Back in 2009 (I think!), I had a new 21mm CV lens to try out on my Leica MP. Up to that point, I had nothing wider than 28mm and had often felt the need for something a little more expansive, so bought the tiny 21mm M-mount lens.
Normally, I would not have headed out in such weather because the public spaces I was photographing in would be largely devoid of life. And this was the case when I arrived at the King’s Palace in Darulaman; there was not a soul to be seen, but I figured it would allow me to shoot some real-life subject matter that would tell me if the lens was performing as it should.
My normal routine with new lenses is to shoot a variety of scenes at various distances covering the key apertures, ensuring that both sides (and all corners) have something with detail in, so I can check that all is well. This process takes perhaps fifteen minutes and, while it could have been done at the compound I was living in, I did not feel motivated to develop a roll of film with such deathly dull material recorded on it. Besides, I wanted to get out and one never knows what will happen.
I walked away from my vehicle into the grounds of the King’s Palace and after a few minutes noticed that a young boy had appeared and was following me at a distance. I would turn around periodically and he would stop, but as pressed on he would start walking again. I moved off towards some old vehicles that would allow me to shoot a test landscape scene and after I climbed a low wall and cleared a ditch, I began shooting. A quick peek over my shoulder revealed that they boy had closed the gap and was now only ten yards behind me. He wasn’t confident approaching any further and looked at me askew, perhaps aware of the fact that he was following me and that I might not welcome it. I suspect that with no other children around, his confidence was lacking. Essentially alone, in a fairly remote area with an adult male, he was perhaps wise to be a little wary (this is Afghanistan, where violence is quickly and easily dispensed). These kids are extremely street-wise and these are the only explanations I can come up with to explain this atypical timidity. Normally the kids would be pulling on my sleeve, jumping up and down and showing extreme confidence, but there would be dozens of other people in earshot at the time.
I turned my back on him and took small steps forwards, showing interest in what was beyond me, rather than behind. I was aware that he was creeping forwards as well, still quietly watching this strange foreigner doing something with a camera in the rain. I was aware now that he was positioned behind me to make a strong photograph, if I turned through 180 degrees, so I raised the camera to my face and then turned slowly and in a very casual non-threatening way. The boy remained motionless and I fired a number of frames. He just stood there, with his head tilted down and to one side, still looking curious and cautious all at the same time. I was able to adjust the composition with a number of variations without the boy moving an inch. I also wonder whether the angle of his face was in part to keep the rain off his face. Neither of us said a word or non-verbally communicated in any way. That’s rare, but there was moment there; a connection, and any attempt to speak or gesticulate would have been like a pin to a balloon.
This image is one of perhaps six frames I shot in about a twenty or thirty seconds, before I felt there was nothing more for me to do. Although it looks like the boy is some distance form the camera, he was actually very close. It’s a 21mm, after all.
After this ‘moment’, I went straight home and developed the dozen or so exposures. I knew I had something good and wanted it safely drying in my bathroom as quickly as possible.
Technical Details: Leica MP, CV 21-P lens, f9.5, Delta 100, Xtol 1+1.
It turned out that the lens was quite badly decentered, but because of where the important elements of the scene were, combined with the aperture setting, the frame is quite sharp enough. Other frames revealed that this lens was too soft in one quadrant for reliable use and so I returned it to the vendor for an exchange. The second copy is dramatically better, but I am still grateful that the original lens got me out of the house and into the field that day. For me, it is one of those important reminders that a person can sit at home, planning, testing, organising… or get out of the house and see what happens. Digital has made testing very easy, but I would still rather do it away from home with real subject matter, because you always gain something from the experience.