The Hasselblad Xpan is one of those cult cameras that usually get pulled for landscape photography, Walter Rothwell uses his Xpan for Street Photography. Jump in for his images and thoughts.
Walter please tell us a bit more about yourself
After finishing a Higher National Diploma in photography at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, I ran a gallery in London and freelanced for various companies, newspapers and magazines.
I then spent a period traveling, living in Europe and Asia. I’m now back living in London, working on commissions and long term personal projects.
Where in the world are you located?
I am in South London, UK
What inspired you to become a photographer?
I kind of ‘knew’ the first time I picked up a camera. I was studying A level design at 6th form college, one of my tutors also ran a photography course so I signed up as an extra subject, fell in love with the whole process and went onto to study further.
Can you describe a few of your trigger mechanisms that make you want to stop and shoot?
I have found that the best pictures almost present themselves, you recognize the elements falling into place, composition, light, juxtaposition, the usual criteria for street photography, just in panoramic.
You can the Xpan take everywhere,everyday, which I do but try to only use it when I ‘see’ a panoramic picture, it takes me a long time to shoot a roll of film, about 2-3 weeks on average.
Could you give us a few reason why you chose the Xpan for street photography?
The vast majority of my work is shot on a standard 35mm Nikon F6 but I realised when shooting that I kept ‘seeing’ panoramic pictures.I became increasingly interested in the panoramic format, the trouble being, my work is shot on film I wasn’t happy with the prospect of cropping and enlarging small portions of a 400asa 35mm negative, a huge sacrifice in final print quality.
The only practical panoramic cameras available are the Xpan (now discontinued but plenty available second hand) and the Mamiya7ii with 35mm adaptor, both expose two frames per picture, essentially giving the width of a medium format neg.
The Mamiya is too large for me as a street and everyday camera so I chose the Xpan, it’s relatively small, light and apart from the legendarily bad paint job, pretty robust.
How hard or easy was the learning curve?
I’ve only shot about 85 rolls since I started with it, so I consider myself as very much still on the learning curve. After initial experimentation I was able to discount using it as a straight replacement for standard 35mm street photography, the frame is too unforgiving with too many pictures lost due to the wrong format.
Also, having always used autofocus cameras, learning hyperfocal focusing helped enormously in speeding up the actual picture taking process. Just keep checking the settings, after a lifetime of shooting with SLR’s I found it all too easy to shoot an out of focus picture because my eye was not used to checking the split image rangefinder or the focus scale on the lens.
The Xpan is quite the odd aspect ratio, it’s panoramic rather than the standard 3:2 or 4:3. How do you balance your frame? Any tips for those who want to pick it up?
One problem with the format is ‘too much information’ general street scenes can be tricky as unwanted elements creep into frame, focal points can get lost or confused. The other problem is too little information, huge swathes of negative space that don’t add anything or work in harmony with the focal point.
I have also found vertical pictures don’t really work for me, while the frame can have a beautiful sweeping quality in horizontal when turned vertical the pictures appear ‘mean’ and jar my eye. The main lessons I have learned so far – simplicity and balance are important and also not to rush it, use the panoramic alongside your other formats and wait for the pictures.
Any closing comments?
It’s easy to understand why people would think of the Xpan primarily as a landscape or architectural camera, it also happens to be a great camera for street photography, the format can be challenging but that’s no bad thing.
Thank you, Walter for such nice images and your comments.
[highlight] Walter Rothwell [/highlight]
You can see more of Walter’s work in his Flickr, he will also be back on Inspired Eye for an extended conversation