“In these photographs, you can feel the waves rushing under the hull, taste the salt spray on the wind, and hear the creak of the mast as the sails fill.” – Michael Kahn.
Renowned photographer Michael Kahn has a fascination with sailing. This passion emerged during his formative years, as he learned to sail while experimenting with photography. As the years passed, in 1995, Kahn finally merged his two passions.
While growing up and spending summers on the coast of Maine and Topsail Island, North Carolina, his infatuation with the sea and sailing captured his imagination. This environment nurtured in the budding photographer a desire to use the subject as a source of inspiration and wonder. While on vacation in the Adirondack Mountains, he encountered an intriguing boat he felt compelled to photograph. This intrigue continued, and he began making multiple exposures of one-hundred-year-old boats racing around the lake. These exposures prompted the photographer to observe, with a keen eye, the sensuous dance between lights and shadows in the mirror-like reflections of the sea. Likewise, Kahn continuously returns to the subject, capturing nautical scenes in the contrasts of his black and white photographs.
“It was off Topsail Island that as a child I learned to sail – a child with a yellow sunfish named Lemon Drop, dreaming of pirates and great ships.” – Michael Kahn.
From Prestigious Yachts to Small yet Graceful Vessels
As his interest in photography emerged, Kahn found a passion for shooting sailboats and other marine crafts. Moreover, Kahn’s photographic subjects capture not only large handmade ships and prestigious yachts but also some of the smallest yet graceful vessels. For Kahn, it is the atmospheric beauty of nature that has always fascinated him. In photographing boats, he aims to capture the beauty and freedom of the action of sailing and the beauty of the construction of a ship, the architectural wonder, and the sculptural forms of boats.
“Sailboats represent the ability of people to work with nature, to harness the power of the wind and endure the strength of the sea. From the steam-bent frames and planks to the miles of rigging, the sailing boat is truly a work of artistic architecture.” – Michael Kahn.
Capturing a Journey
In his photographs, Michael Kahn creates an enchanting ambiance of sailing, the joy of a voyage. Hence, he photographs not only boats and the sea but the environments that encompass a journey. Likewise, he often photographs pathways, dunes, and cloudy skies above calm waters that bear resemblances to the evocative pictures of the great painters of Marine art. Kahn commonly uses a 1950s era medium-format camera. He carefully prints his images using a process he developed over many years while researching and working in darkrooms. His final warm, sepia-toned photographs attest to his expertise as a printer as well as a photographer.
“I remember vividly our first meeting… I remember listening to him as I held up one of his prints retrieved from the black fiber portfolio box. I had just spent a week making prints at a workshop and was sobered by how much finer Michael’s print looked than anything I had been able to bring out of the darkroom. The prints absolutely glowed. There was such power in the shadows mixed with subtleties in the highlights. The range was amazing… There existed both a lyrical nature in the composition and a testament to fine craft.” – Bob Tursack, Fine Art printer.
The Relationship Between the Sail and the Sea
Kahn’s consideration of the analogous relationship between the sail and the sea becomes the “building block” to his photographic aesthetic. The photographer’s attentive gaze can capture light appearing as thin lines that separate ships and natural formations from bodies of water. His photographs blur the texture of the different subjects in the image to the extent that they appear more as masterful soft pencil drawings by their delicate, precise, and considerate treatment of values. The photographer’s ease of relaying these affective qualities is apparent in his history of living and growing in a coastal environment. The photographer’s length of experience working in photography and printing studios affords him these qualities.
Balancing Harmony and Mystery
Most importantly, Michael Kahn’s alluring photographs balance the harmony and mystery he creates in each impactful image. The pictures are individualistic. They contain their respective imagery and become open to the viewer’s interpretations. Kahn captures a range of complex weather patterns, from the serene and still in Connie or Three Dories to the ferocious in Hailstorm Cannes, that underscore nature’s many different climatic effects. Thus, the moods captured and their dynamic elements show diversity, but always a mastery in presenting a dramatic image. For the photographer, the pictures ultimately become meditations on the ocean and boats. Still, they are also open to a broader sense of being “reflections” on nature.
Moments of Quiet Observation
Above all, Kahn’s photographs provide for moments of quiet observation. The harmony in the images are created by the smooth curvature of the masts of sailing vessels. The tranquil foggy ambiance, generate a sense of serenity. The photographs literally hold time still, affording the viewer a moment for reflection and contemplation. Thus, Kahn’s pictures encourage the viewer to pause and begin a journey of reflection and temperance. When a photographer has a passion for nature and the sea, this becomes the motivation for his life’s work. We are privileged to enjoy the photographs that Kahn takes, fully cognitive of the surroundings nearby and pondering on the journeys that lie ahead.