David Thorpe Photography

Personal Pix

Landmarks and Memories

That strange bit of kit - no, not the Nikon, that's ordinary enough - is a Hasselblad Dixel wirephoto machine. They were around at an in-between time for news photography and cost a neat £35,000 a piece. This picture was taken one evening when I was in Tel Aviv covering the first Gulf War

The workflow was thus 1/ Develop your colour film in the hotel bathroom, wash and dry it. 2/ With the aid of a loupe select the best negs. 3/ Load them into the Hasselblad Dixel neg carrier and carry out any cropping required, then set it to scan the neg in, after which it would transmit it to the office. Transmission was painfully slow, around 20 minutes per pic as I recall and it worked one frame at a time. Nonetheless, compared with having the often uncooperative unionised wire crew with you, one to process the film, one to transmit it, it was quick.

Ongoing nightmares were getting a reliable phone line for transmission and getting access to it. In those days hotels didn't have data terminals and standard phone plugs, so you had to take an electrician's toolkit and sometimes be prepared to dig the wires out of the wall before you could connect to them This did not go down well with hotels. Another problem was that in less developed countries, they would think you were a spy. I had this a few times in Africa. The funny part was that, having taken the machine, you'd probably not find a telephone you could use anyway. The spy problem was generally solved by giving the official concerned some money. Presumably they were happy enough for you to spy on them provided you paid for it. The problem of getting the machine in and out of a country was not confined to undeveloped countries, however. On entering Spain, an official would hold you up at customs, querying the ownership of the machine, purpose, anything to keep you there. This problem was solved by the quiet gift of a 5,000 peseta note to the obstructing official both on arriving and on leaving.

When the Hasselblad machine was introduced, News International equipped all its picture desks with them and then insisted to all the agencies around the country that it would, in future, only accept incoming pictures direct to its electronic picture desk from Hasselblad machines. That was an expensive exercise for many of the smaller agencies around the country but they had little choice whether to comply since NI had four of the major national newspapers in its stable. Many had to borrow money to buy the machine. Eighteen months later, along came the Apple laptop with Photshop, Nikon neg scanner, portable modem, a combination that blew the Dixel out of the digital water for speed, convenience and price. NI off-loaded its Hasselblad machines, leaving high and dry the agencies who had hocked 2 years future profits to buy one.

They were now (not so) proud possessors of some of the most expensive door stops in history.
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