Lisl Steiner inside Westlicht Schauplatz für Fotografie, Vienna (Austria) on November 26th, 2016, day of her 89 birthday, walking beside the picture of Jimmy Carter that she got thirty-nine years before.
September 7th, 1977. The United States President Jimmy Carter is at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C, about to speak to the press the day he signs the new Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty primising to give control of the canal to the Panamanians by the year 2000.
Sol Linowitz and Charles L. Schulze (top economic adviser to Jimmy Carter) have arduosly been negotiating this agreement with the Panama President Omar Torrijos for a lot of months.
The expectation is huge, because 6 percent of world trade passes through this inter-oceanic waterway at the time.
The place is overcrowded with photojournalists from different newspapers, magazines and picture agencies, along with cameramen from a number of TV channels.
Jimmy Carter is next to the microphone installed for the occasion and getting ready to deliver a speech.
He´s momentarily immersed in his thoughts and trying to concentrate on the words and subjects he´s going to deal with.
Lisl Steiner, a photojournalist working for Life magazine and Keystone agency is at a distance of around 4.5 meters from Jimmy Carter.
The president is surrounded by some security members and perhaps she will not have new opportunities to photograph the president from such a near distance.
She is holding a Leica M5 rangefinder camera loaded with Kodak Plus-X 125 ASA and coupled to a Leitz Canada Tele-Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8 lens (manufactured between 1964 and 1974), designed by Walter Mandler and featuring 5 elements in 5 groups, with a diaphragm of ten blades and a close focus of 1 meter.
Her almost twenty years experience as a photojournalist since he began her career in late fifties makes her grasp that this is the defining instant.
She chooses a horizontal framing to get the face of the U.S president filling a significant percentage of the picture and presses the shutter release button of her Leica M5 rangefinder, capturing Jimmy Carter in introspection, with a perfect timing, shooting at f/5.6, taking advantage of the abundant available sun light and getting great image quality thanks to the compactness and low weight (345 g) of the Tele-Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8 and its optimization to easily attain perfect focus shooting handheld and obtain sharper pictures than the previous 5 elements in 3 groups Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8 (made between 1959 and 1974, sporting a weight of 335 g, prone to flare, featuring a 12 blade diaphragm and rendering a worse bokeh).
Bearing in mind that the effective base length becomes longer on increasing the image magnification and the RF base size, a better choice to get the most accurate feasible focus would have been the Leica M3 with its 0.92x magnification viewfinder and a RF base length of 68.5 mm (effective one of 63 mm), but the Leica M5 0.72x VF magnification and its RF base length of 68.5 mm (effective one of 49.32 mm) in symbiosis with the very small size, light weight and short length of the Tele-Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8, prove to be an efficent combination for shooting hand and wrist and getting precise focus, something which speaks volumes for Walter Mandler´s insight on designing his lenses, because the Leica M rangefinder system excels on focusing 28, 35 and 50 mm lenses, while on using longer lenses (75 mm, 90 mm and 135 mm) or shorter ones (24 mm and 21 mm) you need preferably cameras boasting 0.85x/0.92x VF magnifications or 0.58x magnifications respectively.
Anyway, the eye of the photographer, her experience and gift to see the picture, her sense of anticipation and to be at the adequate place at the right moment, approaching as much as possible, are the key factors.
Lisl Steiner sitting at the lounge of the Kaiserin Elisabeth Hotel in Vienna with a 30 x 40 cm copy on photographic paper of the President of the United States Jimmy Carter she made on September 7th, 1977 at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C.
Golden Medal of the Österreich Photographische Gesellschaft (PhG), top award of the Austrian Photographic Society bestowed to Lisl Steiner in 2015.
Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza