We caught up with Michael Hejtmanek (pronounced het-man-ick) for our next Trailblazer feature just before he was heading out to ride with some friends.
Trailblazers is our series where we catch up with active creative leaders and innovative thinkers to learn more about our out-of-boardroom adventures, expertise and passions.
Michael has been with Hasselblad Bron since 2008. Hasselblad Bron is a distributor of professional photography products in North and South America, which acquired control of Hasselblad Americas in 2012. Michael rejoined the photography industry after 20 years in the technology industry. Prior to then, Mr. Hejtmanek had been with Oracle Corporation and Compaq (formerly Digital Equipment Company) designing and building large-scale enterprise application solutions. He studied photography and anthropology at Ohio University and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School. He lives in New York City.
ATHLEISURE MAG: How did you get involved with motorcycling? How quickly did your passion evolve?
MICHAEL HEJTMANEK: It started as a midlife crisis activity. I have been doing extreme sports all my life pushing the limits any way I could. But when I turned 45 years old I got rid of my mountain bike and took a Motorcycle SafetyFoundation class. The driving force was the romantic notion that motorcycles represented freedom coupled with some sort of masculine desire to prove my manhood as I entered my mid-forties.
I remember texting my MSF instructor the day after the course ended. “I just bought a Ducati and I am so excited.” She replied “Be careful, keep learning, and be careful.” The first thing about motorcycles that burned into my brain was the MSF instructor telling me that it takes about 100 actions to drive a car and over 2,000 to ride a motorcycle. I found this intriguing and a challenge. I was determined to learn. So I rode. I rode a lot. And I took classes and read books. I soaked it up the way I approach everything. Total focus and commitment. The best way to learn is to ride with professionals who know how to teach. So that’s what I did. I quickly hit the limits of what could safely be done on the streets and within a year of getting my license was on the race track to learn from professional instructors. For me riding is very technical, its all about precision and speed. And while I do own a few vintage motorcycles, my love is the fast sport bikes.
AM: Do you bike to work, what are some of the pros and cons and how do you maximize safety?
MH: I ride to work almost every day. Safety is definitely the number one thing that you can think about when riding especially while travelling through Manhattan, over the Hudson river and onto the NJ Turnpike like I do every day. I have met some people who ride while listening to music. And I have met some who ride with a headset so they can talk on the phone. The statistics are against those who do not put 100% of their attention on staying alive on a motorcycle. I commute every day from the Upper West Side of Manhattan about 45 miles to our North American headquarters in New Jersey. I always ride with full armor because crashes happen and I have had my share of them. I always wear all the gear all the time (AGAT). Riding the NJ turnpike is sort of like playing Frogger. The entire ride is an effort of focus and concentration. Every car is a potential killer waiting to make a sudden lane change. You can never be in a blind spot. You watch for drivers who are texting. You see them drinking beers, you smell them smoking pot. You are always analyzing the lay of traffic and thinking, “Hey there is an opening there for that guy two lanes over, he might make a lane change and cut me off.” It is like a paranoid chess game in real time where you need to anticipate all the drivers’ possible moves before they make them. But then there are the moments when you can slide through traffic, find a great big sweeping turn, and accelerate through the whole thing like you are riding on rails…its magic. It's worth the risk…I get better gas mileage than a Prius (well I actually don’t know that to be true!). But I arrive to work each morning with a huge grin on my face. The commute is cerebral and exciting. It wakes me up, I know I am alive. But getting hit by a taxi cab a few weeks ago at 40MPH was not fun. Just like everything in life, you assess the damage and decide whether you want to get back in the saddle.
AM: Are you part of any clubs? How often do you meet?
MH: You mean a gang? Motorcyclist in NYC can be a real problem. There is a lawless out of control faction. We have seen too many incidents in NYC over the past few years that shed a very bad light on motorcycles. Anytime I see more than 20 motorcycles riding together weaving in and out of traffic I cringe. But that said, I do ride with a few very conscious groups of other people who value their own lives as much as they value the others in the group. We ride with a maximum of 8 riders all about the same skill level, all very competent and fast. There are no written down standards of safety because everyone has their own skillset and comfort zone. When we ride with new riders we watch them very closely. People are quickly scolded for risky behavior and are eliminated from the group when they show behaviors that may be dangerous to themselves or to others. When we are not at the racetrack we ride at least two big rides each month. Riding the roads is different from the racetrack. The roads are public, dangerous, and fun for riding with constraint. The racetrack is the place for pushing the limits and also the place where our safety standards get set and reset. On the street, our rides are generally 300 to 350 miles up from NYC usually into Connecticut or the Catskills and we are usually back in the city before 3pm…before the deer come out.
