Michael Kahn: Professional Photographer Visits Kent for a Night of Beautiful Boats and Stunning Seascapes

Kathryn Li, Co-Editor in Chief

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On the evening of Tuesday, May 21, renowned professional photographer Michael Kahn came to speak to the Kent community about his work on black and white seascape and sailing photographs.

The photographer began his presentation with a bit of background on his work. Mr. Kahn, who has been taking pictures since he was a freshman in high school, specializes in “doing things the old fashioned way.” His photographs of black-and-white boats and seascapes are taken with cameras that date back to the 1950’s, and each of his prints are handmade in a darkroom.

Knowing that he loved taking pictures, Mr. Kahn began pursuing a career in photography “straight out of high school”, and after several years working for an advertising studio, decided to strike out on his own.

It was during this time that Mr. Kahn found a subject of wild success in his photo, the Bow of the Idem, ultimately launching his career in sailing photography, which he describes as the perfect subject. “I love sailing–I grew up on it. It really was just a matter of putting two of my favorite things together.”

The boats and seascapes he photographs are thus both his inspiration and subject of his personal passion. Mr. Kahn’s work is extremely dynamic, depicting the striking silhouettes of boats rendered in black and white, and bringing to life the distinct combination of peace and adventure that one feels at sea.

Indeed, Mr. Kahn’s photographs in and of themselves are adventures for both him and his wife and studio manager, Christine. The pair travel far and wide, from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, to get on the water with these boats that are often over one hundred years old.

Once they’ve arrived at their destination, the couple then takes a hired boat out to chase down these massive vessels, “we follow these boats out in big waves, and we get extremely close.”

It is often dangerous, and in addition to keeping steady on the rough waters, Mr. Kahn has a particularly difficult job due to the nature of his antique cameras, “The cameras are completely mechanical because there wasn’t electricity yet when they were made. I get one shot to take the photo, because then the boat goes by and we have to maneuver ourselves within their path again to get another picture.”

In the group, several aspiring photographers eagerly asked Mr. Kahn for creative advice, and he encouraged them to enjoy their work as the first step, and to keep trying different styles because, “eventually something will stick, and it might be a passion that comes from somewhere unexpected.”

Mr. Kahn was very open and helpful in his responses to these questions, explaining the field of work for a commercial photographer, and how he finds balance in his work between his artistic vision and business.

He also explained his process to the group, who asked questions about his methodology, detailing, the way he measures the contrast of the surrounding landscape or seascape; and he noted that developing photos in the darkroom to a specific extent is one of the ways he achieves the different styles of contrast in his images.

Overall, the evening was one filled with inspiring and enlightening conversation, and the group was grateful for Mr. Kahn and his wife taking time to come and share their work and experience with us here at Kent. We all hope he will visit us again in the future!

A link to Mr. Kahn’s website is here: https://michaelkahn.com/, and please enjoy several of his photographs, and some images featuring the photographer, himself, in the slide-show above.