The Swedish Camera Icon

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If you mention the name Hasselblad, every professional photographer in the world would think of cameras for professionals. The Hasselblad name has been linked with cameras almost since the early days of photography.

131115-Victor-Hasselblad-with-camera-Gothenburg-1957But who was the man behind the iconic name? The Hasselblad family established its first trading company, F. W. Hasselblad & co in the city of Gothenburg in Western Sweden in 1841. The location was ideal for an international import-export firm with its proximity to the European continent and its historic trade connections there.

The name “Hasselblad” is said to have been originated when an ancestor in the early 1600s needed a ‘good name’ to wed the daughter of a wealthy man. They should pick the name after an object found during a road trip. The first object was a leaf falling from a hazel tree, and so the name Hassel (hazel) and blad (leaf) was put together. Hasselblad was on its way to be world famous.

However, it was the son of the founder of F. W. Hasselblad & Co., Arvid Viktor, who after purchasing a camera in 1885, opened a small photography division within his father’s business and began importing supplies for the innovation of photography.

“I certainly don’t think that we will earn much money on this, but at least it will allow us to take picture for free,” he is reported to have said.

Tree Lake by Eoghan Kavanagh, Hasselblad 2012 winner
Tree Lake by Eoghan Kavanagh, Hasselblad 2012 winner

He could not have proved to be more wrong about the potential profitability, since the photographic department became a major part of the company and in 1908 led to a “sister company” named Hasselblad Fotografiska AB, which also was the exclusive Swedish distributor for what was now Eastman Kodak products. Arvid Viktor had met George Eastman, the founder of the Kodak Company, while on his honeymoon in England.

Hasselblad V-system camera
Hasselblad V-system camera

However, it was the onset of World War II that happened to be the opportunity Hasselblad needed to begin building his own camera.

Photo by Joachim Schmeisser, Hasselblad finalist
Photo by Joachim Schmeisser, Hasselblad finalist

The country was forced to shoot down a Luftwaffe plane when it entered Sweden’s neutral air space. The Royal Swedish Air Force found a surveillance camera in the plane and asked Victor Hasselblad if he could duplicate it.

2014 Hasselblad winner portrait category, Smitri Ageev
2014 Hasselblad winner portrait category, Smitri Ageev

“No,” he said, “I cannot make a camera like that, but I can make one better.”

After the war, the family business resumed with great success and Victor could finally concentrate on making ‘civilian cameras’.

2010 Hasselblad Masters Award Binh Trinh
2010 Hasselblad Masters Award Binh Trinh

Today Hasselblad is much more than just a camera after having made it through moon landing, the turn of a millennium and caught thousands of motifs through its very pristine lens. The Hasselblad Master Awards is an annual award and have since 2001 recognized selected photographers across various specialties for exceptional accomplishment through photography.

In 2012 Hasselblad opened up their London studios to all photographers regardless of what camera they used and they present regular workshops to develop the craft with their award that honors those who fight the cause of rhino poaching in Africa.

The Swedish Camera Icon, written by Tor Kjolberg