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Michael Shay

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Michael Shay was born in Germany, grew up in Chicago, and lives in Portland, Oregon.

He was raised by a single mom and a grandpa who made sure his childhood was full of comic books, bicycles and model airplanes. It was his mom who bought him his first camera, a used and slightly battered Kodak Retina Reflex, on a visit to Germany when he was 16. He didn’t really use it much for a few years but an Erasmus year in Europe changed all that. All the new sights and experiences were something he really wanted to capture and remember forever.

While studying poetry at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Michael fell totally in love with making images, whether it was in a line of verse or from the viewfinder of a camera. After graduating, he and his new wife, Lynda, moved to Cincinnati, where he turned his ability to make beautiful black-and-white prints into a job. Soon, that printing job became a photography job, and he has been doing that ever since.

Michael and Lynda moved next to San Francisco, where Michael started his own business shooting for advertising and catalog clients. He also taught at the Academy of Art University for four years. He then seized an opportunity in Portland to help a large studio grow its business. And after a couple of years, he decided to start his own place again, naming it Polara Studio —after the North Star and his move north.

Michael believes photography is best when it’s a collaborative process and that it often takes a village to make that special photograph. He has photographed four cookbooks, and his other food photography can be found on grocery store shelves and in advertising for many national brands, including Reser’s Fine
Foods, Pacific Foods and Papa Murphy’s. His people photography has appeared in catalogs, advertising and editorial for such diverse clients as Time magazine and Norm Thompson.

He is active in Portland’s creative community and has served as chair of the national board of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). He has continued writing and has published work in several literary journals, including South Carolina Review, Nimrod and RHINO. His book of poetry, The Words I Own, was published by GobQ Press in 2021. When not working, Michael practices traditional Japanese karate, rides motorcycles and brews his own beer.


Photographer’s Stories