Old School Meets Digital
H3DII-39 Joins Gearbox of Large-Format Shooter
Hasselblad VIP Henrik Saxgren (www.saxgren.dk), of Copenhangen, Denmark, is an internationally recognized documentary and landscape photographer. Since the 1990s, he has published seven books, exhibited in some 40 solo and group shows around the world, and received two dozen grants and awards. An empassioned film photographer, Saxgren explains how he came to appreciate the virtues of digital technology through his Hasselblad H3DII-39.
From 2002 to 2006, I documented new immigrants in the Nordic countries—with my old Hasselblad 500C—making portraits and writing about 100 immigrant families of different nationalities. My goal was to minimize subjectivity and make the images appear as anthropological documents. To ensure that the homes would be fully illuminated, I brought a heavy assembly of Pro strobe photo lighting equipment with five lights. It was a fantastic journey across spectacular landscapes. The project, “War & Love: Immigration into the Nordic Countries,” became a book and a large exhibition.
I also continued to photograph images for my shadows project, “Unintended Sculptures,” which began in 2001. Images for that project will be published by Hatje Cantz, a German publishing house, in 2009. Another project I have been working on is “Denmark During Transformation,” a landscape assignment financed by the Ministry of Culture and The New Carlsberg Foundation. As one of 14 Danish photographers assigned to shoot between 40 and 60 images of the Danish landscape, I chose the theme ‘landscapes altered by man.’
Hasselblad User, Then and Now
Hasselblad has been part of my photography since I was a photography trainee. I purchased my first Hasselblad, at age 17. During my early years as a photojournalist, I shot 35mm, primarily in black-and-white, and used a conventional darkroom, until 2002, when I bought my first professional scanner, an Imacon Flextight 848. Suddenly able to work in Photoshop, I appreciated the new possibilities and began to work in color.
When I started “Denmark During Transformation,” I intended to use my Lindhof 4x5. Then I was given the opportunity to use a Hasselblad H3DII-39. Knowing digital technology had come a long way, I decided to capture the entire project with the digital Hasselblad. The fact that I could put a GPS feature on the camera and keep the exact position for the images also attracted me.
I brought my H3DII to Iceland to test it. I drove from Reykjavik to the big glacier, Vatnajökull, on the east coast, where the landscape is fantastic. I photographed late at night and early in the morning at the glacial river lagoon, Jökulsálón. It was a valuable adjustment period. For example, I had only brought one battery to Iceland and ran out of power several times. Today, I always bring three fully charged batteries along. Also, I frequently use f/22 and f/32 when shooting on film, but on a digital camera this aperture made everything look blurry. Eventually, I learned that f/11 is the aperture to use with digital, and that ‘unsharp mask’ in Photoshop is a must. I also came to love the 3:4 format when my favorite format for decades had been 6x12 cm.
The wide exposure tolerance of negative film and the freedom it gives me to act more impulsive had always been very important to me. I didn’t want to be concerned about exposure shooting digital. While it is still possible to burn the highlights with the H3DII, the histogram display provided updated exposure information so I was able to relax and enjoy the freedom. While it was hard to appreciate the grainless texture and digital sharpness at first, the H3DII’s digital sharpness worked to my advantage since my objective for “Denmark During Transformation” was to be more topographical than esthetic.
In the three months I have used my Hasselblad H3DII, I have valued its ease of use above all else. My Lindhof 4x5 can be quite laborious to use, so I’m glad to have a viable alternative for the landscape project. I have even developed a workflow that fits my temperament.
I don’t think I would have been ready to invest in a full digital Hasselblad system on my own, being so keen on film and skeptical about digital capture. I am grateful that the Hasselblad sponsorship gave me the chance to exchange my misconceptions for knowledge. I am very pleased with my H3D-39 and know it will become an even more valuable tool as time goes on.
Text: Alice B. Miller