Born in Philadelphia, Richard Kagan is a photographer and former furniture maker whose artistic career took a curiously circuitous path. He began as a self-taught street photographer while a student at Temple University. However, after leaving college to practice Buddhism under a visiting Japanese Zen Master in New York, Kagan became impassioned with the silent eloquence of handmade objects and pawned his camera to buy woodworking tools.
Following several years of apprenticeships, Kagan opened his own furniture workshop and founded the Richard Kagan Gallery—the first nationally recognized gallery for contemporary furniture artists. He taught at the Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts) for 10 years and exhibited furniture in museums and art institutions throughout the U.S. A back injury put an unexpected end to his woodworking career and opened the possibility to return to photography, thus bringing him back to where he began.
Beginning photography again in 1988, with academic studies and assisting other photographers, Kagan went on to have solo photography exhibitions in the United States, Great Britain, and South America. He taught photography at Drexel University in the mid-1990s. An early grant from the Arts Council of Wales enabled an extended project in the U.K. and Europe, culminating in an exhibition at the Royal National Eisteddfod. That project solidified a love of landscape photography first begun in Italy some years before.
Not surprisingly Kagan brought to photography some of the same aesthetic concerns with which he made furniture—a quest for quiet, understated, and elegant forms. His main bodies of work include Land/Spirit/Sky, landscapes photographed primarily in Europe; Iron Portraits, a series of austere yet sensuous portraits of antique tools and objects; and Blurred Time: Sacred Places In Kyoto, nighttime photographs taken on the grounds of temples and shrines in Japan (and on exhibit at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral).
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The photographs in the Iron Portraits series were taken with a view camera — the old-style camera with a 4 x 5″ negative. The prints were made in a traditional wet darkroom in sizes ranging from 16 x 20″ to 36 x 46″.
The photographs in the Land/Spirit/Sky series were taken with Kodak 2475 Recording Film, a special purpose film with a very grainy, soft-focus quality that at times can resemble a drawing or mezzotint. They are 8 x 10″ and were also made in a darkroom.
A native of Philadelphia and a former furniture maker, Richard Kagan has been teaching, traveling, and photographing for over thirty years. When he is not in his darkroom hand crafting the fine nuances of black and white prints, or on the computer making color ones, he enjoys reading (Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous), meditating (on the mysteries of importing his AOL contacts into Gmail), and his cat (Takuhatsu). “I take relatively few photographs, compared to some photographers, but I spend a lot of time making work prints and thinking about each image on the contact sheet. I look for trends, I look for what’s happening that is consistently running through the contacts as well as for new directions. And from that I discover something about how I see.” Visit Richard’s website at richardkaganphoto.com for more photos and interviews.