Closer to fine
Parish Kohanim recasts his photography and opens an art gallery
By Lorna Gentry
Images By Parish Kohanim
First published in January 2005
Parish Kohanim has been a photographer for more than 25 years. As a commercial photographer, he’s been enormously successful shooting advertising for many of the Fortune 500 companies, including DeBeers Diamonds, Kimberly-Clark and AT&T.
At the noisy corner of West Peachtree and 14th streets in the heart of Midtown Atlanta is one of the world’s tallest buildings, the IBM tower, famed for its classic style and linear beauty, designed by legendary architect Phillip Johnson. In its long shadow sits a group of nondescript, sandy brown brick buildings housing small businesses: a boxing gym, a post office, a furniture boutique, a bagel joint. This kind of everyday commerce and drab architecture would draw little notice if it weren’t for a convex shock of color on an awning hanging over the sidewalk. The cobalt blue canopy, imbued with a whimsical photograph of a lithe woman flying through a hoop, is a flag for creativity. It also gives entrée to the sophisticated gallery and photography studio of Parish Kohanim.
Once a visitor is buzzed in New York-style through a locked door, the interior of Kohanim’s gallery is a jarring contrast to the streetscape. Large, gorgeous photographs of nudes and flowers and faces rich in color and detail dot gleaming white, femininely curved walls that lead first to a smiling receptionist, then to a graceful bronze statue under a round skylight, and finally into a large photography studio. In a small, tucked-away computer room, an assistant in a wheeled chair scoots back and forth among two Mac G4s, an Imacon scanner and a large-format Epson printer. Across the hall is a room that seems almost archaic in a modern commercial photo studio: a fully functioning darkroom.
Soft-spoken and trim, Kohanim has been a photographer for more than 25 years, a Midtown Atlanta businessman for 20, and a fine art gallery owner for just one year. As a commercial photographer, he’s been enormously successful shooting advertising for many of the Fortune 500 companies, including DeBeers Diamonds, Kimberly-Clark and AT&T. He is hoping to be equally well received in his new venture, fine art photography. Which is not to say that he’s a newcomer to the field; he’s been shooting fine art nearly 15 years. Or that he’s retiring from the bread-and-butter commercial work. But fine art photography feeds his soul like nothing else and he wants to devote more time and energy to it.
For more than a decade, Kohanim has been one of Canon’s 50 Explorers of Light photographers, on par with Arnold Newman and Ryszard Horowitz. He shoots Canon film (4x5 format usually) and digital cameras exclusively and has every lens the company makes, from ultra wide to telephoto, although he rarely uses the telephoto. “I like to be close, to have eye contact,” he says. “I don’t want to have to shout.”
He is unhurried, taking his time to consider a person, or thought, or composition. Which explains the darkroom. Making his own prints, he says, connects him to the work in a way that Photoshop cannot. “There’s something about the slow pace in the darkroom. There’s a lot more time to think about how this evolution of a print—the dodging and burning—is going to happen. With Photoshop everything happens so fast. Which isn’t bad, but I’d rather sometimes slow it down.
Of course, there’s a trade-off. I don’t like putting my hands in chemicals, getting them stained and taking
years off my life.”
For fine art work, he shoots only film, Kodak most often, but Fujifilm, too. He’s generally critical of the amount of color saturation in today’s films, a trend driven by consumers, he notes. But it’s not so off-putting that he’s ready to switch. “Digital is getting better all the time, but there’s something about film that’s organic. Its depth is better. For me, it’s like videotape versus film.”
However, in his business, Kohanim is 100 percent digital. All film is scanned and imported to Photoshop for everything from color correction to artistic manipulation. He leaves most of the digital work to his assistant because, he says, “I would much rather be behind a camera than a computer.” He straddles a line between analog and digital, nimbly switching between the two, but he’s keen about the fate of analog. “There’s nothing conventional about doing business any more and there’s no going back.” n
To see more of Parish Kohanim’s work, visit his web site, www.parishkohanim.com.
Lorna Gentry is a freelance writer and editor in Atlanta.