I was recently commissioned by Air Mexico magazine to put together a series from Tokyo on the theme ‘red’. In the end, it comprised a few new shots as well as a bunch of older stuff. The shots in this article, made with the Hasselblad CFV-50c digital back on an old 500C/M body, were part of what I submitted. In the end, the magazine went for different shots. So it gives me a chance to show them to you now.
I’m very fortunate to have spent 2015 being an Ambassador for Hasselblad in Japan. I still have a nice relationship with the company, which continues to give ma wonderful opportunities to use their gear.
My own Hasselblad is the H4D-40, with an 80mm lens. It’s a wonderful machine and the colour from the CDD sensor is consistently wowing me.
Occasionally, though, I like to have the opportunity to use the CFV-50c back, typically on an old 1960s 500C/M body that the company has at their shop in Harajuku, Tokyo. It’s a different experience, matching old-style operation [shoot, wind-on] with the latest state of the art sensor tech. The camera slows me down, to focus and meter and the wind-on puts the gap back in between two photos again.
More often than not I’d go out with the 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar f/2.8 lens on the camera. It’s great for portraits and street and a whole load of other types of shooting. I hadn’t really shot the old C 120mm f/4 macro before, well not for a long time and not since film days. So it was a lot of fun to have the lens on the CFV for a day.
The 120mm is a super-sharp lens which equates to about 85mm on the CFV’s sensor.
I had the camera for a couple of days, just with the waist-level finder.
The WLF turned out to be perfect for shooting the Tokyo Tower and, with the way you cradle the camera in both hands to look down into the finder, without a doubt lead me to a few angles that I wouldn’t have found with an eye-level viewfinder.
Together with the specific view of the 120mm prime, it all helped me to generate a set that was more about elements of the tower contrasted against the perfect deep-blue sky that day. I concentrated on parts of the structure, the curves, the rivets, the arcs of steel.
Rodchenko, back in the 1920s just after he got his first Leica, mocked this sort of photography. ‘Belly button photography’ [with the camera held a the waist] as he called it was a thing of the past. It was wonderful how the Leica freed him up to explore new viewpoints – over his head and straight down – and the work we most know Rodchenko for today is the ultra-geometric, the extreme viewpoint photography that he was able to get with a camera that he could, for the first time, hold up to his eye.
But, after many, many years of people having cameras up to their eyes, it pays to go back in time and look through a waist-level finder every now and again. Not ever camera has the ability to do so, but many modern cameras now have flip-up screens and finders and it all works out to the same thing: a different viewpoint, lower down and offering new perspective on the world around you.
Rodchenko’s pillorying of the waist-level view is because of his marvel at the new freedoms he got with a camera to his eye. But it’s worth remembering that, nowadays, we often hear people do similar things when they suggest shooting with an iPhone is not ‘real photography’. Or that shooting with a zoom is lazy and primes are much better.
There has always been a multitude of different photography gear. There have always been different methods, ways of using gear. There are many pieces of good advice about how using one piece of gear will make your eye better at seeing the world. Rodchenko proved that with his Leica. But like a lot of people today who get absorbed and obsessed with their own way of shooting, Rodchenko talked-up his methods by shitting on other people’s way of doing things.
Examining different viewpoints, using a different lens, limiting your number of shots with your digital gear in the way a roll of 24-exposure film does: these are just a few of the ways to put new life into the way you see the world around you. Enjoy them, experiment. Try to remain positive, exciting and engaging without needing to talk someone else’s methods down.
My shots of the Tokyo Tower, with the Hasselblad CFV-50c, 500C/M and 120mm f/4: excuse the quality on some of the shots. Not sure why, but the JetPack gallery plugin is having a real issue rendering the sky without ‘stairs’ in the JPEGs, despite the files looking great on every app before I upload them.