AM: What kinds of physical and mental preparation are needed? Do you work with any mentors to improve and push your bounds? (loved handling higher speed turns)
MH: You are right to point out that the prep is both physical and mental. If I have a head cold or if a have a huge fire burning at work, my performance will be more affected that if I am physically out of shape. But being in shape is absolutely important as well. Some people imagine riding a motorcycle to be like riding a bicycle. But from the perspective of your body I would say that riding a motorcycle is much more like riding a horse. On a horse your legs do most of the work. Your hands are only used for steering input. The same is true on a motorcycle. The handlebars are not for holding on, they are for steering and throttle control. If someone gets off a motorcycle and complains about their wrists and forearms hurting, then they are doing it wrong. On the contrary, when someone gets off a motorcycle after a long ride and their legs hurt so bad that they can barely walk…well that person is doing it right, but probably should hit the gym some more.
But the physical is almost irrelevant in terms of importance compared to the mental. Riding smooth and fast is mostly mental. Its about vision and fear. The conscious control of your vision and your fears is the hardest thing about riding at your limit..and hence expanding that limit. Sure there is a lot a things to understand like traction, body position, and throttle control. But the thing that makes most riders crash is fear and vision. Keeping your eyes wide open and able to see the big picture in any turn without getting drawn into some detail is critical for smoothly executing a turn. But vision isn’t everything. As speed comes up, fear enters the picture. Your own brain can become your worst enemy as fear tries to govern your actions. A perfect example would be to ask any non-rider what you should do if you enter a turn so fast that the tires start sliding. Most would say to slow down or hit the brakes. If you touch the brakes while your wheels are sliding, you will crash. But if you add speed gently you will come through that turn just fine.
AM: Do you do things to take your involvement further, such as track racing or competition? What’s next?
MH: I did about 20 days at the racetrack last year which was my second full year on a motorcycle. The first time I got on the racetrack I was completely addicted. I do about half of my days on the track at the California SuperBike School. I find that on my own I can make minor improvements in technique and lap times, but with the school I can make leaps and bounds. The Superbike school is one of those high performance organizations that is so well run that it is a real rarity. I can’t say enough good things about them. They create a professional environment that allows you to safely improve your technique by leaps and bounds. A good example would be how not only my laptimes but also my confidence through fast turns improved from a track day in April to a track day at the same track in June. I was having a mental problem with a really fast turn. I was hitting the turn at 70MPH on average. Keith Code, the founder of the school worked with me on how to think about the turn, how to see the entrance and exit differently, and how to really see and understand that part of track. He coached me through relaxing and worked with me on how to slow down my mental process. By the end of the day I was taking the same turn at 104MPH….That’s not the type of improvement I can do by yourself. The Superbike School is really responsible for making me the rider that I am today. All the coaches there are sort of magicians. They work through the physics of the motorcycle and the operation of the brain.
Anytime one is doing a sport where a mistake could end very very badly, concentration and focus are extremely important. Riding at the track has heightened my ability to focus, to see the big picture, and to respond more calmly but incredibly quickly to problems as they arise. Any member of my team at Hasselblad has seen how this has spilled over into how I manage people at the company. We have become more confident, less reactive, but quicker in our execution…And I don’t tend to get as angry when things go wrong…which makes everyone a lot happier. The next thing for me is to start working on is simply finding more time for the race track or the dirt track in between launching some really exciting new cameras and lighting products.
AM: As part of the leadership at Hasselblad, are you also passionate about racing photography? Have you experimented with any drone sports photography when riding?
MH: We have supported a few photographers who take a very artistic approach to motorsports photography. Many members of the high end professional car and motorcycle shooters use Hasselblad cameras. But trackside racing photography it is not our core market. We have some new products that might change that though.
