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Allen Kuhn - A Photographer's Story.

 West Coast photographer Allen Kuhn spent his youth photographing models, buzzing around Southern California in an Abarth Zagato, became a noted race photographer, married the girl of his dreams…and that was just the beginning

Story and photos by Allen Kuhn                                                                                                                 ---------

     Unlike many car enthusiasts, my interest in sports cars was not influenced by my parents. Their style in cars was a 1928 Ford that they drove to Yosemite National Park for their honeymoon. They did, however, support my photo interests by naming me the ‘Official Family Photographer.' In 1954, When I was about 16, I found a copy of Argosy magazine, and it had a fantastic two-page spread on Juan Manual Fangio driving a Lancia D24, taken at dusk. It was an extreme pan shot. You could almost feel the sensation of speed with the blurred background and slightly blurred car. That’s the style I wanted to achieve.

My first magazine cover for Sports Car Journal was the April 1958 issue. The shot of Bob Oker in a Maserati 150S, owned by Dusty Miller was taken from “The Bridge” at Pomona on February 9, 1958. Oker finished 3rd. I loved shooting from “The Bridge”. You could get such a great perspective of the cars both coming toward you as well as going away from you. Purportedly this all ended when some not-so-smart shutterbug dropped his camera off “The Bridge” onto the track. No injuries were reported.
 But there was another magazine, another angle. On the cover of the September 1955 issue of U.S. Camera was a very seductive picture of Anita Ekberg. Inside I found an article by Peter Gowland, noted Glamour and Pin-Up photographer. It illustrated 10 ways you could photograph the female form. Race cars and girls; I thought those were two subjects worth looking into. I was drawn to both. A year after photographing my first race at Torrey Pines I bought a 1952 MG TD and enrolled in a photography school where we shot the devil out of beautiful models. That first race was October 23, 1955, on an overcast day at Torrey Pines, just north of San Diego. I had to cajole my mother to go for a “Sunday Drive”, as people did in those days, to San Diego. To my “surprise” there was a sports car road race at Torrey Pines. We got in, and I shot up a whole roll of 24 exposures Kodachrome from the family Kodak Pony camera that day.

Mario Andretti with Allen and Carole Kuhn
Below is another very special image for me as it was the one that caught the attention of Richard Sherwin, editor of the Los Angeles magazine, Sports Car Journal. I had earlier sent them 8×10’s from a couple of races in hopes they would use them. I was always too late for their deadline. Richard, along with the noted author of dozens of sports car books, Art Evans, started the magazine as a college project.

Bill Warner with Allen Kuhn
They were impressed by the extreme pan and having the course worker in the middle of the shot. He said it was again too late for the current issue, but he would like to get me a Photographer Pass for the next races. Thus began an association that lasted seven years and got me into races all over Southern California. The last few years the magazine became California Sports Car, under new management. A Career, a Degree I graduated from photography school and found a job as an assistant to the chief photographer at Max Factor Cosmetics in Hollywood. We photographed more beautiful women, but also a lot of static shots of cosmetic items, not as exciting. While there, my draft number was coming up in 1960. I decided this would be a good time to take a road trip in the TD. I quit my job and headed north on Highway 1, a great ride in a sports car, all the way to the Washington state line. When I got back home, I put the TD up on blocks in a neighbor’s garage thinking I would not be able to use it in basic training. It was off to the draft medical exam. One of the doctors discovered I had a heart murmur. It kept murmuring, “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go”. But it kept me out of the service. I thought I best find employment to support the Fiat Abarth Zagato which had replaced the MG. I took a job at NCR (National Cash Register) in their photo department. I was in the Computer Storage Device Division. After a short time, (how many different ways can you shoot a computer) I was gone. A friend of mine got me into the data processing section at Hughes Aircraft Company, Satellite Division. I decided to go to college after this career moved me out of the photographic field and graduated with a Business Degree (Cum Laude, I’ll have you know.) It was at Hughes Aircraft where I met my Beautiful Wife to be, Carole. I stayed at Hughes for 27 years until the big aerospace layoffs of 1993. Still being a young lad, I hooked up with an employment agency for temp jobs. I worked temp jobs for about seven years until it was time to really retire.

Bill pollack's daughter Mellette recently came across the photo below of her father at Willow Springs on February 13, 1955 and wanted to share it with the group. Bill had just won the 30-lap main event in Ken Simpson's Baldwin Mk. II and is congratulated by his wife Bobbi.

