Process 091 ☼ Photographing Strangers Pt 2 (+ Hasselblad Digital Back)
GIVEAWAY: $150 gift certificate for the Moment store
This week’s letter is about two things: taking pictures of strangers on my Hasselblad during the summer, and how sad it is that during fall and winter that’s not really possible here due to the lack of light.
Thanks to my friends over at MPB.com I was able to borrow a CFV II 50C digital back for my fifty-year-old Hasselblad so I could experience what it would be like to shoot my Hasselblad during the dark months.
This week also marks the return of the PROCESS GIVEAWAY with a generous $150 gift certificate to spend in the Moment shop, on film, accessories, cameras, etc.
Photographing Strangers In The Sun
In the late days of August, Amsterdam was struck by a week-long heatwave. As I stepped out into the blistering Amsterdam heat, camera in hand, I knew that today was going to be one of those days I better bring along lots of rolls. The city was alive with the sound of people splashing about in whichever body of water they could find, seeking relief from the scorching sun.
I rode my bike to a special spot called Het Stenen Hoofd, a stone jetty piercing into the IJ river. It was originally built for the historic Holland America Line in 1905 and was the place of departure for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who left Europe to move to the United States. Below is a historic image that shows a Navy ship docked at Het Stenen Hoofd in the 1930s.
The jetty, once a bustling hub of commerce and travel, was eventually retired as a docking place. The plans the city drew up over the years failed to materialize. Yet, in the meantime, it transformed into a recreational space where the brave leap from the towering 8-meter (25-foot) high wall into the shimmering waters of the river below.
Soon after I arrived I spotted my friend, Laura, enjoying a refreshing swim with her friends. They laughed and joked around, carefree and happy, and I started taking photos. I brought along my Hasselblad 500cm with a bunch of rolls of expired Kodak Portra 160VC from the early 2000s.
As I wandered around the area, I couldn't help but notice how seriously the locals took their quality of life. It was a Thursday but it seemed as though half the city had taken a day off work. Even in the midst of a heatwave, they were out in force, determined to make the most of their beautiful city.
It was a group of young men in their early 20s who truly captured my attention. They were delightfully silly, jumping into the water in creative and unexpected ways, each splash sending ripples through the river. I couldn't help but grin as I snapped photo after photo, capturing the joy and exuberance of the moment.
As the sun began to set and the heat of the day began to fade, I made my way back home, tired but happy, knowing that I had captured something truly special. It was a day that will live on in my memories forever, a testament to the beauty of this city and the joy of living life to the fullest.
Ah, the anticipation of the sun's return after this long winter! I am eager to roam the streets again with my trusty Hasselblad, capturing portraits of strangers and finding connection in those moments.
It’s been too long and once fall starts street portraiture on film is a battle lost to the waning light. For years I’ve dreamed of having a digital back for the Hasselblad so I could continue shooting during the darker months, but it was never really an option financially. Until…
A Digital Back For My Hasselblad
Sure, I looked up the Hasselblad CFV II 50C digital with its 50-megapixel sensor when it came out. And maybe I had dreamed about getting a big commercial shoot that would pay for this pricey beast. But really, it was out of reach.
Still, after my first dark winter in Amsterdam, I could not stop thinking about this setup, to the point of it becoming a bit of a holy grail piece of gear for me. So when I teamed up with MPB.com and got to pick six pieces of gear to borrow and shoot with, this digital back was first on the list.
Straight out of the box, it’s a stunning object. It’s beautifully designed, fits on my old Hasselblad seamlessly, and is completely intuitive to use. I was so excited. Even though it was drizzling outside I started shooting right away.
The rain kept everyone else inside so rather than taking street portraits of humans I focused on street portraits of flowers during the first few walks.
It was great, at first. There were so many options, a variety of screen ratios, and ISO that went up to a mind-blowing 25600. I loved that I still had to use the wind-on crank between each shot as if I was actually advancing the film roll. I loved that I could still focus through my waist-level viewfinder. It felt like a cheat code.
But…as time went on and I went on more photo walks I came to realize the feeling was off for me. The back produced beautifully rich files, but I didn’t feel the same calmness and focus as when I walked around with the Hasselblad with a film back.
The details I could get out of these files were remarkable, but the act of taking pictures didn’t feel like a meditation. I felt I was shooting, rather than observing and documenting. It didn’t feel like a dance with my environment.
This digital back is an incredible piece of technology, but after a week of using it, I realized it’s not for me. All that time that I dreamed about this back as an extension of what I already had, only to find out that what I have is exactly what I love.
The slowness, the limitations, the meditative aspect of shooting on film, the fully mechanical nature of the camera. That’s what I feel connected to and what inspires me to go out and make work and talk to people.
Rather than dream about a digital back I realized I should lean into my current setup more and expand within the analog limitations. I am adding a 6x4.5 film back so I can shoot with an additional ratio and get more shots per roll as film prices skyrocket. I am borrowing a friend’s 220 back so I can shoot the remaining 24-shot rolls from my freezer this summer. I have two lenses and that’s all I need.
I’m grateful I got to test this beautiful machine out and learn that it’s all that I imagined, but not what I need or want personally. Spring is here and tomorrow I will be out in the city for the first time again since last summer. Can’t wait to share.
Shout Out: All film was developed and scanned by my friends at Carmencita Film Lab. Use code “PROCESS” at check out to get a free size upgrade for your scans.
That’s it for this week! Thanks again to my friends over at MBP.com for making this issue possible. MPB is the largest global platform to buy, sell, and trade used photo and video gear. They have served over 625,000 visual storytellers and all gear comes with a six-month warranty. The next piece of gear I will be testing is the Canon R5.
Next week: Some exciting news about something upcoming you can hold in your hands (??), and some of my favorite images from my trip to India.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
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This week’s giveaway is in collaboration with my friends at Moment. One winner will receive a $150 giftcard so you can buy whatever you wish whether it is film, bags, an online course, or anything else from the Moment store.
To enter this week’s Process Giveaway answer the question below in the comment section for this issue:
QUESTION: What is something that you always thought you wanted in your life, but came to realize you didn’t need?
My answer: I hold two business degrees from university and I really enjoyed the studying part, but once I graduated I quickly realized I did not want to work as a business consultant. I took the long way around to find myself in a creative career instead. I don’t have regrets because the business skills I learned at school still help me run my business as a freelance photographer.
I’m excited to read everyone’s answers!
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So many times I stayed too much on planning. I guess what I don't need is a perfect timing. Just start doing things, start shooting, start a project.
Always thought I needed an abundance of money and a big house. Now that I’m an adult, I’m really only interested in a modest living that allows me the freedom to work on what I’m passionate about without the stress of constantly increasing my cost of living.