To Johannes Huwe, ‘throwaway’ culture is nonsensical and obscene. From classic cars to cameras to clothing, he celebrates the enduring attraction and practicality of time-honoured craftsmanship
“Back in the 1980s you bought your car for life, your camera would be for life. I’m not that attracted to modern things as I end up having to throw them away after a few years. I see much more value in older classic cars, cameras or clothes – and the craftsmanship they were made with.”
There’s something highly seductive about Johannes Huwe’s philosophy for life. Take the words of this gently-spoken, car-loving photographer and creative at face value and you might interpret it as retrograde, idealistic even. But the reality is that it’s more like a set of progressive principles to help build a better world. Why fill up landfills in an endless pursuit of the new and ‘on trend’ when you can celebrate the beauty, craftsmanship and usefulness of what we already have?
A tale of three classic Porsche cars
For Johannes, an impressively bearded German, cameras and classic cars are much more than just ‘things’. They are shaped by stories. The stories of the people who made them, maintain them and use them. And in his case, there are plenty to tell.
Johannes owns three classic car models, all Porsches. Two he keeps at his home near Hannover – an elegant, eye-catching 1954 Porsche 356 and his ‘daily driver’, an air-cooled Porsche 964 – and the third – a 1975 Porsche 911 in Gemini Blue – which is looked after by a mechanic friend in California.
Each journey in one of his Porsche cars is an experience to be savoured, says Johannes. In the case of the 356 it starts the moment he sits in the driver’s seat. There are 66 years of history within its steering wheel, every crease of leather in the seats or beautifully-engineered bolt. Anticipation heightens as he turns the key in the ignition, awaiting the thrum of the engine. And then the drive. There’s no power steering here, nor today’s forgiving modern braking systems. Instead, says Johannes, he feels a direct connection to the road and through every curve.
Such emotions never wane, even after Johannes has locked his valuable car. “Sometimes I have problems actually leaving it to go into my house,” he admits. “I look back at my car. And it's so beautiful. I love it. It's like it has a soul.”
Porsche built the first modern sports car. Leica invented the first 35mm camera. They’re pioneers. They make masterpieces
Perfection in moderation
The 356 has recently undergone a restoration at one of Europe’s great classic car restorers, Porsche Classic Factory Restoration, near Stuttgart. But, says Johannes, it was done sympathetically, intent on keeping the spirit of the car intact, including the well-worn, unique ‘weathering’ of its leather upholstery.
The expert restorers at the factory carry out their duties with care, true artisanship and more than a little love, just like the people who built the car originally – in fact many used to assemble new Porsche cars themselves. To watch them delicately, deliberately shape metal with a fine rasp or pore over the original design templates is to be in the presence of masters of an art.
“I didn’t want a total restoration, I didn’t want a 60-year-old car that looks brand new,” says Johannes. “I want to feel every year that is in this car. To keep the old leather seats and their patina intact.”
A richer experience
“For me, the Leica is comparable to Porsche,” he says. “Porsche built the first modern sports car. And Leica invented the first 35mm camera. They're pioneers in their fields. They make masterpieces.”
Analogue cameras like his 1958 Leica M2 – which, similar to his 356, is today the owner of a beautiful, time-worn patina on its metal body – force you into seeing the picture in your mind, says Johannes. To be deliberate, to take your time. People think that if you shoot 100 pictures on a digital camera, he opines, you are guaranteed a good one. He refutes this vehemently. When you have just one click, you just can’t waste it.
“That moment when you wind the film on, then click the shutter. That sound. It's… oh wow! I love it,” says Johannes, with boyish enthusiasm.
Just like the automotive artists working at Porsche Classic Factory Restoration, these details are an expression of true craftsmanship. This commitment extends to Johannes spending long hours processing each image by hand in his dark room. You won’t find Photoshop here.
“There is a grain that you get when you shoot on film that you don’t get with digital,” says Johannes of his commitment to analogue. “You just don’t get the same feeling. The results are richer, more full of life.”
Travelling the world, shooting classic cars
Like many all over the world, Johannes’ wings have been clipped in recent months. Regular trips to the US – as recounted in one of his captivating Instagram accounts, Americana Magazine – are currently curtailed, where he shoots classic American cars (1970s a speciality), gas stations untouched by time and billboards seemingly dropped in from a movie set. His expeditions have taken him to Greenland and to Antarctica (“my cameras are totally mechanical so they’ve never let me down, even in these difficult conditions”). Although, for him, nothing beats driving the 356 down the circuitous, mountainous 700km Route de Grandes Alpes from Geneva to the French Riviera.
“Even Porsche couldn’t believe I attempted it in such an old car,” he laughs. “It’s very hard work to go downhill through the mountains. But as with anything where you don’t take the easy route, when you achieve it… well, it feels even more special.”