Thursday, September 25, 2008

Art Seen: Long lens — Photographer finds new uses for old medium

Joe Kashi has been taking photographs since he worked during high school in a photo store while growing up in the Pennsylvania coal fields. While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during college and graduate school, he was news editor of the MIT newspaper and simultaneously worked for The New York Times, taking dozens of photographs each week with a 35 mm Pentax while covering Boston’s tumultuous events of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He studied fine art photography for a time under Minor White at MIT. White was a prominent American photographer and photographic educator at MIT who founded the national fine arts photography journal Aperture and edited it until at least the mid-1970s. For about 40 years, Minor White had been a close friend and collaborator with Ansel Adams and other pioneers of the American photographic fine arts movement.

Later, while at Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C., Kashi started working mostly with large-format view cameras that made 4-by-5-inch through 11-by-14-inch negatives because of their inherently higher quality. He often spent Saturdays in those non-Internet days at the Library of Congress researching older but higher-quality photographic chemistry and processes. He still uses these large format cameras from time to time but now makes detailed scans of the negatives and prints them using digital printers rather than chemicals and darkrooms.

Kashi moved to Alaska in 1977 when he accepted a job offer to become one of the first attorneys for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. During that time, he did a good deal of large format photography and some of those photos were accepted into several statewide and Kenai Peninsula juried all-media fine art shows. He taught fine art photography and darkroom work at Kenai Peninsula College for a few years and also had a small, part-time custom photographic processing business in those chemical darkroom days.

The demands of a full-time private law practice were high and he put aside fine arts photography for more than 20 years. He had learned a great deal about aesthetics from his first wife, Michelle Corder, now deceased, who had quickly become a prominent fine arts painter in Alaska, with state commissions and work in various museum permanent collections. Corder was formally educated in painting at Carnegie-Mellon in the United States and also at the Italian State Art Academy in Florence, Italy.

Kashi started using digital photography for practical legal purposes in 2003 and found that digital photography, particularly when annotated or used as part of an interactive electronic brief made with Adobe Acrobat, could be an extremely powerful weapon for the trial lawyer.

By mid-2006, Kashi found that digital photography, even when using carefully chosen compact consumer cameras with good lenses, could produce results that were equal to or better than traditional 35 mm film and chemical photography. So he again tried his hand at fine arts photography in addition to family photos and the photo documentation he routinely used in legal practice.

His photos were accepted into a number of statewide juried shows since then, gaining an honorable mention in the 2007 Rarified Light show. His stepdaughter, Rachel Lee, also was accepted into the 2007 Rarified Light show. He and Rachel shared an Anchorage show in December 2007 through the Alaska Photographic Center, and both were accepted into the 2008 Rarified Light show. Kashi also has been invited to participate as one of 50 photographers statewide for next year’s invitational show commemorating the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood.

Many of Kashi’s works are contemplative and dynamic. Some of his more accessible work can be seen adorning the walls at Mykel’s Restaurant, including the 24-by-36-inch landscape photographs above the stairs near the front door. He and Rachel will share a show at Art Works in Soldotna for November and December, with Kashi exhibiting some of his more “artsy” stuff. An artist reception will be held Nov. 6. He is also hanging a series of photos documenting the passage of the seasons at Veronica’s Cafe at Old Town Kenai in October.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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