Etched into Memory – Arts & Crafts on a Leica MP
Johnny Dowell, aka King Nerd, is a British artist and designer specialising in bespoke engravings.
His client list includes leading fashion houses and luxury watch brands, car and motorbike manufacturers, beverage and audio equipment companies… and, as of now, Leica Camera.
One of his artworks – the Leica MP “Planet Earth” – will be offered at the 42nd Leitz Photographica Auction in Wetzlar on June 10, 2023.
„Every day, Leica cameras are used to document the problems, as well as the beauty of our planet. So I wanted to create a representation of our world on the exterior of one of these cameras,“
Dowell says about the origins of this collaboration.
The analogue Leica MP is embellished with a unique design by British engraving artist King Nerd. The stunning camera will be offered at the 42nd Leitz Photographica Auction in Wetzlar on June 10, 2023
“I came up with an idea to eternalise space and planet Earth on a Leica camera,”
he continues. “When I presented my sketches to Leica, they liked them and decided to let me carry on.”
We spoke with Johnny Dowell to find out more about his relationship with Leica, and his plans for the near future.
His artist and brand name, ‘King Nerd’, stands for a synergy between the old (‘King’) and the new (‘Nerd’). Indeed, despite the highly diverse nature of his projects, the combination of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary products and themes is a common thread that runs through all of Dowell’s work.
Johnny Dowell, aka King Nerd, talking to LFI
You create exceptional works of art born from a symbiosis between everyday objects and your own creativity. What inspired you to pursue this path?
I was originally headed for a different career – I was planning to attend the fashion programme at Central Saint Martins. Instead, I decided to learn the traditional craft of engraving. After five years of training and a total of 15 years at James Purdey & Sons – one of the world’s oldest and most elite shotgun and rifle makers – I eventually realised that guns were not my passion. At the same time, I felt very fortunate to have been taught such a dying art. Working under the umbrella of the Richemont Group and being trained at Purdey’s had opened my eyes to the world of bespoke luxury objects. My original plan has now come full circle, as I combine my skills as an artist and designer with the craft I learned, applying them to anything from cars, motorbikes, headphones and watches, to liquor bottles, furniture, fashion items – and now, cameras.
How did the collaboration with Leica first come about?
Leica’s team saw a private commission in GQ Magazine that I had done for the photographer Gavin Bond. I was then put in touch with Leica through Guy Berryman from Coldplay, a friend of mine for whom I’d also completed a personalised Leica project.
Did you already have an affinity with photography?
I’ve always loved photography and I’ve been taking pictures since I was young, preferably with analogue film. Leica has always been the one brand I’ve wanted to own. The designs are so iconic and out of this world. I absolutely love everything about Leica.
Who chose the analogue Leica MP as the basis for this project?
It was really a joint decision between myself and Leica. We felt that, being a film camera, the Leica MP captures moments in time in a tangible manner, so it was perfect for what we wanted to create: a ‘moment-in-time’ piece of art.
How do you feel about the result?
Working with Leica has been one of my proudest moments, and I’m very happy with what I’ve created. I put a lot of time and imagination into designing this camera, even before engraving it by hand. Every aspect of the Leica MP “Planet Earth” documents real life – the beauty of space and our planet, as well as the problems we are facing. These are the subjects people capture with their Leica cameras – so to also document them for eternity on this fine-art camera means so much to me.
What are your plans for the near future?
Some of my upcoming projects include a car anniversary collection and a new footwear collaboration. And, as a matter of fact, there is also another exciting Leica project in the pipeline.
Photos: Leitz Photographica Auction / Sketches: Johnny Dowell
Text: Tobias F. Habura-Stern / LFI Leica Fotografie International