Sunil Kaul’s initial days at Leica Camera got off to a less than fortuitous start. A veteran of the automotive industry, Kaul was accustomed to ‘point-and-shoot’ cameras and describes the transition to Leica cameras as akin to going straight from “a Toyota to a Rolls-Royce”. Fortunately, Kaul experienced his epiphany and has since captured some of his most memorable images to date with his trusty camera.
To me, Leica is not a luxury brand. What we offer is a tool – a Leica camera is a hammer for a carpenter, a paintbrush for a painter. Leica is a journalistic camera – one that was used in war zones. It needs to be durable, robust, simple and focus on the essentials.
The best photo is one that touches you. One that stood out for me was an image I took in Varanasi during Maha Kumbh Mela, a large carnival that happens once every 12 years. I tried to capture the spirituality, the ‘emotional portrait’ that shows the emotional state of a person without using a single sentence. I have a few of these that I keep private. They may not be the best quality-wise, but from a story point-of-view, they’re outstanding. They capture the mood, rather than ensuring every flower you see has the sharpest edge. For me, photography is about the interaction, the eye contact, the conversation.
People keep asking us if Leica is in trouble because of smartphones. A smartphone camera takes images, a camera takes photographs – there’s a difference. There will always be a percentage of people who will graduate from smartphone cameras and buy a camera. You’d never sit for a family picture and see your photographer coming at you with a little camera phone. For us the impact of smartphones wasn’t that much because we’ve always had very large sensors, the best materials, lenses that money could buy. Having said that, this year we have a collaboration with Huawei (phones) because we want to learn more about this part of the business.
I was born in Kashmir. It’s one of the most challenging places in India due to extremism, but it’s also one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. My mother’s family were landowning farmers, and we had cherry, apple and walnut trees. We didn’t have a proper bathroom – instead we had a stream of glacier water from the mountains. In the winter, we would use a hot spring near our house. We had no heating system. We used to take an earthen pot filled with hot coals and carry it around with us under our clothes.
If you’d seen me 10 to 15 years ago, I’d be in a pinstriped suit with polished shoes and an Oxford tie. Now I like adding colour. I go to Alex at Oxford Tailor, he knows every inch of my body.
Outside of work, I like to hang out with close friends and family at home. My winning dish is lamb chops – done Western-style with an Indian touch of curry powder, black pepper and onions. My favourite restaurant is Bukhara in ITC Maurya, New Delhi. It makes the world’s best lamb dishes. Unless you ‘know somebody’, it’s a three-week wait for a table.
I have nine watches and I use all of them daily. I have a smart/fitness watch, two Rolexes, two Panerais, two Jaeger-LeCoultres, a Breitling and an IWC. My favourites are the JLC compressor and a 1970s Rolex with a Pepsi bezel. My biggest purchase would probably be my Leica collection, which would easily amount to about S$100,000.