Mats Thorners report about Jan Karlsson and the Stabil-tripods
Jans business provides a solid ground for STABIL-tripods
During daytime Jan Karlsson from Skövde, Sweden, drives a digging machine. In evenings and during weekends he manufactures camera-tripods for the Swedish elite of photographers. Digging machine and camera-tripods? That’s right. Jan Karlsson is a versatile person whose camera-tripods “Stabil” have become best sellers. This is despite the fact that he rarely gets the time for photography himself. Everyone running a small business knows how it can be. It is often mere coincidences that direct a company’s business, development and final result. It is a rare occurrence that everything becomes exactly as one thought in the beginning. But the result may become very good anyway! This is also the way it has turned out for Jan Karlsson. Today his business is a mixture of assignments where the manufacturing of tripods is a corner stone. – The manufacturing of tripods is really more of a hobby for me. But it provides income and many interesting contacts, which means that I don’t have to be all-dependent on a full schedule with the digging machine, he says. I meet Jan Karlsson a grey Monday morning. In his garage and workshop, close to the district heating plant of Skövde, one finds his digging machine parked next to numerous tools, machine parts, a few motorcycles, an old car – and equipment to manufacture the camera-tripods in the STABIL-range. To an outsider it looks something like a mess. However, everyone who knows Jan Karlsson knows that the mess is an expression for the Karlsson-creativity. It is the result of a multitude of ideas that have been tried and developed before reaching today’s combination of digging contract work and camera-tripods. He started as a hired digging machine operator at the end of the 60’s but purchased the first machine of his own a few years later. Now his talent for construction and practical problem solving started to come to expression. – The digging machine work led to me being part of the development of a hydraulic pole-erector long before such technical aids were commonly available, he says. Only seven years of public school as his formal education didn’t stop him from sitting down at the construction- and drawing-table many times. He got his own patent on the pole-erector and on a frozen soil breaker. Jan’s work with construction went further. He sat down at the drawing-table to construct a pallet loader to be mounted on Moelven’s mobile crane. It was a success and Jan got part of the income for the 70 pallet loaders that were sold. The income provided the basis for the building of his own workshop and for the start of tripod manufacturing. Oh yes, the tripods…
Perhaps it’s an irony of fate that the only development work that is still generating income, namely the camera-tripod Stabil, is a product that Jan Karlsson’s father was the original inventor of. – My father photographed himself and developed the tripod 15 years ago in co-operation with other photographers, Jan says. The tripod received a lot of positive remarks and a photo-magazine wrote about it. This lead to so many orders that for a while there was a 1-year delivery time. – When my father passed away a few years ago I continued the manufacturing. The success of the Stabil-tripods, the “secret”, is their sturdiness. They can carry heavy cameras and lenses up to 15-kg (33 lbs.) without vibrations and without causing image-unsharpness. The fact that they are mainly made of wood, namely American oak, makes them even better. This is a well-known fact to all nature-photographers that barehanded have used metal-tripods during a cold winter. A wooden tripod is more comfortable to deal with. They are also beautiful to look at! The Swedish photo-magazine Foto compared, in 1998, over 40 different tripods and tested them for stability and handling. Jan Karlssons Stabil-tripods received the grade “Top-class”. Better publicity is hard to find and during 1998 he has sold over 100 tripods, ordered directly by photographers from all over Scandinavia. – For me this manufacturing is an excellent complement to my contract work. – Sure, there is a lot of work with the tripods at nights and during winters. However, during periods of standstill I can devote the time to the tripods, put up a stock and sell during the rest of the year, he says. The manufacturing and marketing of the tripods also provides a welcome change to the other work. Jan regularly visits photo-exhibitions for the publicity. Many photographers get in touch to ask questions about the tripod or to suggest changes and improvements. – This is the way it works, Jan says, that I get comments, suggestions and ideas from the photographers. This leads to a continuous development of the tripods. Jan’s diverse experience of technique, construction and practical solutions, acquired over the years, comes in handy all the time.
The fact that he rarely photographs himself matters less. He knows what the photographers want”