About 4 1/2 years ago, South Florida real estate executive Hank Klein suffered a stroke so devastating it rendered him unable to read, write or speak.
After the stroke, Klein soothed himself by sitting under a palm tree and listening to music. One day, while bored, he started taking pictures of the tree with his iPhone. He then used filter and enhancement apps to augment the digital images. Learning how to use the new apps was therapeutic; it stimulated his intellect and gave him a creative outlet to express himself.
“I started paying attention to the apps, in changing the photographs,” he said. “I became the great manipulator — I tell people ‘I’m the greatest manipulator alive.’ I change colors and textures, enhance them and crop them, sometimes dramatically and sometimes subtly.”
“Miami, Real and Imagined,” (Schiffer Publishing, $25) is his therapy in images — a 208-page book of digital photography taken with a Panasonic Lumix using a Leica lens. The subjects of Klein’s photography are presented in two ways: as a traditional photograph, and digitally re-imagined with color, texture, cropping and other effects.
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Images from the book include the Freedom Tower, a courtyard scene at Books & Books, South Florida wildlife, the Perez Art Museum, the Vagabond Hotel, an F-16 fighter jet in flight and a lone palm tree — the first picture he took on his path to recovery. Each set is accompanied by a brief, haiku-like passage written by Klein, which he calls “hank-kus.”
“I think it’s just a really great book,” said Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books’ founder and owner. “There are very few books that capture the nature and spirit of Miami the way Hank’s book does. But really it’s the whole story of Hank. How he rediscovered his gift for photography, which came out of tragedy, is really remarkable.”
Klein officially launched his first book Thursday night with an appearance at Coral Gables Congregational Church. The event, hosted by Books & Books, served as the culmination of Klein’s recovery through photography, a passion he rediscovered during his rehabilitation.
Kaplan began the night’s proceedings by speaking of his and Klein’s more than 35-year friendship.
“Hank might have been the first customer to walk through my doors,” Kaplan said. “Tonight is something special. Hank took something that would have made most of us go into a cave and disappear and used it to find something within himself. I don’t see this book as the end of anything, but as a beginning.”
Before his career in real estate, Klein worked as a news photographer for the Miami News and later as a staff photographer for the University of Miami, where he was mentored by photojournalist Wilson Hicks. During that time, he photographed the Beatles arriving in Miami Beach to play “The Ed Sullivan Show,” President Harry S. Truman at his Little White House in Key West, actress and Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and Muhammad Ali (when he was still known as Cassius Clay).
But his interest in photography ultimately took a backseat to scholastics.
“I wanted to get a degree,” Klein said. “I ended up putting my camera up on my closet shelf, where it collected dust, and I stopped shooting. For 40 years, I didn’t have any interest; I focused on business. In my 60s, I started shooting again. I took pictures when we went to the Galapagos and the Amazon. But things really changed when I had my stroke.”
Now 72, Klein is former vice chairman of Codina Bush Klein Realty and currently vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. At the church reading, several high-power friends and business associates offered testimonial in a short video created by Multivision CEO Bob Berkowitz: Klein’s wife, Lisa Sloat; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Codina Partners Executive Chairman Armando Codina; Blanca Commercial Real Estate CEO Tere Blanca; Turkel Brands CEO Bruce Turkel; Berkowitz; Kaplan and others.
Klein said he is already halfway through taking photographs for his next book, a “Real and Imagined” take on Cuba. He speaks of Cuba as injured but resilient, capable of repair, not unlike he was after his stroke.
“People ask me, ‘Is Cuba a beautiful place?’” Klein said. “I tell them, ‘Hell no, it’s not.’ They ask me, ‘Is it crumbling?’ and I say, ‘No, it’s crumbled.’ It’s in terrible shape. My wife and I went to Vietnam last year. It’s been  years since the war ended and it’s doing wonderfully. Hopefully the same will happen in Cuba.”