Monday, January 11, 2010

Al's Obituary and Life Celebration Service

Al's obituary ran in today's Miami Herald.


Al Kaplan | Quirky North Miami gadfly, professional photographer

It was easy to mistake Al Kaplan for a species of city hall habitue familiar to most South Florida municipalities: the schmoozy, slightly off-kilter gadfly who never misses a council meeting.

It probably had something to do with his mop of hair -- and his stuffed monkey.

But North Miami insiders knew better. Kaplan, a professional photographer, researched issues as carefully as did elected officials. He understood their implications and posed cogent questions.

``He would love to give the impression that he was nuts, but he wasn't,'' said Scott Galvin, a longtime City Council member. ``He was very studied in local politics. He was very involved.''

Kaplan and his toy sidekick, Monkette, will henceforth be notable by their absence; a smoker, Kaplan died Dec. 29 from complications of a recent heart attack, said daughter Elena Kaplan, of Atlanta.

Born Alan Kaplan on Nov. 9, 1942, he was 67. He was buried in a New Bedford, Mass., cemetery alongside generations of ancestors.

A North Miami resident since his teens -- with a brief Boston detour -- Kaplan ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1989 and served on civic boards.

Indisputably eccentric, the tall, rangy Kaplan loved the water and once aspired to be a fishing guide. But after getting his first camera as a bar mitzvah present, he headed toward a photography career, said son Jonathan Kaplan.

Kaplan is best known for pictures of '60s rock stars, politicians, North Miami events -- and himself. A prolific self-portraitist, Kaplan hosted a blog called, and was respected on photo-industry websites.

In 2008, he had his proverbial ``15 minutes of fame,'' as he explained on his blog.

``Amazing. [Photographer] James Mitchell gets the idea of sticking my ugly face on a T-shirt, complete with a cigarette dangling from my lips, posts the thing on an Internet Leica Photography forum, and suddenly orders are coming from as far away as Australia!''

``Al was a polarizing guy in some ways,'' Josh Root wrote on after Kaplan's death. ``I enjoyed many of his images/thoughts and also butted heads with him in a couple different instances . . . But it is hard to argue that he wasn't a very interesting fellow . . . and a skilled photographer.''

Al Kaplan described himself thusly on his blog:

``Al's art background includes a few years at the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, MA. He majored in anthropology at Miami Dade College and later taught photography there. He spent several years working for various publications in the Miami area [and] used his contacts . . . to pick up a variety of long-term clients, including Barry University, the city of North Miami, the Jamaican Tourist Development Board and Congressman William Lehman.''

His interests, he wrote, ``range from light tackle fishing to politics. He's skilled in black & white traditional darkroom techniques and equally at home with a 4x5 commercial view camera as he is with his favorite 35mm Leicas.''

Elena, a lawyer, said her father was never without a camera.

``It was normal that he was always taking pictures of us,'' she said of herself and Jonathan, a Harvard University doctoral student.

Thrice married, Kaplan was last divorced from antiques restorer Claudia Bailey, who remained close. His first wife, Stephanie Brundage, is the mother of his children.

Elena said her parents ``were married in '64 by a [Boston] justice of the peace seven days after they met. Dad didn't want to get drafted'' for the Vietnam War. ``They fell in love after.''

They returned to North Miami and divorced in 1979.

Galvin met Kaplan in 1989, when both ran for council seats. Galvin won; Kaplan lost.

``Al was a very 1960s hippie Democrat,'' he said. ``He certainly was not the establishment candidate.''

Kaplan served on the city planning commission.

Kaplan made his living shooting freelance news photos, record-album covers, weddings, Little League team portraits, March of Dimes promos -- whatever came along.

Lately, Kaplan was engaged in a self-portrait project -- with Monkette.

``The monkey started as a joke,'' Jonathan said. A childhood toy monkey ``got shipped around'' and photographed in various settings, then ``acquired a girlfriend: Monkette.''

Monkette disappeared for a while, Galvin said, then reappeared about three years ago. Kaplan brought her ``to an FPL protest, to city hall, to Starbucks, as a conversation starter with young ladies. He'd put her into the frame of photos.''

He often spoke through Monkette on his blog, where she endorsed council candidates and commented on the issues.

People who knew Kaplan ``got a chuckle,'' Galvin said. ``He had that great mop of hair and a beard, and he looked woolly and scary. He wasn't one to wear a tie, or if he wanted to make people wonder why he was wearing a tie, he'd wear one. He was having fun.''

