Jakob de Boer Monochrom 246 in Tanzania

It is interesting how deeply ‘coffee’ is actually rooted in our social culture. It has certainly been one of my personal passions ever since I can remember... Yet what is equally fascinating is the metamorphoses this little green bean goes through. From the plantation where it is farmed, to the machines that extract its elixir, to the designer coffee houses around the world that sell it, it’s a journey that always ends in the same place... in a cup in someone’s hands. It’s a journey that begins in the same place; in someone’s hands that cultivate the soil it grows in... engaging with it through a series of stages from its birth to its consumption.

This notion is what had me on a plane about 12 months ago from the cold of Toronto to Tanzania during the rainy season. This would be one of two trips into the Rift Valley to get a glimpse into the lives of those that farm this region.

However, before Tanzania this project necessitated a stop in Wetzlar where I was to pick up a prototype of the M246; now, the new Monochrom. Leica Germany had asked if I could test this new Monochrom. It seemed this coffee project would be a good opportunity to do so. It was a close call because in order to meet the timing requirements of my trip to Tanzania, there was a rush to finish the camera. In fact, they had just finished the prototype that same morning I arrived in Wetzlar. That evening I left for Mbeya.

I was to do two extensive trips to Tanzania, one during the rainy season and the other during the dry period; the harvest. These ended up being dramatically different environments to work in. During the rainy season everything is green, bright green. The coffee grows quietly in the shade of the trees. There is a quiet knowing by all those present that it is nature’s turn to grow this fruit. During the harvest, everything is bone dry, a dusty yellow; a highly energetic time as it is now man’s turn to harvest this fruit.

The language of the resulting images was centered on the idea that people were the landscape within the landscape, not separate from it. This is precisely where the Monochrom excelled. I was able to be with these people in an unobtrusive way, (at least as much as one can be while holding a camera), and yet have this outstanding image taking tool in hand.

For black and white digital photography, I think the M246 is a rock star. I’ve worked with a lot of cameras, especially medium format and it simply blows them out of the water. Having no bayer array, means no interpolation so there’s no ‘fuzziness’, just luminance... light. I work with a few of Sebastião Salgado’s team (traditional printers, digital printers) in Paris and they also felt the same way. The camera is simply impressive.

However, the M246 does one other unique thing, also due to the absence of the bayer array: it allows one to truly see the character of the lens mounted on it. The resulting images were inherently sharp and did not require sharpening. What you are looking at is a purer form of the image.

But of course, it all comes back to the image. Looking at the images today I am reminded of Goffredo Fofi’s words:

“Photography re-awakens the memory of the poet-photographer, the watcher and chooser and evoker who has eyes to see, who has trained his eyes to see. It becomes a craft. A technique. At some point in all of this, photography becomes philosophy.” 

To view more of Jakob's work, visit his website at www.jakobdeboer.com