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Excerpt from recent Michael Kahn Photography newsletter:

This is Christine, the Studio Manager here at Michael Kahn Photography, and as most of you may already know, I am also Michael’s wife! Whether you have been following Michael Kahn Photography for many years or if you are new to this list, welcome! We just wanted to take a few minutes to “re-introduce” Michael and his work.
After high school in the 70s, Michael worked at a photographic portrait studio. The cameras he used were basic mechanical Hasselblads; solid, rugged Swiss cameras with superb German lenses. They had no electrical components and used a square 6×6 cm film format. Several years after Michael began his apprenticeship at the portrait studio, the owner decided to change his business model to become a commercial/advertising photographer. Michael learned how to shoot for advertising clients by doing product stills of food, automobiles and jewelry, etc. along with location work for annual reports. During this transformation, he continued to use the same larger cameras, with the addition of more powerful lighting. They switched to color transparency film for the reproduction process.
Being from before the digital age, they used Polaroids to fine tune the composition and lighting. The color ‘slide’ film was very narrow in its exposure range, so they had to be extremely technical in the lighting and contrast control. Through all of this training, Michael became extremely confident and comfortable using these mechanical cameras, to the point that their use became second nature.
Michael no longer had to think about the camera and this allowed him to use them quickly and fluidly. 
In the 80’s, Michael did advertising and portrait work before he started to take freelance assignments for lifestyle magazines.  In 1988, Michael started a two-year long project to compile a book on the Brandywine River. With an old 4×5 view camera and one German lens that he purchased at a poker game one Christmas eve, Michael began to record the people, architecture and landscape of this historical valley. He traced the River from its source in the Amish country of southeastern Pennsylvania to its confluence with the Delaware River in northern Delaware. The river is rich with early American history and is home to the Brandywine School of Art, predominated by the Wyeth family of painters.
Michael incorporated Ansel Adam’s zone system of black and white photography, thus elevating his technical knowledge as he was compiling images for this book.

The Brandywine book was released in 1990 and sold well and is now out of print. Michael started work as a freelance photographer after the book was released. 
In the 90’s, Michael went exploring: in 1994, Michael went to New Mexico and set out to photograph the landscape. The land was foreign and foreboding. He climbed the mesas overlooking the desert and sat on the top of the ridges for hours to watch the thunderstorms march across the great land. Sheets of purple rain would pour out of the giant nimbus clouds and strands of golden light would illuminate small areas in the massive landscape. In 1995, Michael went to Point Lobos, California. For three days he slept on the ground near the reserve and spent all of the daylight hours climbing and crawling, stepping lightly around the wild flowers to set up the tripod and record that incredible place. 
In the tradition of Ansel Adams, Michael also traveled to and photographed Yosemite National Park and a few of the images from this portfolio made it on to a series of credit cards for a national credit card company. 

Later that year, Michael was invited to a lake in the Adirondack Mountains, New York. In the evening, the fog would settle on the water. By the time Michael would take his hand-made wooden rowboat out each morning, the fog would be gently lifting. One day, in the mist of the coming morning, he came across a boat so unusual and beautiful in design that he felt compelled to photograph her (this image ended up being the “Bow of the Idem”). Hours later, the serenity of the morning shot was long forgotten, but the image was still there.

Michael came home and didn’t know what to do with the portfolio.  He did some research and learned an old recipe for sepia-toning the photographs that he had taken that day. After working in the darkroom and testing the new technique, Michael came up with a selection that he sent to the magazine Adirondack Life. Not long after, they contacted him and ending up running a six-page spread of these images. This was the beginning of Michael’s nautical photography career.

“Bow of the Idem”, published by Bruce McGaw, went on to become the best selling poster in North America for over a year. It also appeared on the Oprah show!


Bow of the Idem, 1996 and Sails of Mariette, 1998
Naturally, Michael stayed with the Hasselblads when he began filming sailing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The first time he appeared at a world class sailing regatta (Antigua Classics, 1998), all of the professional photographers were using high-speed, motor driven, auto-focus, auto-exposure, 35 mm film cameras. Around that time, they were just beginning to experiment with digital cameras. They smiled at Michael and his gear. He instantly felt out of place.

Not long after that, they all switched to digital cameras. At the same time, Michael’s photographs from that regatta and further years quickly gave him a foothold in the marine photography marketplace. While he was using different equipment from them, Michael came to the market with a strong knowledge of sailing and knew when the boats looked their best. He had the finest training in film handling and printing in black and white.
The choice of shooting in black and white, was for Michael, no choice at all. Color photography was ‘too real’ and did not offer him the creative expression he needed to produce a truly powerful image. Some of the boats he captures were built or designed over 100 years ago, and so he decided to imitate the style from that same period. Using a medium format camera for his seascapes allows a good resolution while being able to work quickly with the ever-changing natural lighting. Again, the simplicity of the equipment allows Michael to respond intuitively and emotionally to the scene. The square format allows multiple options for composition as there is no decision making needed here: balance the scene within the square and shoot.

Waters Edge, Martha’s Vineyard, 2006
Michael’s fine art photography career is still going strong after 25 wonderful years. When he is not out climbing rocks and walking the beaches taking his ocean and seascape photographs or out traveling to the Caribbean, Maine and the Mediterranean to photograph world class sailing regattas, or making handmade photographs in his darkroom, you can find Michael enjoying all things nature: hiking, rowing, biking, fishing, gardening, sailing or just sitting on a rock next to a stream, face to the warm sun.

Thank you for taking the time to read Michael’s story. Thank you for being part of our journey.
Michael and Christine

Did you know?
Michael is represented by 12 galleries in the United States.
He has had exhibitions in all of his fine art galleries as well as the South Shore Arts Center, Mystic Seaport Museum, Art Complex Museum, Delaware Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, Coral Springs Museum of Art, Penobscot Marine Museum, San Diego Maritime Museum and The Butler Institute of American Art.
He teaches a week long black and white photography workshop at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin Maine.
His books include BrandywineThe Spirit of SailingOver the DunesEast Coast Atlantic Beaches and Sailboats.
His work has been featured in over 60 magazines, and is included in over 20 corporate collections.
Michael’s process begins with a medium-format camera and black and white film. The film is processed, then projected through the enlarger on to pure fiber paper, which has a coating of gelatin and suspended light-sensitive silver grains. Specific areas are lightened; others darkened. His technique is an elaborate, predetermined combination of exposure sequence, exposure time, and varied enlarger settings.Within an edition, no image can be exactly duplicated. This hands-on process makes each Michael Kahn photograph essentially an original.
Handmade photographs are offered in sizes 14×14” and 19×19” and are created in editions of 50 or fewer. Each fine print is warmly toned, signed, numbered and finished to museum standards. These unique photographs have exceptional collector value that will last for generations.
Fine art pigment prints from the black and white film negative are offered in custom sizes from 24×24″ to 56×56″. These prints are the highest quality digital prints in the marketplace. Printed on 300lb. German watercolor paper, the oversize prints are carefully matched for color and integrity with the original artwork. They are proofed and signed by Michael.
Michael’s photographs are featured here at MassoniArt