Hasselblad for a Lifetime - Legendary photographer Jini Dellaccio takes the Hasselblad H4D-40 on a photoshoot with the Moondoggies
Being a photographer wasn't a conscious decision for Jini Dellaccio - an adventurous and talented woman who was born in a goat shed in Indiana during the Great Depression. After playing the sax in an all-girl jazz band in the 1930's and 1940's, Jini studied painting and drawing at the Chicago Art Institute, which led to a career in commercial art.
As the demand for her commercial art grew, Jini decided to take pictures of her work "just to keep track of" the different projects she completed. One of her husband's newspaper colleagues offered to help her buy a camera and took her to a local shop. Jini remembers that "I was in a daze when I saw the wall of cameras. I had no idea there was such a thing as a camera store." In the end, she walked out with a $70 used Leica. "I looked at the camera and couldn't imagine what I could do with it" but after studying the camera manual for a few weeks, she took her first pictures with a $1 roll of outdated film.
On a whim, Jini asked a department store model to pose for pictures and within two weeks, she started getting calls from other models to shoot their portfolios, beginning a decade-long stint as a fashion photographer.
During this time, Jini acquired a Rolleiflex, which became uncomfortable to use because she had to "look down" through the viewfinder. She also had her first encounter with a Hasselblad 500C, which she still lovingly calls her "Hassy." From the minute she held the 500C, Jini knew she "had to have one."
The first time Jini looked through a Hasselblad, "It was such a perfect vision that I changed to [the 500C] and stuck with it for the rest of my career in film before switching to digital...It was like looking at a gorgeous painting - a finished picture. Everything just came together like magic in that camera and it was the most changing thing that ever happened in my career." Although she would occasionally use other cameras, Jini remained devoted to the 500C because "all of my best pictures were taken with the Hasselblad." And, not once, did she ever have to send it in for repair.
After a decade of shooting fashion, the Dellaccio's moved to the Pacific Northwest where the growing music scene quickly became the focus of Jini's image making - again, by chance. This time, an exhibit of her photographs at a local museum opened the door to photographing musicians. One of the first calls she received asked if she did album covers. In typical Jini risk-taking fashion, she responded "yes" even though, by her own admittance, "I had no idea what it meant." In fact, when the caller explained that he wanted her to photograph The Wailers, Jini thought he meant a group of "whalers" and was surprised to see five young men dressed in black leather and holding guitars show up at her Gig Harbor home. "I could instantly see they were as scared as I was," Jini recalled. "They came in and I was terrified. I didn't know what on earth I was going to do." But Jini grabbed her "Hassy," took them outside and encouraged them to have fun in the beautiful backyard setting of her home. "When people are happy, they look wonderful....And that's the way I did it." Still it never occurred to Jini what these pictures and her Hasselblad were going to mean to her career.
Neil Young, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and a long list of other groups, including many of the bands that emerged in the Seattle area are among her countless photographs. With Hasselblad in hand, she worked in her studio, outdoors and at concerts - where she would often be greeted with hugs and kisses from the band members as they entered and exited the stage, even though she was probably twice their age. She was comfortable shooting concerts with the Hasselblad, either handheld or on a tripod. The Hasselblad allowed her to create images with a different look than those shot with a 35mm. "I learned the technique of looking in [the viewfinder] and knowing the second the musicians were going to relax - even when they're playing - and get the picture. You could get a certain amount of movement; sometimes it would add a little something if the hand was a little streak. That was the way I worked." And she didn't mind the size or weight of the camera, adding that "I loved that camera to death."
With her warm personality, sense of humor and long history of working with musicians, it's no surprise that this wonderful woman has remained friends with many of her subjects as evidenced by the 450 people who celebrated Jini's 92nd birthday and her book "Jini Dellaccio: Rock & Roll" in Seattle last year.
This year brought even more accolades when Graham Nash selected a previously unseen photograph Jini took of Neil Young for his "Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock 'n Roll Photographs" exhibit. Shot at Young's home, Jini asked him to climb on the roof because the light was better and wanted to capture an image of him with the fringe of his jacket extended so she told him to "fly like a bird" to get the amazing photograph that is now one of her most iconic images.
It was at the "Taking Aim" exhibition that Karen Whitehead, an independent documentary filmmaker based in Bethesda, Maryland first filmed Jini for her upcoming documentary about Jini (fivestarfilmsinc.com). Jini's work was brought to Whitehead's attention by a friend of a friend and after speaking with the Jini Dellaccio Collection, Whitehead planned a trip to meet and film Jini. Whitehead explains, "I was drawn to exploring Jini's fascinating journey as an artist, and her passion for art and music." While Jini certainly met Whitehead's perception of a "pioneering female rock photographer who was taking concert shots years before Annie Leibovitz," she soon realized that "this was the story of one very adventurous, determined unusual woman...I knew I could craft an intimate oral history around Jini's recollections...[and] explore the stories behind some of her iconic images." In addition to filming the Taking Aim exhibit, Whitehead has also filmed Jini reuniting with musicians she photographed in the 1960's, taking them back to some of the locations of the original shoots.
Jini always talked about her passion for her "Hassy" to Whitehead, which led the filmmaker to approach Hasselblad thinking that it would be a wonderful experience for Jini to shoot with the H4D-40 - the new model in Hasselblad's H4D family. Hasselblad was fascinated by Jini's story and the idea of blending two universal languages - music and photography. What better way to celebrate Jini's love of Hasselblad, passion for photography and background in music than to arrange a photo shoot with a Seattle-based band, The Moondoggies?
On the day of the shoot, Jini visited Hasselblad headquarters where she was introduced to the H4D-40 and, holding the camera in her hands for the first time, exclaimed how "wonderful" it was. From there, Jini, the filmmaking team and Anders Espersen, photographer and Hasselblad Product Manager for Digital Camera Products, drove to an old railroad station where the shoot was held. Espersen provided technical support while Jini made wonderful pictures of the band. With more than five decades of shooting with a Hasselblad, putting her eye up to the H4D-40's bright and clear viewfinder "felt like home" to Jini.
Although she's familiar with digital (Jini now shoots with a lightweight digital SLR and a digital compact camera), Jini was truly amazed at the camera's technical capabilities and especially loved the H4D-40's option to capture images in square format.
Naturally, post-processing images is an important part of the photographic workflow. Jini has worked in Photoshop but was intrigued by Hasselblad's Phocus software's ease of use as Espersen demonstrated how easy it was to browse, rate and adjust images and, for example, to convert them into black and white.
"I was thrilled that Hasselblad sent one of their people to help me," Jini explained enthusiastically. "I felt so privileged that they would let me use their camera." Hasselblad felt equally privileged to participate in this historic event as well.
In parting, Jini wasn't shy about saying, "I would love to bring one home and keep it."