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For seasoned photographers, the German company Leica’s products are durable, reliable, and tech-forward. The camera is a symbol of their dedication to photography. For entry-level beginners, there are point-and-shoot models with crisp clarity and approachable functions, too. Over the years, however, the photography industry has evolved with technology’s rapid developments, quickening the pace of digital demands and what’s available. Younger generations have started to move from ultra-fast devices to conscious, low-tech products, hoping to be more mindful digitally. All the while, Leica has remained focused on its heritage as a camera company, and its future as a brand that can diversify photography.
“While much has evolved in the world of photography and within Leica itself, the brand's core values of craftsmanship, exceptional optics, iconic design, and innovation have remained steadfast,” said Leica’s U.S. President, Mike Giannattasio. “These enduring principles continue to guide our path forward.”
That path forward is paved with items like its latest Leica Cine Laser TV, and even watches, to pair with cameras. It’s also heightened by community programming and projects like Leica Akademie, featuring educational workshops, walking tours, and masterclasses; Leica Women Foto Project, empowering and representing female photographers through grants, mentorships, and equipment; Leica Gallery Network, exhibiting printed works by established and emerging photographers; and Leica Oskar Barnack Award, an annual award ad exhibition of work by creative photographers that capture the relationship between humans and their environment.
To hear how these cultural and technological developments are impacting Leica’s approach to photography, tech, sustainability, and the future, Whitewall spoke with Giannattasio.
WHITEWALL: Prior to your role at Leica, you worked with Richemont in the luxury sector. How did that prepare you for your position at Leica Camera North America?
MIKE GIANNATTASIO: During that time, I honed my skills and approach as a transformational leader, learning the importance of navigating the balance between competition and collaboration. I focused on fostering strong relationships with retail and wholesale customers, which I found was essential for identifying and solving complex business challenges.
My experience at Richemont also taught me the value of strategic brand awareness and market presence, allowing us to position our products effectively at the forefront of the industry. One key lesson I've always carried with me is the importance of engagement in leadership. By creating an environment that encourages everyone to strive for their best, I've seen how it can lead to significant gains in sales revenue. I've brought this approach with me to Leica, where we continue to push boundaries and inspire through our products.
WW: How has your role expanded to meet demands? What might a day in the life of your position look like?
MG: As President of Leica Camera North America, my role is multifaceted and constantly evolving to meet the demands of an ever-changing landscape. At the heart of this evolution is a commitment to cross-functional excellence. We believe that silos limit potential, so we promote collaboration across all sectors of our business.
A significant part of my day-to-day operations involves investing in our greatest asset - our people. I firmly believe that a company's strength and success are a direct reflection of its team. As a result, we prioritize professional growth and development, fostering an environment that encourages learning, innovation, and creativity. In parallel, we are deeply committed to investing in our brand equity. We recognize that Leica is more than just a camera; it's a legacy, a story, and an experience. Our goal is to deepen and enrich this narrative, ensuring that each interaction with our brand is meaningful and memorable for our customers.
As a leader, I strive to approach decision-making with a sense of empathy and a humanistic perspective. We are in the business of creating experiences, and we never lose sight of the fact that at the end of every decision, there's a person, a story, a moment. This connection to our customers, to their stories, is what makes Leica more than a brand. It's a community.
In the end, it's not only about optics, it's about the people behind it and the stories they create and express. That's what makes us Leica. That's what makes every day meaningful. It’s about shaping time into moments that matter, expanding perspectives to experience life in its full expression.
WW: What has your personal experience within photography been? How are you a patron within your professional industry?
MG: My personal experience within photography has been one of passion, dedication, and constant learning. My appreciation for the art has grown stronger over the years, and I'm honored to be a part of an organization that shares the same commitment to supporting and celebrating the world of photography.
WW: What cameras do you personally like to use?
MG: When I shoot, it depends on where I am and what I’m doing. What I really appreciate is how Leica enables one to slow down and to be more deliberate in making a photograph. If I want to focus on enriching the moment, I’ll grab my M11, a camera that’s high-tech and high-touch. I give myself time to focus on not only what catches my eye, but the light and the mood. I let myself become absorbed in the moment and in the image I want to capture.
If I’m with my family, watching my son at a game, or at a dynamic Leica company event, I capture those moments with my Q2. I enjoy its compact design and fixed lens. I can take it out and shoot to quickly capture my personal journey, in-the-moment with video or stills in the sharpest of detail and high resolution.
WW: Are there any technological advancements that have come up recently the brand is especially intrigued by?
MG: We are excited about the future of technology and its potential to help us continue to innovate and grow as a brand. Whether it's in the Laser TV segment, mechanical watches, or optics, we remain committed to pushing the boundaries and delivering products that exceed our customers' expectations.
With so many modern-day customers gravitating toward using phones for photos, why would you argue someone should purchase a physical camera instead? A Leica specifically. While smartphones have made photography more accessible, a Leica offers a distinctive and immersive experience that elevates the act of creating images. By encouraging intentionality, delivering exceptional image quality, and fostering a unique connection between photographer and subject, a Leica camera transcends the limitations of smartphone photography and serves as a powerful tool for those who seek to explore the depths of their creative potential.
WW: Leica continues to amplify voices within the industry—such as women, in its Leica Women Foto Project. Why is this important to you and the brand?
MG: The Leica Women Foto Project and similar endeavors play a crucial role in cultivating a diverse, inclusive, and dynamic community of visual storytellers. By empowering underrepresented voices, we reaffirm our commitment to nurturing creativity and preserving a rich photographic legacy that resonates with the multifaceted human experience and its inherent beauty.