I had stopped shooting races because by 1965 things had really begun to change for me. I married my Beloved Carole and sold the Abarth for a Barracuda, automatic. Driving a stick with fifty-cent piece size pedals and thin sole shoes made shifting an ordeal in the ever-increasing traffic in L.A. One reason I stopped shooting was because my photographer pass source had dried up. But the main reason I stopped was because the cars became too technical for my tastes. Gone were the cars I grew up with, in the late 1950s to early ‘60s, such as: Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes, and the most beautiful of all the Scarab. These were sculptures with graceful lines that have adorned many museums. Though my shooting days of sports car racing were over I would keep the negatives; no photographer would ever get rid of his work. I secured an empty Kodak 250 sheet 8×10 Polycontrast III RC F Glossy Paper Box to store the negatives in. I hermetically sealed the box and put it in a secure dry-walled cabinet in my garage for storage. They did not see the glare of an enlarger bulb for the next 35 years. All the negatives are in pristine condition except for one strip of six negatives. Resurgence Coming home from an RV trip in the late 1990s with Carole, we passed through Monterey. I saw an ad for something called a” Vintage Sports Car Race” that weekend and decided to see what the races were all about. There were many of the same cars I shot as a youth. It brought back such memories of my shooting days. Carole had also accompanied me to races at Riverside and Santa Barbara in 1963 before we were married. Then in 1999, I saw an ad for a vintage race in Tustin, California. I took some 8×10 prints along just in case we saw some of the same cars again. Sure enough, we saw some. I actually (cough, cough) gave a few guys prints. (I always get choked up when I use the “G” word, GAVE). Give is a NO, NO, Dan Gurney once told me. Carole saw someone who had a booth about a sports car magazine, “Vintage Race Car”. She wanted me to go and show him what I had. That’s where I met Casey Annis who was interested in using my pictures. This then started me on a journey that happily continues to this day, and well into the future, I hope. I started looking for sports car events to crash and get noticed.

In my quest for the perfect racing image, I found myself back at Torrey Pines on January 15, 1956. This is the image that really hooked me on sports car photography.

Fred Woodward is behind the wheel of his #51 Jaguar Special, finishing behind such luminaries as (in order): Masten Gregory, Ernie McAfee, Ken Miles, Sherwood Johnston, Chuck Daigh, Jean Pierre Kunstle. Then came Fred, 7th overall and 4th in class CM, in a home built. Well done Fred.
By 2002 things really began to happen. I attended a Ferrari Club of America; Southwest Region meet at the Santa Monica Airport. I took a notebook full of 8×10 Ferrari prints and went there. Tom Brockmiller, President of the Club, came over to see them. He then asked me to come to the Ferrari International Meet at Century City, California, and show my Ferrari pictures. That really opened me up to some of the top Ferrari people in the world, Alexis Callier, Marcel Massini, Willem Oosthoek, the late Michael Lynch, and many more. We were at the 2004 Maguire Car Guy of the Year Awards when I saw Bill Warner, the founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Bill was a big fan of Ken Miles. I had Carole hold a book on Ken Miles with one of my pictures on the cover so Bill could see the photo. Sure enough, when he finished talking to his friends he came over. We talked a bit and I said I would get a copy for him. Two weeks later I got a phone call from him asking me if I could come and exhibit 10 of my photographs at “Chrysler Presents the Great Photographers” at his Concours, in Florida.

The other photographers were: Dennis Adler, Pete Biro, Hal Crocker, Michael Furman, and Winston Goodfellow. I said yes even before I remembered it was 2,600 miles away. The timing was just perfect. We had just purchased a 34-foot Motorhome and wanted to start using it. Carole was all for it and we were off to our first big adventure. Thank God gas was under $1.75 a gallon. Bill set up a space where we could sell our work at the end of the Concours. I sold quite a few with a gentleman from Europe buying all ten of the 16×20 display prints. That paid for the gas anyway. Carole truly enjoyed being involved with everything we did in it, especially the people we associated with it. She was always by my side at the memorabilia shows, unloading and re-loading the prints from the RV, setting up the booth, talking to the customers, and encouraging me when we didn’t make a dime in the first few hours. One time she was talking to someone when he asked about a driver, Tony Brooks.

She remembered I had an 8×10 print of Tony with Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, and Parnelli Jones all five had autographed it. I had never sold an autographed print before. She called me and I said $100 per autograph. He bought it. She was an executive secretary at Hughes Aircraft for many years. This came in very handy for proofing all my writings, which was greatly needed. She was my everything and still is.