This week marked a bittersweet occasion for me as a photographer, mother and granddaughter; I sold the little Leica collection my grandpa passed down to me about a decade ago, which included two M6 bodies and several lenses. The selling of old gear may not sound significant to a non-photographer, but Leicas are the darlings of the photo world. They're a collector's dream. And oh boy, did the guy at the camera shop I sold them to drool when he got his hands on them.
For about a year, my Leicas traipsed around the world with me. They accompanied me to Paris, where I studied black and white photography at the wacky Studio Vermes, and all over Europe. They even joined me for a few months in Madagascar, where we lived together in a tent and shot mountains of color slides. There we took one of my favorite photos of all time—of a toddler in a nearby village (below). I never quite got her name (Or his? It’s hard to tell when a child wears only rags and has a head shaved to treat lice), but it sounded like Penelope Sue, so that’s how I still think of her. To me, the photo screams Madagascar: impoverished and dusty but still gorgeous.
And then my world suddenly turned digital. I continued to lug my Leicas from home to home as I finished college, moved to a new city, moved again to start graduate school and then got married and bought a house. But in each new place, I simply relegated them to a new closet—where they’ve sat for the better part of the last decade. I’m neither a collector nor a hoarder, so it was beginning to feel as though they were losing their place in my life.
Last weekend, as I was yet again lamenting the quality of my current camera (a Canon Rebel XT) and fantasizing about an upgrade, my brother-in-law suggested I sell the Leicas to fund a new camera. It was the first time the idea actually seemed worth the sentimental loss.
I mulled it over for a few days before hauling the equipment to a local camera store to see how much it was worth. It turns out I was sitting on a gold mine, which I suspected but never had the guts to have it appraised.
I hauled the Leicas back home to debate. What would it mean to sell them?
As a photographer, I would be able to fund a serious and necessary camera upgrade. I’d also lose a valuable collection. But I’m not a collector, so…
As a mother, I would gain a camera capable of better preserving memories of my kids. I’d also have quite a bit of extra cash to purchase the double stroller that could become the key to my sanity in just two months and the play kitchen I’ve been coveting for Cricket to help occupy her while I’m tending to the new baby. Plus I'd still have a chunk of change to put away for a future home improvement project.
As a granddaughter, I would lose a precious gift from my 92-year-old grandpa. My sister reminded me, however, that my grandparents are the least sentimental people ever and would completely understand. She also suggested I shoot some nice photos of the cameras to hang in my eventual studio, which seemed like a nice way to memorialize them.
It became clear that the benefits of selling the Leicas outweighed those of keeping them in the closet for another decade. Feeling justified, I took the leap and unloaded them this morning…and came home with a fat check. Whew. Yikes. Yippee!
I’m not allowing myself to look back. Instead, I’m researching my new camera. Perhaps the Canon 7D?
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.