Regarding drones, I have been on a few racetracks where drones have been used to make photos and videos of riders. But these are mostly at unregulated or lesser regulated tracks where we do Supermoto riding. The big tracks have a general rule against them as they could be extremely dangerous to the riders on the track if not kept out of the way. The drone market is an incredible one. It is one that we at Hasselblad are very excited about. Our relationship with DJI (a minority investor in Hasselblad) is just starting to bear fruit as we launched our first joint product with DJI in early July 2016. The M600 Drone is a fully integrated combination of the Hasselblad A5D-50c 50 megapixel medium format camera and the DJI Matrice 600 drone. The solution provides a professional long range solution for high resolution aerial photography with unmatched resolution and flexibility.
AM: What brought you to Hasselblad? Tell us more about its ethos - ‘Create to Inspire.’
MH: In 2012 I had the chance to meet some of the board members of Hasselblad. I was running a distribution company that sold a handful of high end photographic products and knew the market quite well. During the meeting it quickly became clear that we shared an opinion that drastic changes were afoot in the imaging market and that drastic changes were needed by the companies that supplied tools to the imaging market. We shared a common vision of how the market would play out and what products were needed to not only survive, but to thrive in the new reality that faced the industry. The thing that really sealed the deal was when I pulled out my iPad and showed them a 3 slides that I had made to show where the market was heading. The chairman of the board cut me off, reached into his bag and pulled out his iPad, he spun it across the table and showed me that he had exactly the same three slides. At that moment we both knew that we had the same vision for how to grow Hasselblad. And today, we are in the middle of realizing that vision. The Launch of the Hasselblad X1D camera is the most important camera that Hasselblad has launched in over 10 years. The X1D is a game changer that redefines
high end photography. The response to this camera has been incredible. It packs more image quality into a package smaller than most small sensored 35mm DSLRs. It truly redefines the market.
Create to Inspire are the words that drive us. We want to create products that inspire all Hasselblad employees. These products must enhance the pride we feel in carrying the Hasselblad name. And on the other side we want to create products that our customers can used to create images that inspire others. When we made the X1D we kept asking ourselves if this camera really can live up to the name, does the image quality inspire us, do the ergonomics inspire us, does it look inspiring? And then finally we ask will this camera inspire photographers to reach beyond the normal, beyond the rules, beyond whatever roadblock they may have? Will this camera be used to create the new iconic images of our time? We believe the answer is yes.
AM: Hasselblad is known for superior image quality and elegant ergonomic design, what are the core values that drive such continued craftsmanship and high performance?
MH: Hasselblad is uncompromising. The employees all take pride in the brand. The company has employees who have been building of repairing cameras for 40 years. These veterans help anchor the brand by providing a living reminder of the past and of the core values of Victor Hasselblad. For a camera to be a Hasselblad it must first and foremost have the best image quality. This means that we must have the best imaging sensors, the best image processing algorithms, the best color, and the best optics. Then, the camera must also have the best ergonomics. It needs to fit in your hand comfortably, the controls need to be easy to adjust. Basically, the ergonomics should make the camera melt in your hands so you can forget about it and use it as a natural extension of your vision. And finally, it must look great. Design is a key component to everything we do.
AM: We loved checking out the new (and first) medium format mirrorless X1D camera prototype at your NYC launch. (US $8995 body, US ~$2.3k for lenses). Boasting a brilliant 50 MP for image quality, we found it to have a fancy feel and UI, while remaining light-weight for walking about. With luxe function meets form solved, what kinds of photographers do you feel the X1D will take off with?
MH: The X1D opens up Hasselblad again to a much broader market. In the days of film, the Hasselblad 500 series cameras were the go to cameras for anyone who was serious about photography. While providing similar image quality, the X1D is different from our H6D series of cameras. The H6D cameras are system cameras. To non-professionals they may seem intimidating with controls functions and modularity that may not be appreciated by a photography enthusiast who may not have special camera needs. The H6D is also heavy and more at home in the studio on a camera stand then in a back pack in Bur-
ma. On the contrary, the X1D is lightweight, small, and unintimidating. It is a really great easy to use camera with an imaging sensor that is much much larger than any other camera in its weight class. So the X1D is a camera for anyone’s camera bag, anyone’s backpack. It is equally at home on a tripod shooting beautiful landscapes, or shooting street photography in the beautiful afternoon light in Paris. It has great resolution and high ISO performance which also makes it an excellent camera for wedding photographers. Take it anywhere and shoot anything, you wont be disappointed with the results.
