Get Featured: Eric Hessler
Eric is not your usual feature. You see, I found Eric on Instagram, and found his images of classic gear to be fascinating, so I asked him if he fancied being featured on the site. And fortunately for us, he did. Check out his film lifestyle images.

My name is Eric and I am from the good old USA. I’ve been a long time reader of JCH and was thoroughly thrilled when Bellamy reached out to me via Instagram to feature my images on the site. I’ve used Instagram daily now to show my collection of film gear (and some digital) to the film photographers of world who are interested in seeing it. To be brief about myself, I have a degree in Photography and have worked professionally in the industry for a long time. I focused on editorial advertising work and was doing well in that area, having images published in nice, big glossy magazines. (until the economy bottomed out a few years ago)

Since then I have shifted gears into a different profession but photography and cameras are what still runs through my veins. Nearly all of my professional work is done with Canon Digital bodies (and occasionally large format digital backs on the Hasselblad if needed). I use Pocket Wizards and strobes and sometimes tether to my Macbook Pro which is all very nice gear indeed, but lets be honest with ourselves and call it what it is – impersonal. I’ve never truly gotten excited about a new 5D Mark whatever. The last digital camera I can really say I got into was Fuji’s x100 – of which you’re all very familiar I’m sure. In new gear, there’s something missing.

Sure, image quality is lovely and you COULD print really big if you wanted to (seriously, unless you live in a gallery, who’s got walls big enough for that?) and there’s no money out of your pocket when you fill up those memory cards to the max. Like everyone else, I’ve fallen guilty to that. There’s an allure to a huge CF card. Got 32GB of storage? FILL IT!! Never take your finger off that shutter button until the battery is dead!
But where does that leave you? Sorting through 8,000 photos for a job that should, maybe, take a dozen shots to finalize? Isn’t all this new photo gear supposed to make us better photographers? Anybody can acquire a ‘studios worth’ of gear for a relatively small amount of money. But what will you do with it? There are many readers out here who actually do use their gear, who are thrifty and understand the economy of having specific tools for specific jobs. The ones who don’t really get this are those walking around Disney Land with 300mm lenses. Come on we all know you could see to the moon with that thing. You could see straight through to the next town! And you’re shooting family portraits with that lens. We’ve all seen them. (And maybe that’s even you.)

So, back to my point – photography is supposed to be magical. It IS magical. Push a button and you’ve got an image. Presto! Whether it’s silver halide or CMOS, you’re creating magic. Can you show me anything else in our world that’s got that power? There’s something special, I’d dare say beyond special about photography and what it means to us. There’s happy photography and sad photography and exciting photography and boring photography. Photography is historically valuable. Photography is fun. Photography is important because photography is absolute truth. Painters and sculptors have it easy – they can make it up as they go along – but for us shooters, we show what’s real. We show what was there and how it happened for those who couldn’t make the trip. There are connections to be made. “That’s me!” moments that need to be documented. The first moon landing was shot with a Hasselblad. Everyone who has heard anything about photography knows that basically everything important has been shot with a Leica. (Subjective, yes, but inarguable)

I’m not here to talk about Photoshop and Light Room workflows. And you aren’t either because you’re here, reading this article on Japan Camera Hunter, which makes you somewhat of a photo-purist. I’m not saying old gear is better than new gear. I’m saying old gear is different than new gear. Just like classic cars have a slick coolness and old books have that great smell. Vintage film cameras have that, ‘thing,’ that aura, that feeling. Old cameras transport us when we hold them. We can feel them come alive when we fire their solid shutters and crank their sprocket-toothed spools readying the next film frame. A classic camera will talk to you, if you’re willing to listen.

