Michael Knapstein (b.1956) is a fine-art photographer who has earned international recognition for his insightful and nuanced visual exploration of the American Midwest. A Wisconsin native, he now lives in Middleton, Wisconsin with his wife, Annette.
Michael’s photographs began attracting national attention while he was still in high school. At the age of 17, he was the youngest photographer to have a solo exhibition at the Steenbock Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters in Madison, Wisconsin. The following year his work was accepted into the permanent collections of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography in Rochester, NY and Nikon House in NYC. While attending college, his work continued to win national recognition and was included in the Photographic Society of America’s prestigious Young Photographer’s Showcase national traveling exhibit for three years in a row.
After graduating from the College of Fine Arts and Communication at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, Knapstein began a 30+ year career in the world of advertising. He held a variety of creative and leadership positions, ultimately heading one of Wisconsin’s largest advertising agencies. These years helped hone his use of design, eye movement tracking, semiotics and storytelling – all skills that he now applies to his photography.
Knapstein sold his agency and retired from the demanding world of advertising in 2010 to return to his first love of photography. Since this reemergence, Michael’s work has been recognized with more than 250 awards in some of the world’s most prestigious photography competitions, including the Royal Photographic Society (England), Prix de la Photographie Paris (France), Les Rencontres d’Arles (France), Grand Prix de la Decouverte (France), Photography Masters Cup (England), Moscow International Foto Awards (Russia), Tokyo International Foto Awards (Japan), LensCulture (Netherlands), Black and White Spider Awards (England), Head On Photo Festival (Australia), Lucie International Photography Awards (Los Angeles, CA), New York Center for Photographic Art (NYC), Photo L.A. (Los Angeles, CA), Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), Center for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, CO), Communication Arts (Menlo Park, CA), Camera USA (Naples, FL) and National Geographic (Washington, D.C.).
There is a certain magic to the Midwest.
Honest. Modest. Understated. Sometimes unappreciated. Often overlooked.
I created Midwest Memoir as a way to help others see the Midwest in a whole new light. The Midwest in which I was raised. The Midwest that shaped my experiences and my artistic aesthetic. The Midwest the way I will always remember it, even though it continues to change and disappear around me.
I think of the Midwest as being classic and timeless in nature. Therefore, I approached this project from a time-honored “straight photography” perspective in the spirit of Group f/64 and gave the work a modernist character with a strong formalist dimension. My approach was informed by the work of mid-century modernist photographers such as Adams, Weston, White, Strand and Evans.
My work was also strongly influenced by the American Regionalism movement and the work of artists who portrayed the American heartland, including Wood, Benton, Curry, Wyeth and Hopper.
To support this modernist aesthetic, I utilized a square format as an homage to the timeless work created with medium format Rolleiflex and Hasselblad cameras of that era. This look is enhanced with split toning that simulates the look of platinum printing. As a final touch, the images are printed on warm-tone matte paper that is reminiscent of vintage Agfa Portriga Rapid photographic paper.
I hope my images will give people everywhere a sense of what makes the Midwest so special. If you pause for a moment, perhaps you’ll feel the humid air of an approaching thunderstorm, or catch the smell of fresh laundry as it dries in the summer breeze. That is my Midwest Memoir.