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Wide Wide World

The first time I looked into the lens of a Hasselblad superwide camera, it reminded me vividly of the cold staring eye of the HAL 9000 series computer in Stanley Kubrick's 2001.

...And then again, that Hasselblad - which felt so perfect in the hand, also reminded me of an image I had seen long ago of Erich Salomon - not with a Superwide in his hand but with an Ermanox-

Erich Salomon was an accomplished photojournalist who used the Ermanox to produce many superb candid images at the dawn of the great picture magazines in the 1930s. The Ermanox was eventually eclipsed by the Leica and poor Erich Salomon was murdered by the Nazis.

Victor Hasselblad's Superwide has had much better fortune.

The Superwide was made from 1954-2009. It was - and remains - a unique and wonderful camera. William here at The Latent Image loves his 1974 Superwide C and I am devoted to my 1957 example.

And we are in good company...

Robert Frank - the photographer behind the ground-breaking photo essay 'The Americans' and Lee Friedlander, that most accomplished and innovative of the 'American School' of arthouse photography cherished their Superwides

Robert Frank's essay 'The Americans' was published in the late 50s. It was a radical and uncompromising take on American life; revealing a country plagued by racism, divided by politics and eroded by unchecked capitalism.

But Frank also found beauty as he captured the ordinary course of American Life. His images in 'The Americans' offer an intuitive and quite wonderful redefinition of Americana.

picture by Lee Friedlander from his series 'America by Car'

Lee Friedlander's work - like Frank's - is brilliant and unconventional.

And the Hasselblad Superwide - or SWC - is a brilliant and unconventional camera. William rarely leaves his 1977 SWC unused for long...

...But I prefer my 1957 Superwide. The only thing we do agree about is that this camera is a brilliant street shooter. Picking up from the style of the great Erich Salomon, the Hasselblad is a superb camera to 'shoot from the hip'.

The Superwide is a powerful photographic tool capable of quite incredible results.

Take a look at Ken Rockwell's photos of Route 66 -

And his full technical assessment of the camera -

Aside from the lovely handling of the camera, the key to this little Hasselblad's majestic picture-taking capabilities is to be found, of course, in the Biogon lens that is permanently mounted on that very slim body. The origins of the lens design go all the way back to the world of Erich Salomon and Germany in the Thirties - that time of dreadful Nazi politics but also, great innovation in lens design.

Ludwig Jakob Bertele was the star lens designer at Zeiss - and the man behind the Wide angle Biogon. Unlike Salomon, he would survive the Nazi era - suffering only the indignity of the Soviets appropriating his lens designs and making them their own - under the 'Jupiter' trade name...

It was very fortunate that Hasselblad were also able to use the Biogon lens in their new 'Supreme Wide Angle' Superwide camera...

During its very long production run, the Hasselblad SWC went through several subtle design changes - but remained always an irresistibly cool and fascinating camera to use and... Let's face it; fall in love with!

We have just taken into stock a superb 903 SWC. I imagine we won't have it for long...

Rumour has it that the Superwide from its inception through to the mid sixties was put together by just one highly skilled woman at the Hasselblad factory. I don't know if that can possibly be true. I've certainly never been able to find out her name... But if the rumour is true, please let me extend my thanks to you, Ms. Anonymous. You started the line that put together a camera like no other. A camera that has given us photographers a whole Wide, Wide, world to explore. And for that we shall be forever grateful.

In Kubrick's 2001, HAL went crazy and tried to kill the crew. I've never had that trouble with my old 'Hassy' but I would certainly be crazy to sell this wonderful camera.

Blog copyright Matthew Whiteman 2023

Camera images copyright The Latent Image 2023

Historic images copyright various

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