Browse through history – Weegee had his Graflex, Cartier-Bresson had his Leica, Eugene Smith had his Olympus. Those wet plate carts rolling through the battlefields of the Civil War had their beautiful lmahogany and brass boxes, unfolding their leather bellows for the next shot. And how many Nikons did you see hanging on Dennis Hopper’s neck in Apocalypse Now? The Vietnam war is synonymous with the Nikon SLR. Every street shooter dreams of an M3 or 4, or 4P or 5 or M6. There’s meaning here. Terry Richardson has his Yashica T4. Daido has his Ricoh GR’s. Anders Petersen has his Contax T3’s. Sure, some of these are newer and have bells and whistles but they’re film cameras and they’ve got personalities and they’ve got style. Who can say the same about a 22mp Nikon D-such and such?

I’ve got an empty feeling knowing that all this digital gear has a shelf life of only a few years. What’s next after you’ve convinced yourself that you need more megapixels? We’re jumping into doomed relationships. We understand things will be great in the beginning but we know we’ll end up unsatisfied, lusting after the next model or the latest smart buttons and touch screens.

I enjoy history and I also really like continuity. I feel better about my images when they’re shot with something that makes me feel good about what I’m doing. The camera world used to value such quality when things were built to last. I’ve got cameras that shoot like the day they were made even though they’re 65 years old! And I’ve had digital bodies that quit working completely after 6 months.
Anastasia Petukhova over at has a wonderful essay on buying your first medium format camera. She says something along the lines of “Just owning a Hasselblad makes me feel good.” Who can argue with that? Having the right camera at the right time is like putting on a new outfit, or getting a fresh haircut or sliding into a freshly washed car. It feels good. It feels right. ‘You know who’ says “the best camera is the one you’ve got with you.” So why not make that true and carry the one you’re in love with?

I’ve got a soft spot for classics, rare stuff, cameras only made for one year – Olympus Pen W, Panon Wide Angle, Kowa SW, Leicas (of course), early rare examples like FujiPets and the Indra Lux. I like rangefinders for their focusing system – which just makes sense to my eyes. I identify with tanks, old heavy bodies like the 500C and the Rolleiflex (and the Mamiya 7, too, although that’s newer). Throw in some good leather straps from Gordys or Luigi over at LeicaTime, some nice pens and notebooks and a good bag or two (I like Filson bags and my trusty Domke) and I’m good to go. I use all kinds of film, from cheap student grade Arista all the way up to Fuji Chrome. I prefer wet printing and books (there’s depth in a fiber print that you’ll never see on a screen) but I also scan on an Epson V700 dual layer flat bed and work in Photoshop. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer or wrong combination when it comes to you and your gear. Shoot lots of bodies. All kinds of bodies and all kinds of lenses. Get to know your gear. Read the manuals and watch youtube videos. Get on Flickr and rangefinderforum and go deep. You’ll learn a lot.

Those of you who really practice photography and who live this lifestyle already know what I’ve said here because it’s inside you. You know what its like to spend your last few bucks on that one piece of gear you can’t live another day without – because you probably won’t find another one or there’s something about it that gets to you. Make images that mean something to you. Don’t worry about everyone else and who’s doing what. There’s only one of you. Show yourself off! Show the world what you see through your eyes and your lens. And it’s cool if you don’t geek out over old gear like I do. Go digital if that speaks to you. All of my Instagram shots are taken with my iPhone 6 – because that’s what I believe you should use for Instagram. (They are, however, all lit with lights) Who wants to shoot chromes on a Hasselblad and resize them to fit on your phone? Not me.

My photos show my moods. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. There’s light to be seen and shadows to play with. Light and texture and shape and color are just as valuable as sound and taste and touch. Use those qualities to the highest degree in your images. It’ll show more about who you are and why you’re using photographs to say something to the rest of us.

A friend of mine who’s been shooting for many years said this to me years ago and I will never forget it – “People who buy brand new DSLR’s become instant professional photographers with the swipe of their credit cards. Funny, I’ve owned a toothbrush my entire life and I’m still not a dentist.”

Go shoot.


IG @ericjhessler (re-launch coming soon)

Thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts on classic cameras. I love the passion you have for the medium. Very inspiring.

Come on, share with us what you have and get yourself featured.
Click on this link and send in your project/work: Get Featured. *I am looking for mainly projects, not individual images*
Oh, and click here to see a few of the photographers that have been on the site before

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