Bandon, Oregon – Hasselblad 903 SWC

This photograph was taken fifteen years ago, looking west from the left-coast  at an ocean I’ve rarely photographed. It was November and I was high on a bluff  in Bandon Oregon – an unpretentious town at the end of a dusty road with a surprisingly epic view of the Pacific. Something about this place reminded me of off-season Montauk and  similar towns – timeless places putting on their winter clothes – communities that can be counted on not to change for the worse.

Admittedly the view of the ocean here was more like Montauk on steroids – scenery on a truly grand scale. Appropriately, I chose my Hasselblad 903 SWC – a medium format camera that came fixed with what quite possibly was the finest wide angle lens ever made – the 38mm f4.5 Biogon. This was a camera unburdened with bells and whistles and redundant gadgetry. With it’s detachable viewfinder and ability to accept a ground glass back, the 903 has reigned for years as the ultimate choice for wide angle devotees.  Perhaps for this reason, the camera has earned it’s nickname “Superwide” although the number of people familiar with it on that basis is sadly dwindling. In the previous century when Hasselblads were in vogue both here and on the moon, the Superwide had a much deserved reputation for pinpoint accuracy and corner-to-corner sharpness. But now, due to the lack of a digital back, it sadly falls out of fashion with those of us producing millions of pixels. Perhaps its moon is waning.

My friend Jonathan who studies these things tells me that the 903  was first produced in Sweden in 1954 which also happens to be the same year I was manufactured. An early prototype was unceremoniously shipped to our shores around the time Charlie Parker was making his final recordings. With only minor modifications it has remained unchanged ever since. You can still buy it, or you can buy an older one and put a brand new back on it which will attach with no problem. That was the point.  It was produced when things were still bench-made by guys who assembled things with a panache for precision. It was put together with sturdy parts and close attention to details. The damn thing worked. It felt good in your hands. When you put it back in it’s case and took it out the following spring, it didn’t need any improvements. Once you bought this camera there was no need to upgrade your operating system.

And so I am not yet ready for it’s elegy. Digital imaging is here for good and I’m not inclined toward orthodoxy whether it’s on one side of this argument or the other. I can live with the complexities of being a hybrid and will happily scan my film.

To see other photographs taken with the Hasselblad 903 SWC click on this link:

For a commentary about the use of the detachable rangefinder and  ground glass back on the 903, go to this link:

2 thoughts on “Bandon, Oregon – Hasselblad 903 SWC

  1. Wonderful shot, showing John’s mastery of landscape photography: subtle color, original composition, and an understanding of the decisive moment as well as an unobtrusive but comprehensive control of every technical element required to produce a memorable image.
    Almost tempts one to warm up the old Superwide, but of course there is so much more to the creation of a moving image than the selection of an appropriate camera, isn’t there?

  2. Retrospective thoughts and image:

    A nostalgic, practical, and poetic essay. Its perspective adroitly spans and contrasts the finest of traditional, steadfast photography with the present, ever-changing technology.

    The essay mimics the photo (or vice versa). Upon looking at the photograph today, we can visualize the photographer, 15 years ago, using his traditional equipment viewing the forthcoming technological changes arriving as crescents of surf in a rhythmic pattern. And instead of simply diving in to the most current wave, he remains detached, high on a bluff, viewing the photographic landscape to appreciate what was, and how to integrate it into what is.

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