By: Andrea F. Pagliai
At age 26, Michael M. Koehler is starting a new chapter in his life. His photography show “Parade” just opened in Philadelphia, his wife Lauren is three months pregnant, he is moving into a new apartment in the East Village, and he just shaved his six-inch-long beard for the first time in a year.
It took him five minutes to get ready this morning. He wears his typical green-toned camouflage hunting pants, a beige collared polo, and leather hunting boots. He has his Leica M6 film camera in a holster, strapped onto his belt. He rarely carries much else.
Koehler is a presence with his 6-foot, roughly 200-pound frame. His red hair does its own thing and he has three days worth of red stubble spread out along his strong features—A departure from his former mountain man’s red beard.
Because of photography, “I knew it was a good scene,” Koehler reminisces. With the garage door open, Koehler sat facing the wilderness of his father’s picturesque rural Philadelphia home. “I sat in a chair, with the dog in a chair next to me, and my father just started trimming my beard. He cut it all off into a drywall bucket. Meaningful, wise—Boom, the beard was gone.” He photographed the entire process.
It’s a beautiful day, one of this spring’s first. Koehler gets into a cab. The destination: Grand Central Station. The 11 a.m. light streams through the window onto Koehler. It has been a year since one could actually see his strong jaw line, let alone the rest of his face. The beard, “physically and emotionally, was another layer of distance between me and the world,” muses Koehler. It made sense at the time, but now it’s a new time. A new show. A new face.
He meets Peter Quillin, aka Kid Chocolate, a boxer Koehler has photographed for the past year. They plan to go to a Reptile Expo in White Plains, NY, where Quillin hopes to buy an African tarantula. Koehler goes along to make a moment into memory, a memory into art.
Koehler finds his focus through the lens of the camera. His distinct vision of the world around him, molded by the relationships in both his past and present, make his black and white photographs so entrancingly captivating.
After graduating in 2005 with a B.F.A. from NYU’s Tisch School of the Performance Arts, Koehler remained in New York to pursue his dream as a photographer. His new gallery show, “Parade,” which opened April 3, 2009 in Philadelphia, is a point of departure for both Koehler’s art and his personal life.