The famous Fuji G617
"I constantly am asked what cameras I use for my panoramic studies. To be absolutely honest I hate the question because it infers somehow that the camera was responsible for taking the picture. I am not a technophobe but I am certainly a shutterbug-phobe. To me talking about equipment is about as useful as a writer discussing his favourite bond paper. It is an irrelevance...all that matters is the perfect lens to capture perfect light".
Estelle Winters, Voice of Russia, Moscow.
The camera has no batteries.
It has no electronics whatsoever.
It has no light meter
It has no rangefinder
It takes 4 exposures on a roll of 120
This is Hockney's second G617 and was purchased in London in 1989 after his first camera was destroyed during a rough weather photo-shoot for Occidental Oil. A wave burtst over the wheelhouse of MV Maersk Cutter while photographing Piper Alpha and Claymore Platforms in a force 11 gale. Hockney was not tethered so there was no way of protecting the camera with his hands as the wave came, they were needed to hold fast to the soot covered rail. A soggy end to the first camera and a lesson learnt.
The Inside Stories behind the 617
Every panoramic shot since 1989 has been originated with this second camera. It was used extensively in Labrador, Russia, Italy, Shetland, Taiwan and many other parts of the World. It has seen service in plus 40C to minus 50C. It has never failed. The camera works on eye estimation and is nearly always set at f45, only in rare instances is the setting different. The original Fuji label is still inside the rear film tag holder and it currently has been round the clock twice. To date well over 3000 rolls of 120 have passed through it .
The camera covered the 1998 CKS A320 Airbus crash in Taiwan and the oil and soot collected from the explosion are still visible on the surface of the foam case insert....it never washed off and serves as a constant reminder of that harrowing night.
The camera case is covered in stickers from the many photo shoots over the years. Canadian Airlines, who sponsored the 1998 Kodak "Door Gods" photo shoot in Taiwan, still adorn the case. Made of paper they were hastily slapped on the case at Vancouver International and proved invaluable. During the shoot the photographer was arrested in Ginmen Island along with the entire film crew, by the Taiwanese military. Although permissions had been granted to shoot on the island, miscommunication resulted in a detention and interrogation. The "Canadian" stickers were part of the proof of friendly intent and after 4 hours of questioning the team was released. The Taiwanese military then invited Hockney and the documentary team for an extensive meal at a local restaurant as a way of thanking them for their efforts to show Taiwan to the world. The Canadian stickers were later destroyed when the photographer was caught in the middle of Taroko Gorge while the dam sluices were opened. Escaping the deluge from a rock in the middle of the river the photographer barely missed being swept away to his death. Only his tripod saved him allowing a traverse of the rising rip current by bracing his weight forward and so keeping a firm footing. The tatty stickers remain as another reminder.
The lens that has shared it all. The heart of every Hockney creation.
The embodiment of ultra high resolution, f45.
The enormous loading bay. The camera is usually loaded and cocked in less than 20 seconds on a photo-shoot. The tape above the rear film door hides 2 screws and a cracked casing. The camera was shaken mercilessly on a British Columbia logging road somewhere between Port Hardy and Cape Scott. Over 6 screws were shaken loose and emergency repairs were made with a butter knife. The inset shows round two of the counter, 1 advance for 10 exposures.
The super-sharp Fuji GW690
The workhorse of Michael's portrait photography and landscape cameos. This camera is his second GW690 and was bought in Hong Kong and shipped to St. Petersburg for the Colours of Russia shoot in 2007. The first camera was worn-out during the rigours of shooting in Taiwan in 1998, the winding mechanism eventually packed up.
"The resolution of this camera is absolutely outstanding and has produced some incredible images over the years. The most notable would be the shot of the iceberg at Saglek Fjiord in Northern Labrador. You can literally pick out grains of sand in the foreground. In my opinion this is the best medium format camera for social documentary, it looks a little like a 35mm and doesn't impose on the subject. At F4 it is quite possible to hand hold in poor light at 1/8 of a second and get the shot. I did it many times...then at F32 in crisp light the depth and acuity defies belief."
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Invitational Lecture at the inauguration of "Mirror in the Sea"
The GW690 was used during a private audience with Chen sui-Bian in 1998 while shooting the CBC newspiece "Taiwan : The Next Target" (producers Bell/Hockney). This is the actual 690 contact sheet.
click image to enlarge
The surprising Fuji S9600
All photographers carry a back-up and sometimes the back-up exceeds all expectations and becomes the "main" camera. This was the case with a Fuji S9600 Hockney purchased in Moscow in 2007 for a mere $700. It was a great little bridge camera of its time and was used countless times for street shooting.
The X Series Fujis
Michael abandoned a brief experiment with Nikon and uses numerous Fuji X series mirrorless cameras..
This X Pro 1
has been modified for the "dodgey" road, all logos removed and black tape everywhere, bumper strips for better grip and to protect the camera from beer glasses and other camera bodies. All camera gear is black, low key and made to look like junk Michael even carries dollar store kiddies stickers for extra crap flair value in emergencies.
The main go to camera is a Fuji XT1 while two Fuji XE1's are specially adapted in a rig for panoramic photography.
A number of Fuji XA1 and XM1 bodies are used with dedicated lenses for street photography and have been collected as sacraficial cameras for when the worst happens.
Fun with a 1938 Sumitar
2017 will see Hasselblad X1d procurement as well as the Fuji GFX50
as professional digital cameras finally allow professionals a chance at ownership and the ability to leave the prosumer disaster that has ruled for over a decade.