Kaplan was ``a bit of an instigator,'' his son said, ``but he viewed civility as a fundamental component of democracy, and when that was threatened, he was upset.''

Friends and family will celebrate Kaplan's life at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Griffing Adult Center, 12220 Griffing Blvd./NE Third Ave., North Miami.

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Celebration of the Life and Work of Alan Kaplan on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010

Please join friends and family of Alan Kaplan as we gather on Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 7 pm to honor his life and work.

Griffing Adult Center
12220 Griffing Boulevard /NE 3rd Avenue
North Miami, Florida 33161

Monday, January 04, 2010


The following is a synopsis of Jonathan Kaplan’s eulogy for his father, given at his funeral on December 31, 2009:

"When thinking of my father, the book of Ecclesiastes comes to mind as a work that captures the essence of my father’s approach to life. As the author says in chapter 8, verse 15, “And I commended delight, because a person has no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry; for this will go with him in his labor during the days of his life, which God gives him under the sun.” Dad was truly a person who sought to seize life and enjoy it as much as he could. He stayed local to North Miami, Florida (he didn’t like to travel), but he knew the city and its people in all their vibrancy and diversity. His staples were Starbuck’s Coffee and the American fare served at Jimmy’s Place. That didn’t stop him, however, from sampling jerked chicken or any number of the myriad of cuisines in his adopted home city. Not only did he eat the diversity of food in North Miami, but he also delighted in people throughout the city regardless of socio-economic status, creed or ethnicity. As someone said on the memorial thread on the Rangefinder Forum, “What a great life Al had, right to the end! We should all live life so well.”

"Life for my father was something he observed through the rangefinder of a camera. As a photographer, he always sought to capture the essence of what was before him. That meant paying attention to the angle of the camera or the amount and quality of the light in the room. Pop was not a passive participant in life. He knew that one could also shape the picture by the angle of the camera or by letting more light into the room. Life, just like a picture, was a reality you could help craft as well as portray.

"Dad was not a religious person in a traditional way. I remember him once telling me about his Bar Mitzva. The sanctuary was directly above the function hall of the synagogue. Instead of going all the way downstairs to the nosh afterwards he went out the front door of the synagogue and straight to the movie theater to catch the afternoon feature. I also saw a similar contrast in the last month of his life. The night before he first fell ill he lit a chanukka menora in his kitchen. He observed this commandment of Jewish religious life. Yet, not a week later he was complaining to me about the rabbi who had come by to visit him at the hospital. He was upset that the rabbi kept telling him to get up and pray every morning. My father was upset at the rabbi’s “approach.” As was typical in such conversations, I told Dad I agreed with the rabbi. He told me we would talk about it when I next came down to visit him. We never had the conversation as he passed shortly after I arrived at the hospital to see him.

"Pop’s relationship to his own religious tradition bespeaks his posture towards life in general. Life, in all its facets, is not something one accepts blindly. Life should be interrogated. One should always plumb its depths and question the assumptions of those who claim to have all the simple answers. This feature of my father’s personality expressed itself in his involvement in North Miami politics and in his conversations with his friends and families. As I grew older, I came to understand that for my father one’s conclusions didn’t matter so much but rather the integrity of one’s argument and that one’s conclusions were well reasoned.

"When I last saw my Dad a few days before his first hospitalization, we had a very vivid conversation about how he was trying to understand and appreciate his life. The conversation had been sparked by his conversations with a friend of his about what tied his blog – The Price of Silver – together. Most blogs are mono-focal; Pop’s was not. As we sat in Starbuck’s, my father related that what he thought tied his life together was that he was a teacher. In the last decade the various photo forums in which he participated and his blog became his classroom. As one person remarked on the memorial page to him on the Rangefinder Forum, “We lost a good friend, one that enjoyed people! He enjoyed sharing his knowledge and swapping ideas with everyone! Our loss is Heaven’s gain!” Even as a little child, my father was always teaching me: scribbling schematic drawings on napkins at Dunkin Donuts, explaining the physics of a car spoiler to an 8-year old, teaching me how to fish, develop film, take pictures, build stuff, tie the countless knots he knew, constantly teaching. Today we say good bye to a teacher, a friend, a cousin, a father – I only hope that I am able to pass on the good that I learned from him . . . may his memory be for a blessing!"