiers, haute-horlogerie marques to architectural sights, there are labels that transcend product. Yes, Leica may make cameras – this has a tangible basis in fact – but some brands garner a congregation to whom they feel spiritually bound, and Leica is one of them.
To provide a more elevated analogy, think of churches. They may be places of worship — a pew is a pew, a psalm a psalm. But some churches are assigned awe and wonder, and there you’ll often find clergymen of impressive rank whose association with the church feels like a covenant, and makes perfect sense. For Leica, the archbishop in question is Greg Williams.
Greg is a rare beast. His talent is, of course, one thing, but his niche is to act as the ‘candid Hollywood’ photographer du jour. A former war photographer in Myanmar, Chechnya and Sierra Leone, he followed his passion for movies, which took him away from conflict zones to shooting on movie sets, creating poster artwork – four of the last five Bond movies, for example – and covering awards shows. Behind-the-scenes images of Ana de Armas eating a hotdog and drinking a Coca-Cola at the Golden Globes are the kind of pictures that have talent bookers and photographers all over the world scratching their heads, familiar as we are with the very controlled environment of Tinseltown. Loosely explaining how this may have come about, Williams says: “I am 48 and I don’t believe I have fucked anyone over, and I am not intending to start now.” For those unfamiliar with the process of dealing with Hollywood stars, trust and familiarity is everything – thriftily given, very easily taken away. It is now at a point where some stars, like Tom Hardy, will work exclusively with Williams for any shoot. “There are a lot of actors who don’t enjoy the process of being photographed,” Williams says. “I think I have a good understanding of that with people. Often they say, ‘Oh, I hate this’, and I ask if they can tell me why, because there are lots of different reasons. One actor told me that he hated the idea of standing in a photoshoot as if he is important enough to be photographed.”
What is refreshing about Greg’s approach is that it has authenticity at its heart. The magic of a retoucher is a testament to the world’s technological advancements, but it is by no means authentic. Greg prides himself on doing much less retouching than others. “If you do too much of it, you leave the world of reality,” he says.
We will deal with how Leica fit into all this, but it is hard to understand before you hear about Greg’s latest initiative, Skills Faster. He has realised that there are more photographers on the planet than ever before because of the sophistication of smartphones. He says: “I love the idea of helping to democratise good photography. We may do a professionals course one day, but this is a course designed to help people record their memories better.”