Nov 21, 2010

Hasselblad 500 EL/M - Photo Gear (8) Hommage à Peter Borkenhagen, Uwe Feigenbutz, Friederich Hackstein and Horst Kunnert


I have very often expressed, in various Photography Forums, my dislike and discontent over the trend of the photographic industry to produce countless, and meaningless, limited editions of camera models.

I would speculate that my annoyance with such fashionable ways, comes principally from the fact that most of them are, well, meaningless...

So, I should possibly feel a little embarrassment, admiting that I also purchased a couple of these cameras along the years... I think that I don't have to feel contradictory, but please, read on.

My first ever Leica, was a "Leica CL 50th Anniversary", one of those special edition models that Leitz introduced in 1975, marking the 50th Anniversary of the manufacture of the Leica.

I got the complete set, used, with Summicron-C 40mm and Elmar-C 90mm. I must say that I was delighted with the camera: exceptional optical quality in a very compact set! For someone who was coming from the SLR corner with big and heavy cameras and lenses, it was a revelation! I had seen nothing better or more efficcient for my humanitarian street photography.

Then, I made the "mistake" of touching a Leica M, and there could be no return: the CL was traded for my M4-2. That was in 1979, and I never felt sorry for that decision. Somehow, every time I see a CL, my heart beats a little faster...

By the way, I do think that 50 years of Leica production was reason enough for the Leitz company to celebrate with some special edition cameras!

Another uncommon camera I got around that time, was the Hasselblad 500 EL/M "20 Years in Space" that I have pictured on these photographs. It was produced to celebrate the use of Hasselblad cameras by the NASA, between 1962 and 1982: 2 Hasselblad EL electric cameras were used for the first time on Apollo 8, in 1968, bringing back 1100 photographs from the mission. Kodak was even asked by NASA to develop thin new films with special emulsions! Needless to say, many of these improvements on equipment, and films, have found their way on our consumer products.

The "20 Years in Space" consisted on a limited edition of 1500 cameras with grey leather covering, in the style of the cameras used by the Apollo Space Program (The leatherette was actually removed and replaced by metal plates, on the cameras sent to space. At first, the cameras had black anodized surfaces to eliminate reflections. Later on, the outer surface of the 500EL data camera was colored silver to help maintain more uniform internal temperatures in the extremes encountered on the moon. The conventional lubricants were also replaced with low friction materials, or eliminated, because they would boil off in the vacuum).

About a dozen Hasselblad/NASA cameras were left on the surface of the moon. Only the film magazines were brought back... Who gives me a ride to Tranquility Base?

The special edition you see here is, of course, the "normal" camera, except for the leatherette and the shutter-release button, which was also unusual for the 500 EL/M that you found on the normal consumer market (the subsequent civilian models also adopted the astronaut style, I should note).

The camera was supplied with the first-class Planar 2.8/80mm by Carl Zeiss, and A12 film magazine. It came in a special golden box, with certificate and battery charger.

Being rather "affordable" these days (the normal version, I mean), the main drawback of the Hasselblad 500 EL/M, is that it needs special rechargeable batteries, and they are hard to find and expensive. It is also not cheap to convert the cameras to use other types of batteries.

Only in 1988, with the introduction of the 553 ELX, the electric Hasselblads started to use five AA/R6 alkaline battery cells with 1,5 volts. Please, be aware of that.

Above shots made with Canon 30D + Leitz 4/200mm Telyt

(lens made in 1961! For the Visoflex)

+ 14167 Leitz Adapter + Enjoyyourcamera adapter

Both Leica CL and Hasselblad 500 EL/M, were sold to me by a great photographic artist, namely Peter Borkenhagen. Being a trained portrait photographer, Borkenhagen worked in some fine Fotogeschäfte in Heidelberg. He was the best photographic equipment seller that you can dream of: not only friendly and honest, but also knowledgeable and extremely competent. You can surely trust Peter's opinion. All photographic community around Heidelberg respects him very much.

At heart and soul, Borkenhagen is an Artist!

I didn't see, or have any contact with him, for some years now. I can imagine that he maybe is retired from his salesman activity...

I have no doubt, though, that his Art is going strong, and that he keeps being an engaged Artist, with capital A !

Uwe Feigenbutz was a friend of ours. He ran a kind of itinerant gallery ("x. producer's Gallery"), and he organized some exhibitions of our work, very often having the support of a jazz combo, in the pursuit of a broader artistic experience.

