Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
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San Jose, (C) 2003 Kevin Bjorke At long last, the library has re-opened in San Jose.

A good library is one of the most useful photographic tools. Here in Santa Clara we’ve been a bit starved. I had an excellent library just at the bottom of the hillside block from the house in Mill Valley — the state (formerly royal) library was a five-minute walk from my office in Honolulu. But here we just have a local suburban library packed into house trailers, while the city is building their own new building. It’s been a long dry spell.

Almost no individual can have a collection to match even a minor library. Robert Bergman’s A Kind of Rapture? Got it. Every issue of U.S. Camera from the 1950’s? All volumes of August Sander’s portrait books? Got those too. de Tolnay’s History and Technique of Old Master Drawings? Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook? Check and check.

Still no Larry Clark.. can’t have everything!

One of the discoveries on my last trip was an old friend, the 1973 edition of the 300+ page Leica Manual. What other camera company could have published such a thing? While Nikon and Canon have been involved in publishing over the years, this old tattered Leica book is still a testament to Leica. It’s full of advertising, sure. But it’s also full of terrific photographs, a few stinkers, and most-importantly it’s a complete, rounded handbook. It covers not just the Leica equipment of 1973 (and before), but the basics of film development, printing, esoteric technical topics, has a section on exposure by Ansel Adams, and sections on the real business — making and seeing photographs — by people like Ralph Gibson and David Duncan, luminaries of the day. What other “camera manual” gave you not just film-loading instructions but portfolios and interviews with people like Duncan, Eva Rubinstein, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, David Vestal, Bill Pierce…. ?

(Okay, my Yashica 124G manual of the time has photos by Weegee — but they’re Weegee’s banal vacation photos — one of the weirdest, most-aberrant things I’ve ever seen Weegee do)

Today we live in a great time. We can go to and get articles by Jay Maisel or Eddie Adams. You can get Canon’s DSLR CD and find out about workflow from James Natchwey. But these companies are following in the steps of Leica.

This week the consumer world is abuzz with the advent of the latest round of digitals — the Canon EOS300D/Rebel/Kiss (since as we know, SLRs are always better…. right?), and the little Sony 828 (which looks, to me, the closest yet to the Leica ideal — small, flexible, fast, quiet). Dozens of emails and web postings gushing about features, but none (so far) about the photos people hope to make with these new toys.

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