Known worldwide for their premium camera equipment, Leica has teamed up with award-winning photo lab WhiteWall to offer the highest quality photographic printing and framing at select Leica stores. The collaboration of these powerhouse companies (announced last year, and now open in several cities) provides Leica photographers access to some of the highest-quality lab capabilities in the world. With new WhiteWall cubes set up in-store, the companies are launching this partnership in Los Angeles, Rome, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Munich and Wetzlar. We spent some hands-on time at Leica’s Los Angeles gallery to learn more about the special, but very logical, partnership.
“What we do here is celebrate photography,” James Floyd Agnew, General Manager of Leica Los Angeles, tells us. “We have cameras to sell you and a gallery to show you work, but the missing element was printing. We used to have to send you elsewhere. This partnership with WhiteWall rounds out what we do here.”
The WhiteWall all-in-one service provides the ability to look at an image and touch the different paper, mounting and framing options. “There are thousands of different combinations including acrylic, aluminum and wood. Depending on the image, we would recommend different treatments of how you would print it. We have many matting and framing options,” says Agnew. In a world filled with screens (and photos on screens) nothing can replace the magic of a printed photograph. This service means more opportunity to print and frame your favorite images in one place; and then preserve, display and enjoy those images in your space—telling a story through pictures.
On a Zoom call with WhiteWall co-founder Alexander Nieswandt, we learn more about the WhiteWall lab in Germany and his lifelong passion for photography. “Growing up, I cut the light in the laundry room and made my own black and white photo lab inside,” he says. This enthusiasm transformed from childhood hobby to profession, and Nieswandt has now worked in photo labs for over 35 years.
In 2007, he started to plan out his ideal photo lab. “At the beginning of WhiteWall, I bought a digital laser printer and printed on photo paper. Nobody else was doing this at that time,” he explains. “Everyone thought you had to buy an inkjet printer, but I invested in used laser printer machines. I bought laser printers on eBay for 40,000€. I began printing on original photo paper. Laser printers produce the best quality. There is a lot of hand-craft.”
When Leica launched their new M Monochrom camera in 2014, Nieswandt found inspiration in the black-and-white-only camera. “I bought Baryta paper and I brought it into the digital age from file to classic original photographic prints, soaked in water and dried on glass,” he tells us. “I bought a chemical-developing machine in Portugal and adapted it to our needs. We can produce one by one meter prints.”
Acquiring the best equipment has always been important to Nieswandt, and he talks about printers with abundant enthusiasm and knowledge. “The biggest printer for large pictures was Océ, a company from Canada. It’s called LightJet. The LightJet can print up to 1.8 meters. Kodak is the only company that produced 1.8-meter photo paper,” he continues. “The last laser printer that was built in Canada was in 2009. I bought this printer, the last one for 200,000€. There are no more spare parts and we are not sure how long Kodak will produce this paper.”
With this kind of large-scale printing being one of WhiteWall’s goals, the team set out to find a solution that meets their standards. “We launched a new product last year called WhiteWall Masterprint,” Nieswandt says. “Now we are able to produce high-quality fine art prints that are 2.4 meters by 5 meters—in one piece. We are the only lab that has a printer like this.” The immense tech and printing capabilities at WhiteWall translate to prints in a vast range of sizes.
The WhiteWall cube is manufactured by the company that builds furniture for the Leica stores. “I visited Leica in Wetzlar at the Ernst Leitz Leica Museum and headquarters. The museum has fantastic furniture,” Nieswandt continues. The WhiteWall cube has been designed to fit seamlessly into Leica stores, no matter their size or configuration. “We manufacture with craftsmanship and great attention to detail,” he adds. “That is the WhiteWall way. Now, in our own spaces and at Leica stores, you can see it and touch the materials to make decisions about printing photographs.”
It’s more than an idea. It’s a vision.
Plenty of photography enthusiasts have committed to purchasing a camera and taking pictures, but that final step of printing has often remained a hurdle. WhiteWall brings it, seamlessly, into Leica galleries. “WhiteWall is for all who love photography,” Nieswandt says. “I love photography. I love this business. I love the people in this business. When I go to the office to see all of the pictures in our plant, that is the reason I keep doing what I do. It’s more than an idea. It’s a vision.”
Images courtesy of WhiteWall