Toolbox: Benjamin McMahon’s Leica M

Benjamin McMahon—who is responsible for many of the characterful portraits and BTS photographs in Elephant—tells us why simplicity is best when it comes to his camera choices.

My behind the scenes probably looks fairly boring—I don’t use lights and rarely work with assistants. It’s usually just me and a camera. Or three. I always have a few, I love them. The one that always wins out though is a Leica M, which lives around my neck.   

I always wanted one since I got into photography and saw pictures of Robert Frank, Bresson and Winogrand using it. I bought it with the entire budget from a commercial job. Apart from being a beautifully designed object, people react wonderfully to it. It’s not a big, in-your-face camera, it’s small, neat and unobtrusive. 

If someone is a little nervous of being photographed it’s perfect. I can carry on as normal, chat away, have a cup of tea and when something happens I can raise it, click and carry on. It’s great as there’s nothing to hide behind, no fancy tricks, it’s just a simple box with shutter speeds and apertures. One of my favourite things anyone ever told me about being photographed by me was that they forgot I was doing it; that’s what this camera lets me do.

Benjamin McMahon shooting in Fabienne Verdier’s studio