Michael Kenna's photographs show high-contrast landscapes shot at unusual hours, often with the exposure drawn out for ten hours at a time, depicting urban structures and nature devoid of occupants.Read More
While Kenna's photographs are devoid of colour, their pointed use of light and composition imbue eerie locations with a vitality of their own. A harbour captured from a distance or a line of trees can appear as universes drawn from a storybook scene.
Black-and-white gelatin silver prints like Maoi, Study 50, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island (2001) or Circle of Stones, Easter Island (2000) show the landscapes of Easter Island with a hint of strangeness, either compressing the statues along a horizontal line, or capturing the scene slanted from afar.
Other photographs like Yuanyang, Study 1, Yunnan, China (2013) show smog descending on rice fields along sloping hills—atmospheric and stark, the effect of the long exposure time renders visible what lies beyond sight.
Referencing the haiku as an analogy for his pictures, Kenna indicates that his photographs do not seek to describe but to suggest. Photographs shot in Japan show lone trees, gates, and bridges in atmospheric conditions, prompting viewers to locate beauty in simple compositions.
Amongst them, the thin hanging tree with sparse branches in Kussharo Lake Tree, Study 9 (2009) offers a silent lamentation on a hillside, while the tree in 'Philosopher's Tree, Study 1', Biei, Hokkaido, Japan (2004) stands tall and reflective on a sloping hill, submerged in a light veil of grey.
Amongst Kenna's early influences are the British photographer Bill Brandt and Japan's landscapes. Throughout the years, Kenna has photographed almost the entire country, resulting in books like Hokkaido (2005) and Japan (2002).
The same juxtaposition of background and figure notable in Brandt's work can be found in photographs like 'Mina, Study 3, Japan', Rafu, Japan (2010), a monochrome silver gelatin print showing the back of a woman coiled beneath a horizontal shelf. Likewise, in 'Yayoi, Study 1', Rafu, Japan (2008), the partially naked body intercepted from the side is no more physical being than it is pure shape.