Since its introduction in 1925, Leica’s reputation has preceded itself, its commitment to excellence never faltering among the millennial generation’s lust for instant gratification. So when Leica decided to open a new gallery space in the heart of Los Angeles, they, predictably, took their time and did it right. Upon entering the 8,000 square foot space, I am greeted with a flood of natural light, a well-clad staff on deck, and a gargantuan, metallic Leica sculpture built by Chinese artist Liao Yibai. It is one hell of an introduction, as “after all,” says Roland Wolff, VP of Marketing and Corporate Retail, “everyone knows that you only have one chance to make a first impression.” Tiffany’s window-shopping be damned, this is a gadget-hoppers dream, a camera-lover’s heaven, a photojournalist’s paradise. You are entering an elite club, and you’d be a fool not to take note.
But geeking out among the pristine cases of vintage and contemporary lenses will have to wait. Upstairs, the gallery beckons. I am given a tour of the space by curator, Annie Seaton, who describes in detail the incredible history of the brand and what’s in store for the gallery’s upcoming exhibitions. Breathtaking prints by iconic photographer, Mary Ellen Mark line the walls of a space that has been retrofitted to host Leica Akademie workshops, with projections built into the ceiling and hidden walls appearing as if out of thin air. There is a small library curated by celebrated Magnum photographer, Martin Parr, where guests are invited to peruse his selections of some of the best photo books the publishing world has seen. Double glass doors lead to a gorgeous outdoor (why yes, there’s an outside!) patio. I grab one of the books from the gallery and find my way to a shadowed corner on the patio and read away, mesmerized by images and totally relaxed in this hidden oasis just off Beverly Boulevard.
Below the gallery, lies the equally well-curated store, home to the entire range of new Leica products, along with a number of their rare and vintage pieces. From a gold-plated, special edition Leica created for the Sultan of Brunei, to their entire line of the brand new and highly coveted Summilux motion picture lenses, the store is an optical sanctuary, housing some of the most cherished and influential cameras in photographic history. I am enthralled with the staff’s knowledge, and they are quick to school me on all things photography. Many of their cameras are made by hand in batches of 15, taking up to four to six weeks to produce. Apprenticeship in their factory can take up to a full year before handling the precious cargo is even allowed. And with their technologically advanced rangefinder system, it’s no wonder that photojournalists across the world are keen to call this camera their own.