February Customer Spotlight – Hank Gans

Hank Gans

Welcome to our twenty-fifth Bergen County Camera Customer Spotlight. This monthly posting features a customer who’s made an impression on us. They might have grown in their understanding of photography, gained a mastery of the craft and / or have become a strong advocate of our way of doing business in the world of photography. During the next month you will see this customer’s images displayed on our digital signs in store, in our emails, blog posts and social media.  

Hank Gans is our customer spotlight for the month of February. We hope you both enjoy and are inspired by this new addition to In Focus and look forward to your comments and suggestions. Below you will find a word from Hank, followed by some of his images in the gallery below.

Way too many photographers’ biographies disclose that they started photography at a very young age, as did I. My mother was the assistant to top New York pros, Mark Shaw and Howard Zeiff. Mark gave me my first camera, a fairly sophisticated Kodak Pony 135, when I was 7 years old. I started working (if that’s the right word for indulging in the magic of darkroom work) in the darkroom when I was 10.

But I was a G*d-awful photographer for my entire youth, all the while learning the craft. There are lots of photographers who start out early but there are very, very few photographic prodigies. I personally only know of one, Jacques Henri Lartigue. But my talent did develop as I matured through my many phases as a still photographer: I was the photographer for the University of Connecticut Zoology Department at age 18. I moved to Manhattan with dreams of becoming a pro at age 20 but ended up spending the next decade assisting top pros like Yousuf Karsh and Henri Dauman before landing some huge commercial accounts of my own and living a very affluent lifestyle of a successful commercial photographer for the next decade.

I was then encouraged by a mentor, Ernst Haas, to go off and photograph for myself, not just my clients, which led to living with the Hopi Indians in the Four Corners area of the Southwest for several years. I settled in Maine after that, still shooting for myself and assisting Jay Maisel at the Maine Photo Workshop and Anderson Ranch, before being contracted to do the still photography for a feature film in 1992. This led to work on other feature films in Los Angeles until the year 2000 when I came back east to get married and to, once again, begin to shoot for myself.

Jay Maisel told me, upon my return to Manhattan, that the world of commercial photography had changed dramatically, and not for the better, while I was away. Once again I had to rediscover who I was as a working photographer. Stock photography had become a dead-end which was a sad realization for me, the very first Image Bank photographer who once earned 85% of my income via stock photographic sales of past assigned photography.

Fortunately I was “discovered” in 2005 by a publisher in Zurich, Switzerland who printed twenty-eight of my images as high end posters that were distributed worldwide. Photos shot for myself were suddenly widely appreciated. I wasn’t in the Met but my images were on hundreds of thousands of walls around the world. My photo of Schooners in a Maine harbor was a big seller in Siberia! Go figure!

I moved to New Jersey in 2003. I began photographing Manhattan and the Hudson River from here. Some of those images have become very popular posters. I also co-directed a photography gallery in Beacon, New York in 2005 and 2006 where my work also sold well as fine art prints. While at the gallery I curated retrospective shows for two old friends, the great photojournalists Leonard Freed and Jill Freedman, at the gallery. They are both gone now but I have become the printer for both of their estates. I’m still in the darkroom and loving it, but now it’s the lightroom.

I won an award here in Bergen County in 2009 which led to my being invited to create a digital photography program for The Art School at Old Church in Demarest, which I did in 2010. I’ve been teaching there ever since. I sometimes fear that I have moved from being a photographer who teaches to a teacher who used to be a photographer. But as a teacher, I am tremendously proud of my students’ photographic progress and achievements. (It should be noted that the studio portrait of me shown here was taken by my student, Christelle Verrier, during a portraiture class I was teaching and the photograph of me with the Maine calendar was taken by an attendee of one of my Maine workshops, Ruth Hinz Plucinski.)

Nonetheless it’s time to redefine myself once again. I may not have been a prodigy but I do feel that a photographer’s talent can continue to grow well into their mature years. I think I am, right now, the best I have ever been and am so glad to have Bergen County Camera here not only to serve my technical needs but also to encourage and further educate me as a photographer.

Living at the very southern end of Bergen County, I can be in a Manhattan photo “superstore” in 12 minutes while Bergen County Camera is a 40 minute drive for me.  That said, despite being a customer since the 1980’s the Manhattan superstore’s management and staff still don’t know me from Adam and looking at and discussing equipment there is almost always an impersonal, noisy, rushed and overall fairly unpleasant experience.

In contrast, one day I walked into Bergen County Camera and Bob Gramegna, who knows my photography well, handed me a camera, saying that it should be pretty much a perfect tool for my travel photography. He didn’t just hand me the camera to examine in front of him at the counter; Bob encouraged me to take the camera out onto Westwood Avenue and give it a try outside the store. Bob was right (that’s not unusual). I eventually moved almost all of my photography to this camera and its system, all bought through BCC.

During another visit to BCC, Bob’s brother, Tom, who also knows my photography well showed me a new Leica/Panasonic wide focal length zoom lens which he thought would be ideal for my use. Based on Tom’s recommendation, I bought the lens and, as a result, eliminated several others in my camera bag, drastically cutting down bulk and weight, which is so important when one is traveling internationally with cameras and lenses. That lens has proven to be an outstanding performer and its design and that of the camera system that the Gramegna brothers encouraged me to move to has definitely enabled me to get many great shots in the field I would have missed with the system I had been using previously.

Besides teaching at The Art School at Old Church in Demarest I conduct workshops in Tuscany, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Many of my students and workshop attendees are BCC customers. I know I can confidently send my students to BCC for the equipment they need for the workshop or class they are taking with me. On several occasions the student has called me from the store and has handed the phone to the BCC staff person taking care of them so the two of us can discuss how they can best accommodate my student’s needs. That would never happen at a Manhattan “superstore”!

Also, the value of Tom Gramegna’s love and knowledge of great photography and his relationship with many of the photographers makes BCC not just a camera store but truly a place where one can truly appreciate and learn about the art of photography and even rub elbows with some of the greats.


View Hank’s Photos Below:

6 thoughts on “February Customer Spotlight – Hank Gans

  • February 4, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    Well done; particularly like the B&W images

  • February 5, 2021 at 8:06 am

    Really nice shots, especially the scenics like the boat in front of the pier. Also nice shots of NYC and the SKYline. Yes that’s a lot of sky, but it works.

  • February 6, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you, Hank, for sharing your personal history. You have meant so much to so many. I for one am deeply grateful to have been introduced to the world of photography with you as my guide, teacher, and friend. It has been an extraordinary opportunity.

    The images you showed today of Leonard Freed and Jill Freedman were poignant and penetrating. Having you bring them back into our consciousness as you are now their estates’ designated printer, is enabling us to appreciate the moments captured, the lives of the photographers, and the potential relevance of “the moment” decades later. Thank you and BCC for a great focus session.

  • February 8, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    Talented photographer, glad he interfaced here in BCC and enjoyed mutual growth. Big enough for fair pricing, small enough to be tuned into the individual’s needs and talents

  • March 12, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    Wow! I really enjoyed your images. Each one was magnificent in its own way. I loved the light, the fog, Italy, the compositions, all of it. Thank you for sharing them!

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