AM: How is it to balance handmade Swedish craftsmanship with modern chic features, such as the pop-up function flywheel, Wi-Fi/GPS connectivity and touchscreen UI?
MH: Sweden is where are roots are. We are located in Gothenburg which is an amazing city. Our headquarters is right next door to one of the best engineering schools in Europe. The city is home to many high technology companies. We don’t have a problem with modern and chic. Our engineers and designers come from a diverse set of industries and product ideation meetings provide a literal smorgasbord of ideas and practical studies of feasibility and implementation.
AM: Extraordinary high resolution, tonal balance and depth are hallmarks from Hasselblad, what are your latest high-range cameras and where are some notable places they are used?
MH: Our cameras are deployed throughout the world for critical imaging applications. The applications range from the top fashion photographers, the best portrait photographers, the most amazing landscape photographers, to the most demanding museum. There are too many names to name, but if a photographer is really serious about image quality you can bet that they are shooting with a Hasselblad.
AM: Optimized life is much about being focused, tell us about True Focus feature and your Phocus image processing software.
MH: Optimized life is something that we think about all the constantly. We only get to live each moment once. So be present in that moment and make it count. We pick and choose our focus very carefully in the way we work, in life, and in our cameras. The True Focus feature sets Haselblad apart from the competition. It is a unique focusing system that allows a level of focus accuracy not available in other cameras on the market today. It works by allowing you to select the point of the image where you want to be have the most critical sharp focus and press the True Focus button. The True Focus system locks critical focus onto that point and keeps it there even if you recompose the image or change the way you frame the image. A set of gyro sensors take into account the camera position as well as the curvature of the lens to make sure that your focus stays true.
AM: Entering your 75th Anniversary, Hasselblad has a legendary heritage from the first Apollo 11 moon landing to a host of iconic sports, fashion and lifestyle moments, what are some of your personal favorites?
MH: It’s impossible to name only a few, so I will just name one. I am partial to the ephemeral work of Hiroshi Sugimoto. His work can be both beautiful and soft while being technically perfect and deeply meaningful all at the same time. In terms of iconic imagery nothing can beat the moon landing images. Those images changed humanity on a scale that no other image even come close to (pioneer Buzz Aldrin pictured on page 123 with Michael and son Jackson).
AM: We love that the Masters program continues to be a time-honored tradition, who are some of the spotlights for 2016?
MH: The Hasselblad Masters is a really important program for us. It allows us to celebrate creative photographers who excel in their area of imaging. The Masters awards are granted to 12 photographers every two years. It's not just a portfolio review and a prize. It is a process that ends with the 12 selected photographers going out into the world and making new original works to be included in the Hasselblad Masters book. The process is a lot of work and the winners join a family of other photographers who carry membership in a very special club. We look forward to honoring all of them at a ceremony during Photokina in September.
2016 Masters List: Art - Katerina Belkina, Fashion/Beauty - Roy Rossovich, Landscape/Nature -Lars Van De Goor, Portrait - Natalia Evelyn Bencicova, Product - Giorgio Cravero, Project//21 - Jake Reeder, Street/Urban - Ali Rajabi, Wedding - John Paul Evans, and Wildlife - David Peskens.
AM: Having global ambassadors on a mixture of different subjects is great for younger aspirational photographers, who are some to watch in fashion, fitness, sports and lifestyle.
MH: Its become very difficult to set yourself apart as an up and coming photographer. You must work harder now than ever before to set yourself apart from the crowd. There are so many young photographers doing such great work. We feature some of them on the Our World section of our website.
AM: What’s next for announcements to look forward toward with the X1D, we can’t wait!
MH: The X1D is out of the bag, but the Photokina Trade Show is coming up in September in Cologne, Germany. Keep your eyes on us as we may have some surprises.
P. 116 photo courtesy of Erik Vanlind. P.120 + 128 photo courtesy of eTechPhoto. P.128 photo courtesy of Hasselblad. Picture to the right courtesy of Tom Oldham shot on his H6D-50c.
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