WW: The brand also continues to provide support for education and art exhibitions, seen in its Akademie walking tours and through shows of photographs taken around the world. How does this provide support for the growing culture of photography today?
MG: At Leica, we understand the vital role that photography plays in preserving and shaping our collective cultural heritage. We continue to support initiatives that celebrate and foster creativity in the photographic arts.
Our Leica Akademie provides workshops, walking tours, and masterclasses led by renowned photographers worldwide. These educational programs cater to both beginners and professionals, fostering a deeper understanding of photography as an art form and nurturing talent in the industry. Leica Women Foto Project encourages diversity and inclusivity within the photographic community, aiming to empower female photographers and expand the representation of women's unique perspectives. Through this project, we provide grants, mentorships, and equipment to support the female perspective in photography.
With Leica Gallery Network, a global gallery network, Leica supports and showcases the work of established and emerging photographers, celebrating the art of the printed photograph. These exhibitions focus on culturally significant themes or issues, furthering the dialogue on photography's role in shaping our society. And the Leica Oskar Barnack Award, which honors of the creator of the first 35mm camera, Leica presents the annual Oskar Barnack Award to photographers who capture the relationship between humans and their environment in a creative and innovative manner. The award-winning works are exhibited and promoted, fostering an appreciation of the art form, and raising awareness of pressing social and environmental concerns.
WW: How is Leica thinking about the concept of diversifying photography?
MG: Leica is committed to investing in the development of products that invite the photographer to see through myriad lenses, inviting an expansion of perspective and creative expression. This commitment is reflected in our efforts to create new technologies and products that enable photographers to create stories through both still and moving images, for a narrative that is distinctly their own.
Leica's approach to diversifying photography encompasses three key areas: the storyteller, subject, and creative tools of visual expression. We believe that photography has the power to connect people and inspire change. By creating products and supporting initiatives that enable photographers to tell their stories in new and diverse ways, we hope to inspire a vibrant and inclusive visual culture.
WW: Leica has a pre-owned program that offers customers previously owned cameras. How is the brand considering sustainability?
MG: The topic of sustainability plays a central role for Leica in many respects. The architectural design and construction of the state-of-the-art corporate headquarters is in accordance with the latest environmental and energy standards, which was moved into the Leitz Park in Wetzlar in 2014. Through the sponsorship of numerous nature conservation projects worldwide, the high-quality and meticulous manufacturing of Leica products have always been Made in Germany.
Long before the term sustainability was coined, the Leica M cameras and its legendary lenses formed lasting values that were passed down from generation to generation and still are to this very day. The timeless design, the production with a high proportion of manual work and the use of selected high-quality materials guarantees robust suitability for everyday use and maximum longevity. This is also reflected in the compatibility of the precision instruments. For example, a contemporary Leica M, such as the current Leica M11, can easily be combined with a lens from 1954.
With regular firmware updates often based on customer suggestions, Leica’s cameras are continuously "updated." With the versatility of the Leica Customer Cares offerings, we ensure that even older models can be serviced and repaired many years after they have been discontinued from the product range. Leica products are synonymous with longevity and high value retention which is why they are particularly popular in used conditions in the Leica Classic Store or at vintage auctions.
WW: Gen-Z in the U.S. accounts for about 20 percent of the U.S. population and is starting to focus on simplifying their fast-paced lives. Doing so, they're gravitating toward "low tech" items, such as record players and analog cameras. Recently, Leica debuted a revival of its film camera, the M6. Why does analog remain critical for Leica?
MG: Analog remains critical for Leica because it embodies the essence of photography as a tactile, intimate, and immersive experience. The process of shooting film encourages mindfulness, patience, and a more deliberate approach to capturing moments.
The Leica M6 revival pays homage to one of our most iconic and beloved film cameras, renowned for its reliability, simplicity, and extraordinary optical performance. The M6 represents the perfect balance between tradition and innovation, embodying our commitment to excellence in both design and function. We remain dedicated to preserving the artistry of film and fostering a deeper appreciation for the unique experiences it offers. By embracing the charm of the analog world, we hope to continue enriching the photographic landscape and encouraging others to discover the magic of capturing moments on film.
WW: What new launches or initiatives does Leica have in the pipeline for 2023?
MG: We stand at the intersection of legacy and innovation, bringing to life a vision that has been deeply rooted in our company's DNA. Our heritage in German optical craftsmanship has culminated in our latest innovation—the Leica Cine Laser TV—and will continue to inform our launches and initiatives in the future. From an expansion of our retail and gallery network to our commitment to the art of making a photograph, we remain rooted in our tradition, weaving a tapestry of technology that seamlessly blends our past, present, and future.
WW: Leica has a storied past yet is paving the way for a boundless future. Where is the future of Leica?
MG: Leica has consistently maintained its commitment to quality and innovation, transforming the world of photography, and the way we shape moments. As we cast our gaze forward, we bring forward what is of value from our past, promising to continue our legacy of excellence in the development of creative tools to celebrate and create moments that matter.
In today's rapidly evolving technological landscape, we have demonstrated an ability to adapt, embracing digital advancements while preserving our core values. The future of Leica can be shaped by our commitment to new product innovations that cater to the diverse needs of today’s image makers and storytellers. For example, the Leica Cine 1 Laser TV combines expertise in optics and imaging with cutting-edge laser projection technology. This state-of-the-art home entertainment solution is set to redefine the viewing experience, offering cinema-quality visuals and a sleek, sophisticated design that embodies the Leica ethos.