miércoles, 23 de octubre de 2019


Text and Indicated Photos : José Manuel Serrano Esparza

                                                                                                                              © Lisl Steiner

February of 1960. Adlai Stevenson (Governor of Illinois between 1949 and 1953, Nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States in 1952 and 1956, and future U.S Ambassador to the United Nations between 1961 and 1965) is in Rio de Janiero (Brazil) as first scale of the eleven days trip (with his son John Bell, the Democrat ex senator and Chairman of the Bristish Encyclopedia Editorial Board William Burnett Benton, and William McCormick Blair Jr, who would subsequently be American Ambassador to Denmark between 1961 and 1964) in which he will also visit Sao Paulo.

The photojournalist Lisl Steiner, working for Keystone Press Agency is covering Adlai Stevenson´s stay in the Brazilian capital.

The American dignatary, the most influential politician in United States at the moment along with John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was different times inside the United States Embassy in Rio de Janiero, and the Austrian-American photographer Lisl Steiner, who was wearing

a 24 x 36 mm format Leica M2 rangefinder camera

After 35 years of 50 mm standard lenses reigning supreme in the photojournalistic scope since mid twenties, the Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 First Version SAWOM designed by Walter Mandler in Midland, Ontario (Canada) in 1958 meant the beginning of 35 mm wideangle highly luminous lenses use by professional photographers as a favourite trade tool, thanks to their superior versatility. © jmse

coupled to a 8 elements in 6 groups Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 First Version SAWOM, got a number of pictures of him, always striving after surprising the politician and going unnoticed at the moment of the photographic act.

And she created two particularly interesting images :

                                                                                                                              © Lisl Steiner

A) Picture of Adlai Stevenson inside a very narrow corridor of the American Embassy in Rio de Janiero, walking towards the camera, smiling and with a man also walking behind him.

Lisl Steiner is just at the end of the tight hall with her Leica M2 and his 35 mm wideangle lens.

She can´t approach more to the subject, because she would be spotted by the American dignatary, who is already very near her, so she has to take a very fast decision, and though she realizes that there will be a lot of " air " around the politician, top priority is capturing his relaxed mood and smiling countenance.

Light conditions are appalling, with tons of artificial illumination coming from the upper lamp and being reflected on the glasses of the bookshelves on both sides (specially on top right).

This kind of indoor shot would be virtually impossible to do with a reflex camera featuring a swivelling mirror under speeds of roughly 1/45 sec,

Rangefinder of the Leica M2 camera, a masterpiece of opto-mechanical precision, calculated by Willi Keiner in early fifties, made up by more than 150 individual parts, featuring a 0.72x magnification VF and enabling the photographer to accurately focus even under exceedingly dim light. © Leica Camera AG 

but a mirrorless Leica rangefinder camera like the M2 makes feasible to shoot handheld at very low shutter speeds of up to 1/8 sec.

Lisl Steiner shoots with a vertical framing and a perfect timing, to such an extent that Adlai Stevenson´s left foot appears advancing, in the air, projecting its shadow on the floor, so the photographer obtains a feel of motion, as well as managing to go unnoticed.

This is an exceedingly difficult to attain shot in a raft of aspects. Even, from a technical viewpoint, the image is not very perfect, with a slightly out of focus face,

Introduced in 1954, the Kodak Tri-X 400 had become the photojournalistic black and white film par excellence since late fifties, thanks to its very high speed for the time, its amazingly wide exposure latitude, with remarkable easiness of development at any EI between 200 and 800, impressive versatility for a host of assignments, unique texture, very beautiful grain enhancing acutance and delivering a great feeling of sharpness and great tonal range. © jmse

apparent visible grain rendered by the Kodak Tri-X 400 black and white film used pushed to ISO 800, widespread strong reflections, too much space around the main subject of the photograph and the inevitable distortions in vertical lines.

But in this kind of photojournalistic pictures, the technical perfection of the image is not the key factor.

The important thing is to be at the adequate place and instant and being able to capture a defining moment, something that Lisl Steiner has utterly attained.

In addition, the photographer has been able to accurately depict the precise instant in which Adlai Stevenson´s face and right hand are reflected on two of the glasses covering the bookshelves appearing on the left of the image.

And top priority has also been achieved : Adlai Stevenson isn´t looking at the camera, because he hasn´t detected the presence of the photographer at any moment, a dream come true for any good photojournalist, becoming invisible during the photographic act.

                                                                                                                                 © Lisl Steiner
B) Picture of Adlai Stevenson made by Lisl Steiner another day during the stay of the American politician in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), also inside the American Embassy, now in a big room with a large bookshelf visible in the background.

Adlai Stevenson is talking to a man standing on the right of the image, while a third man wearing glasses and smiling is listening to the dialogue and a fourth one is crossing the room walking slowly.

Lisl Steiner has been observing them from a distance for some minutes, and suddenly the magic arises : in the middle of the conversation, Adlai Stevenson has a very brief instant of introspection, and it is now when the photographer approaches as much as possible and gets the picture, once more managing to go unnoticed, to such an extent that the three men nearest to the camera haven´t seen the Austro-American photographer while she has pressed the shutter speed of her Leica M2 rangefinder camera attached to a 35 mm wideangle lens.

Needless to say that the very small size and weight of the camera and its lens have also been fundamental to preserve very high discretion during the photographic act, without forgetting the whispering, virtually inaudible noise of the horizontal-travelling cloth focal plane shutter and the exceedingly short shutter lag of 12 ms.

This is a great shot in which the photographer has approached very much to the subject, having previously set a probable f/4 aperture, getting the picture slightly from the right, to take advantage of the lamp hanging from the ceiling on top of Adlai Stevenson´s and highlighting most of the front area of his face, left cheek and upper zone of his shoulders, while the right area of his countenance remains in shadow, so a feeling of volume is attained, enhancing the great expressivity of eyes in the American politician, one of the best speakers of his time. 

Besides, the composition has spawned a very powerful triangle as core of attention, embodied by the two men talking and the one very near observing both of them and smiling, while the fourth one in the left background, behind Adlai Stevenson´s head, is crossing the room alien to the conversation and appears slightly blurred because of the very slow shutter speed with which the picture has been made, conveying a feeling of dynamism to any observer of the image, fostered by the out of focus books on the background shelves which seem to also be moving.

                  Lisl Steiner in New York, almost sixty years after getting the pictures of Adlai Stevenson in Rio de Janiero (Brazil) in 1960. © jmse