Hasselblad: A Photographic Icon
Products are designed to have functionality. That is the purpose of a product designer. They create by valuing function over form with a methodical engineering process to produce the best user experience. But there are times when great designs have undoubtedly combined form and functionality to create something that is timeless. Something that transcends product design and raises it to an art form. These designs and products speak to me. They satisfy an inner personal aesthetic. The sight of them, or just using them, brings me joy that I can’t aptly put into words. So let me try to share a few with you instead.
Jaguar E Type
Enzo Ferrari once called the Jaguar E-type “the most beautiful car in the world.” When the man, who has created the world’s most amazing automobiles, labels another manufacturer’s vehicle as the “most beautiful”, it is a significant statement. Every morning during freshman year in college, I would walk past a 1967 Jaguar E-Type Coupe. And every day it took my breath away. It was the first time in my life that I truly valued the aesthetic of a product, as much, if not more than its function. I can’t tell you how many frames were exposed of that vehicle that semester, but I couldn’t resist it. And I still can’t today. I am in 100% agreement with Enzo and would say that his statement still stands…. It is the most iconic design in the automotive world.
Herman Miller Eames Chair
1n 1956, Charles and Ray Eames redesigned the modern armchair. They combined steel, leather, and wood to create a new user experience that contours to the users body like a “worn first basemen’s mitt.” The combination of multiple mediums and designed around a baseball glove…. Eames, you “had me at hello!” No wonder I have not been able to get it out of my head since first sitting in one years and years ago. When a product raises the bar so high that it IS the benchmark of utility and art all at once, it has succeeded. One sits in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Is that Iconic confirmation enough?
The Farnsworth House
More than any other medium, great architecture is simply great art…… period. I can stare at a great architectural design for hours. Sitting inside a great design yields a feeling that you just can’t put into words. In 1951, Mies van der Rohe designed his first residential home. The Farnsworth House, just outside of Chicago, is the epitome of his mantra “less is more.” The simple modern design has stood the test of time of great American architecture. When you can look at something and instantaneously know the author and the style, that “thing” has reached Iconic status. While the glass wrapped steel structure spoke to me as a child, it speaks to me more as an adult when “simplify, simplify, simplify” echoes in my mind. It is a truly great American Icon.
The Hasselblad V
So that brings me to the reason why I started this blog. The question is asked, what are the photographic icons? While this conversation should be had in a small, dimly lit bourbon bar sipping on a glass of Blanton’s poured neatly, we will need to take a rain check on that one. When speaking of cameras and starting with small format, the Icon is easily the Leica M. Of this, I would argue into the wee hours of the morning. In large format you could argue it’s the Sinar Norma or the P, but you would have a very good argument for a Graflex or a Deardorf as well. However, we are a medium-format company, so my vote in the medium format genre is unequivocally for the Hasselblad “V”.
The Hasselblad “V” body was designed by Victor Hasseblad and a SAAB auto designer, Sixten Sason. It was the consumer version of their very successful aerial camera used in WWII. To say it was innovative is an understatement. Not only was it the first single lens reflex medium format body, but it also created a system with removable film backs, viewfinders, and interchangeable lenses that had never been seen before in the commercial photographic world. From 1948 to 1957, the system went through multiple changes to improve stability and sturdiness. The name changed from “The universal, to the 1000 to the 1600. Then finally product’s name was changed to the Hasselblad 500 series at the end of 1957 and it was so dependable that the design remained the same for the next 65 years.
When you first laid your eyes on a Hasselblad V, you knew it was different. It was “modular” before they invented the term. Black leather inlay in a nickel chassis. Curved lines that satisfied both form and function. There was nothing truly like it before and I would argue that nothing came close to it in the medium format world, in terms of beautiful design and functionality, ever again. While the value of these bodies are not what they once were, they will always be in my collection and, if not in use, displayed on my wall next to the Erwitt and the Crewdson.
So today Hasselblad releases the 907X + CFV 100C. The images above should blow you away as a photographer and also a designer. What other products in any marketplace can we add modern technology to a 70 year old product and have them match seamlessly? And not only look as if they were designed at the same time, but have them be “plug and play”? You need nothing extra to make today’s tech work on a 70 year old body. No special adapter. No modifications. No external cables. 100mp of modern silicon pixel resolution connected to the same camera design that was chosen to travel to the moon. Amazing.
Hasselblad deserves substantial credit here. They have updated a classic Icon in our industry and created a seamless 100 mp work of art. This is the best marriage of classic form and function with modern technology that I have ever seen. There is something magical to have my 40 year old Hasse 503 come back to life and create images again today that can compete with any other device in the market. Kudos Hasselblad. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather thank you too!
Thanks for the read! If you have any questions feel free to reach out!
firstname.lastname@example.org – 770.846.5223Dave Gallagher