Mechanical rangefinders are small, lightweight, discreet, and tend to have good optics. That doesn’t stop some of us from using them on subjects that don’t benefit much from those attributes — say, a fog-shrouded forest road (though having no mirror slap can be helpful for a 1/4 second handheld exposure).
Add professional Leica durability to the equation and Jason P. Howe has definitely figured out the right way to use a rangefinder. In his case, to cover the apparently-endless military and paramilitary violence in Colombia.
It’s a situation made for this sort of work — no generators, no sat phones and laptops, just a guy with lightweight sturdy mechanical equipment, no batteries, but pockets full of black and white film that can withstand the hot and damp environment. Compare his setup to the giant rucksacks full of gear carried by the Humvee-embedded journalists during the Iraq invasion. The immediacy and grit of Howe’s photos make the crisp, colorful Iraqi shots, while illustrative of American military power, seem like so much sport shooting.
Howe deals with both sides of the conflict, the government AUC and the FARC (which while labelled as a terrorist organization by the Bush administration, still manages to have their own slick and public web site). Among all countries in the western hemisphere, only Cuba is more oppresive to journalists, according the Reporters Sans Frontières — here’s a telling example.