Together with Friederich Hackstein who, I believe, still runs London Pub in Lampertheim, Bundesland Hessen, we constituted a curious quartet of different photographic styles: Peter Borkenhagen would heat his Polaroids or literally burn his negatives (chemically and with fire!), before making his own prints, Hackstein would show his abstract Polaroid nudes, Uwe would typically display serigraphies, and I was the "conservative" one, with my straight photography.

We went to Ljubljana, Lisbon, Lampertheim, Heilbronn... Sometimes all four, other times just two of us, some other times maybe alone. Nevertheless, I think that we made a skilled group of talents!

Then I came back to Portugal, Uwe sadly passed away...

The above exhibition was made possible with the help of the american photographer Kristi Eisenberg, Coordinator of the Photography Program at Cecil Community College, Maryland, USA.

Thank you Kristy, it was very kind of you!

Mr. Horst Kunnert wrote an article about my photographs on the magazine "Leica Fotografie", nr. 3/1983 (Umschau Verlag, Frankfurt/am Main). I only have the french edition with me, where the article is entitled "Un Amateur Engagé". I remember spending a nice afternoon in Mr. Kunnert's home, in the balcony, while some enthusiastic conversation about Photography was going on.

"Ses photos noir et blanc m'avaient vivement impressioné et éveillé ma curiosité. Qui pouvait-il être, celui qui avec autant de doigté réussissait d'aussi subtiles photos de personnes?", started the kind words of Mr. Kunnert. I was 27 years old...

On my part, I mentioned Josef Koudelka, Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, William Klein, Bruce Davidson, Eugene Smith, André Kertesz, Robert Doisneau, Don McCullin, as my biggest influences then... I think that I certainly had good taste at 27...

I wasn't yet into large format. As you might imagine, the list grew a little longer along the years...But those names still remain among my favourites, I should tell!

The above portrait of Mr. Kunnert was photographed some years later, on April 1st, 1990.

Both headshots were made during a workshop with Fotoclub Meckesheim, organized by Peter Borkenhagen. He would do his experimental photographs and Polaroids, I would teach some lighting technics for portrait photography. Obviously, on both examples, I was demonstrating how to use only one light source (Hensel Monoflash 800) with a normal reflector...
Film material was Kodak T-Max 100.
Shooting camera was also a Hasselblad, this time the 500 C/M, with Carl Zeiss Sonnar 4/150mm.

Such a workshop would take a weekend of work, but it surely was rewarding to see the enthusiastic involvement of all participants.

I am sorry to say, but I forgot the name of the gentleman with the wonderful moustache. He absolutely looked fantastic!

Above image shot with Canon 30D + Micro-Nikkor 2.8/55mm

+ enjoyyourcamera adapter

Another shot of the Hasselblad 500 EL/M, in the way that I prefer to use the camera: with the traditional EL shutter button and, simultaneously, with electric cable release, so that I can quickly switch between both at will.

I am not that big fan of the square release...

To conclude this already long post, allow me to say hello to all the nice people involved: it was good to know you all, and I hope that we meet again soon!




  1. Wonderful story and - as always - lovely photos. I will pull that issue of Leica Fotographie tonight and find the article on you.

    Max Jenkins

  2. Hi Max,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I hope that you found the article...
    If you have the whole collection, please take also a look on number 5/1985, page 8: "The Azores - Rui Morais de Sousa turns to color".
    Maybe you also find it interesting...

  3. Hmm, maybe I should have joined the photo club in Meckesheim after winning their local contest when Horst Kunert invited me back in 2003. Nice story to read in Heidelberg!

  4. Hi Volker,
    I am glad to hear about Mr. Kunert. If you see him again, please say hello for me.
    I don't know why you didn't accept the invitation (especially after the encouragement of winning a contest...), but many years ago I made a similar decision. I joined some people who created a Photo Club in Heidelberg (many, many years ago!), but after some months I totally gave up: they were always discussing the rules of the club, and I thought that I could better spend my time photographing...
    The endless discussions about the regulations really started to make me nervous! I am not good at things like that.
    You are lucky, you live in a really nice region. I often miss it. Life is much harder around here...

  5. I like the story of this Hasselblad.
    I have also I the same in very good condition with many accessories which I will sell.
    If you are interested, visit my blog: to see this rare item.