Q&A with Hank Klein: Miami CRE exec turns to photography following devastating stroke

Hank Klein and photos from his book
Hank Klein and photos from his book

Hank Klein, vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Miami and a leading figure in South Florida’s commercial real estate sector for more than three decades, recently published a book entitled “Miami, Real and Imagined,” a collection of 200 photos and enhanced images of iconic Miami scenes.

Klein used a Panasonic camera with a Leica lens to shoot the Freedom Tower, palm trees, local animals, parks, plants and other subjects around the city. He produced high-quality photos and then transformed them into images with brilliant, sometimes psychedelic colors and rich textures using digital photo editing.

Klein’s interest in photography goes back to the 1960s, when he was a staff photographer for The Miami News. At the paper, he took photos of The Beatles’ visit to Miami, President Harry Truman’s trips to Key West and Muhammad Ali’s training sessions in Miami Beach (when he was known as Cassius Clay).  Later, he became a staff photographer at the University of Miami. But Klein gave up his photography career in his thirties when he began working in the Miami real estate market.


Photos from the book

His colorful new book was not just a whim. It was a product of Klein’s multi-year battle to overcome a debilitating stroke that left him severely incapacitated in 2012 and forced him to put his real estate activities on hold. After a fall, a bone chip blocked the blood flow to Klein’s brain, leaving him unable to read, write or speak. He began taking photos again as he progressively recovered from the stroke.

A key player in developing new business and arranging major deals in Miami real estate, Klein joined Blanca Commercial Real Estate after serving as executive director for business development at Cushman & Wakefield of Florida. Earlier, he was vice chairman at Flagler Realty Services/Codina Group, and president and CEO of Codina Bush Klein Realty, the brokerage subsidiary of the Codina Group, managing four offices and 35 commercial brokers across South Florida.

The commercial real estate executive spoke to The Real Deal about his recovery and his new book during breakfast at a Coral Gables restaurant.

How did the stroke affect you in 2012?

“It was devastating, but it had nothing to do with my heart. It was caused by the fall. I was in the hospital for 17 days and I was close to death. After I left the hospital, I had intensive therapy for six months. Now I go for therapy six hours a week – four hours for speech and two hours for physical therapy.  

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For awhile I could hardly speak. I couldn’t write. Reading and watching television were very confusing. When my wife and I went out to dinner with friends, conversations were just a jumble. The words didn’t mean anything.

Now, I’m close to 95-97 percent recovered from my stroke, but it took years of hard work. I owe that miracle to rediscovering photography.

Why did you decide to start taking photos again after so many years?

“As I was recovering, I would sit at home or on the beach and stare off into the distance. Sometimes I’d listen to music on my iPhone. I started taking pictures with the phone, and I was amazed at what you could do with it, using different apps. Then I bought a Panasonic LUMIX with a Leica lens and I started shooting wherever we went. We traveled to the Amazon River, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska and other places. In May of this year, I went to Cuba for five days and shot over 1,000 photos. Photography helped me reinvent myself as an artist.”

And you use apps to change your photos, to enhance them?

“I became a TD – a technological dude. I use my camera and iPad to apply all sorts of apps and filters that enhance colors and change and enhance textures. The book shows photos, and next to them, the enhanced images I developed. I’ll make eight to 10 alternative versions of a photo and then choose one. I’m always searching for new subjects and new ways to enhance my photos.

And your book of photos evolved from these new skills you learned?

“I took photos all over Miami-Dade and decided to put them together in the book. I’m the world’s best manipulator of images.”