the houston leica fellowship


imagine two hundred forty plastic fish and lobsters, gracing an "art car�, all singing "bohemian rhapsody" and dancing in sync, parading on the streets of houston. visualize whooping cranes gliding elegantly just above the surface of a texas coastal bay. then place yourself in half a dozen 19th century german and czech churches in texas immigrant villages like praha, serbin, and dubina. follow that with historic china � from the water city of zhouzhuang to the great wall.  what do these settings have in common? all have been the focus of photographic shoots for the houston leica fellowship.

 texas and houston are great places for photography. biennially, the city of houston hosts fotofest, an international festival for photography. the houston museum of fine arts (mfa) is an advocacy for fine photography and almost always has a major exhibit on display in one or more of its galleries. the broader photographic community is supported by the houston center for photography and many individual photography clubs.

 as you might surmise, there is a highly committed community of leica users in houston.

 the houston leica fellowship (hlf) can be thought of as a "love child" of the leica historical society of america (lhsa or society), a national organization that at its zenith numbered some 2200 members. a couple of houstonians met at successive lhsa annual meetings and decided that they, along with other leica friends, should get together at home. one thing led to another and in 1998 the informal houston leica group, the hlf's predecessor organization, became a reality with a shoot at the houston heritage museum's village of historic homes near the city center. a treat for the shoot was leica usa's regional sales representative giving a presentation on leica and leica products. leica usa also made available its traveling suite of lenses and bodies which could be checked out and used by the shoot participants.

 lhsa's "paternity" was acknowledged by the society's secretary/treasurer at that time. a gracious and supportive man, a gentleman in the finest british tradition, he helped our fledgling organization with words of encouragement, a start-up mailing to lhsa members in the houston area, and modest but eye-catching door prizes for the initial hlf meetings.

 hlf also enjoyed start-up support from a houston camera exchange owner, himself a collector of vintage leicas. the support included printing and mailing, providing parking spaces for shoot car-pools, and lending office space for short-term storage of exhibition prints.

 the houston leica fellowship employs a "libertarian anarchy" governance model. administratively, the hlf has no written rules or bylaws, no officers, and no membership fees. activity proposals emerge organically; decisions are taken by consensus.

 you don't even have to shoot leica to participate. costs are recouped through periodic $5-$10 donations. the "periodic" is also unstructured. we ask for a $5-$10 donation when participants join. when funds run low, we have a cash call. some members have had to dig a little deeper in their pockets from time to time, but it's been a small price to pay to keep up the momentum.

 to establish hlf as a legal entity and open a bank account, we recently formed a legally defined "association" with the required organizing documents. the name was changed concurrently from the houston leica group to the houston leica fellowship as fellowship is an attribute that we wish to nurture.

 the principal activities of the fellowship are a couple of shoots a year and an occasional showing for our work. the number of shoot participants typically ranges from ten to twenty-five.  (nineteen traveled to china.) true to our lhsa heritage, we always have participants from out-of-state and from other regions of texas. our most committed "birders" come from outside dallas in north texas. our best equipped lens collector comes from northern virginia. of course, every shoot requires a special lunch or dinner with entrees ranging from delightful texas gulf coast seafood to cajun boiled crawfish to cantonese dim sum to, naturally, proper texas bbq.

 some of the hlf shoots have been overnighters. we have had a significant exhibit in a suburban houston gallery facility and have another scheduled for the autumn of 2004. additionally, there are occasional ad hoc shoots when photographic items of interest, good light, and available time coincide.

 the hlf prints a newsletter before each shoot.

 what are our leica colleagues like? one is the award winning director of photography for the houston chronicle. one specializes in "western mountains" images that can be obtained only by backpacking into the wilderness. another travels alone by foot and public transport in china using his m3 and 50 mm lens a la cartier-bresson. one member photographs the natural and cultural beauty of china and then publishes his images in his own books for the u.s. market. another, a long time leica salesman, now retired, has had the experience of selling a leica to martin luther king as well as the honor of making prints from oskar barnack's "eisenmarkt" negative. yet another, as an avocation, does documentary photography that has been both published and exhibited. the list can go on.

 the houston leica fellowship, as you can see, is an exciting venture, a work in progress, a bunch of fun, and a prolific generator of photographic images.  if you are interested in participating, please contact david dodd at, or jax paxton at


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