Through a Glass Darkly, Alice

Once upon a time there were very few things that brought any satisfying pleasure to my world. Perhaps it is because I am an enfant terrible who finds comfort in the dark places, or maybe I am just a bonafide product of the digital age wherein all things are expendable, repeatable and available by the millions. Regardless, I must admit that my brain has been gloriously knocked off equilibrium by the latest tool to enter the workshop: a mint Hasselblad 501 CM Black .

Unfortunately, my photos are sloppy tonight as I had just arrived from marking papers and working out at the gym, but they will at least serve to give an idea of what I am talking about. So where is the epiphany, Chandler, it looks like other cameras – it is just a box that captures light, right? Yes, and no. While I could ramble on about the classic design and the fact that it is a mechanical camera, there is only one thing that I care about: the viewfinder.

This camera’s viewfinder is like a portal to a completely different view of the world; it is otherworldly. I cannot explain properly in words yet, but it is like what I have always imagined Alice in Wonderland would be like (big, full of depth and reversed). The above photo gives a vague idea of what I am talking about, but then that is being filtered through another camera. I tried explaining it V. like an old-style terrarium with heavy glass. I cannot intellectualize it yet, but it is something spectacular to behold. It sounds corny, but just being able to see this in real life has made everything come alive again in a whole new way. Even if my photos are horrendous with this camera for the next year or two, I am so taken with the viewfinder that I just do not care two bits.

For my first photos with it I attempted to capture the beautiful orchid that V. bought me for Valentine’s Day. I have no idea how that experiment went. Since the V Series Hasselblad cameras do not have built-in light meters, I could either guess at the aperture/shutter speed or try getting a reading from the Canon for a guessed exposure, so I did the latter. Before I go anywhere with the camera I will need to pick up a simple light meter, which I was going to do anyway for the more complicated product shots I am doing these days. Of course, for my first two shots I forgot that the film speed on the 220 film was iso 400 versus my usual Kodak Portra 140, so they were undoubtedly overexposed, but then in the studio the light is so dim that I might be fine. I might also mention that I procured the camera from David Odess in Massachusetts. I probably paid a bit more for the body than I had to, but David’s biography just read like someone who cared about his craft, and for some reason that really mattered to me – in this world of mass production I wanted to buy a master’s tool from a dedicated, hard-working man. I have never met David, and hold no association with him beyond what I have read in the countless camera forums, but he stood out. The camera arrived in immaculate condition with manuals, strap and a complete tune-up by the master technician.

On the work front, I am in the middle of a product photography job for some packaging. The first shot V. and I devised was brilliant in its mood and tonality, while the second one proved that you can never have enough ice cubes when you are shooting a cocktail shaker.


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