Driving past Chichester on Wednesday last week, I couldn’t help dropping in to see more of Michael Kenna’s prints at the superb Bosham Gallery.
In my previous post I talked about my delight at the ‘Michael Kenna – 45 Retrospective Exhibition’ that was showing through the summer. They had followed it up with another featuring his work called ‘New and Rare Works’ running from 2nd to 28th September…so just a few days left to see it as I write this.
I was able to chat with the owner Luke Whittaker, who had obviously set up a very good relationship with Michael to get more prints personally produced by him to show. There were indeed some ‘New’ ones but also some that had ‘sold out’ of the artists 45 print editions. For these Michael had released ‘Artist Proofs’ from his archives.
I was bold over by one of his images taken in Hokkaido back in 2002. A picture I had never seen before.
So simple but that faint dark line against the snow on the trunk made it a memorable a image and of course it was a really wonderful print. Alas the rarity of being an Artist Proof from a now completed Edition made it carry a £17750 price tag!
I look forward to more exhibitions in the future of Michael’s work at this delightful gallery. It’s a wonderful place to photograph as well…I was trotting around the Quay at 4 in the morning under a nice moon a couple of days later with my camera!
I’ve finally made it to the wonderful 45 year retrospective exhibition of Michael Kenna’s work at the lovely little gallery at Bosham, near Chichester.
It was pleasing to see the care with which the owner Luke Whitaker and manager Angus Heywood had put into choosing and hanging the 42 prints from Michael’s years of image making since the 1970’s through to this year.
Michael has always been the most intelligent and thoughtful of photographers and you can’t help but notice how consistent his photographic style has been since his earliest days. Quite remarkable in fact to have distilled your ‘vision’ into something so long ago and not feel the need to change it, only to refine it.
As you can see from the Bosham Galleries picture above, the prints were mainly hung as a double row and all were framed in what I’m sure is Michael’s preferred manner, in 20″x16″ black frames. This provides ample ‘white space’ as the images are always printed fairly small at around 8″x8″ and that sizing certainly draws the viewer in.
This is how a Michael Kenna print looks when framed. A pure white matt is used and the prints are dry mounted with a narrow border that carries the edition number and Michael’s signature. Sepia or Selenium toning is used though I don’t envy him having to handle the chemicals every day in the darkroom. He uses Ilford Multigrade photographic paper which is modified through filters in the enlarger and understandably allows considerable contrast adjustment when in the darkroom but personally I’ve never been in love with that papers slight sheen. The printing technique is totally beyond criticism, he’s just a wonderful printer and the time spent in the darkroom and undertaking spotting must be immense. The prints are ‘little gems’. As my own old ‘wet darkroom prints’ remind me, film grain is reduced by cold cathode enlargers and yet images appear wonderfully sharp.
The gallery must have been over the moon with capturing one of the great living photographers and so far had managed to sell over 30 prints at prices from £2500 to £7400. So it was particularly pleasing to see that Fine Art Photography can survive in the UK away from ‘Mayfair’ and good of his longstanding London dealer Giles Huxley to let Bosham have an exhibition.
The day before the opening in June, Michael had a book signing at The Photographer’s Gallery and I was able to get a signed copy of his new book ‘A 45 Year Odyssey’. This was also the name of an exhibition in Tokyo at the beginning of the year. Luke and Angus at Bosham hadn’t felt the need at all to follow the choices from the book and Tokyo exhibition and had scoured Michael’s vast archive for their own selections. So this was really a unique exhibition. Wonderful also to find that there was even a brand new ‘unseen print’. It was ‘Red Crown Crane Feeding’ in the the snow of Hokkaido, which although it dated from 2005, Michael had brought over in his luggage as it hadn’t been printed or shown before . It was just a simple beautiful image.
Driving home to Dorset I began to think of my own favourite Kenna images. The ones I would buy for my ‘Kenna Wall’. There would be’ Four Birds’…such a simple stylish image…just look at the birds positioning:
I love Corridor of Leaves:
I’ve already shown two of Michael’s other tree images in an earlier blog back in April, the ‘Stone Pine Tunnel, Pineto, Abruzzo 2016’ and my favourite of the many Kussharo Lake Tree images which is ‘Kussharo Lake Study 6 Hokkaido 2007’. So here’s another tree from Hokkaido…how perfect is that fence:
Keeping it simple again, like one of those ‘Harry Callaghan’ images I suppose, but perhaps even better:
Michael Kenna absorbed many ideas from others but went and made them his own. ‘Influenced by’ but never ‘copying’. Lots of photographers now mimicking Kenna should learn from this.
Yet another from Hokkaido:
He’s made many fence posts images in the snow, taken mainly in Japan. They are all stunning. I’d really need to have one of the Huangshan mountain pictures, perhaps this one with it’s mist and ‘layers’ of mountains:
And the first ‘Moonrise’ that triggered my interest in capturing the passage of the moon in very very long exposures:
And something from the French countryside, how about moonlight and lightning?:
And a Holga image from Paris of a perfectly captured ‘peace symbol’:
Spain?This one’s got a wonderful dark sky to offset the windmills:
Michael has never been frightened by ‘less picturesque’ industrial subjects. He followed in the footsteps of Charles Sheeler who had spent 6 weeks photographing the giant Ford plant at Dearborn in Michigan in 1927.Michael undertook his project every year between 1992 and 1995 and produced photographs far exceeding Sheeler’s work. I’d choose this one, used on the book cover of ‘Rouge’. It’s perhaps not a typical Kenna image at all, but he’s printed it so there are lots of silhouettes:
Mist has often played a part in making his pictures special and I love this long lens shot which uses clouds to produce the same effect :
And one from his early years, this from his arrival in the US, a quiet, satisfying against the light composition in mist:
So many that I would pick but those would get me started I guess! Michael Kenna is a truly prolific photographer who has just got the ability to go right to the soul of almost any subject and make a meaningful image.
A few years back after I had bought an Epson photo printer, a R2880 model, I started printing my monochrome images and found them rather disappointing. This Epson model had 8 inks, but it only used 3 for monochrome as far as I understood it. It had an ‘Advanced Black and White’ mode that I used but sometimes I was aware of a slight colour cast and I didn’t think the darkest tones were ‘black enough’.
However I was still learning how to adjust my images in Photoshop and I hadn’t got a calibrated monitor for my PC.
I looked around and discovered the system devised by American Jon Cone called Piezography. Their ink system fits a wide range of Epson printers from desktop to the large free standing roll paper models. Many of the best ones being outdated but they have worked hard to overcome Epson’s ‘protectionist marketing’ and you can now run the inks on some new models as well, but I believe that only Epson models can be converted. Jon Cone requires you to refit your printer with a set of strictly monochrome inks, all shades of grey and in the case of the Epson R2880 I had it was 7 inks, plus an 8th filled with his ‘flush’ fluid. I was no longer able to print colour, so a step into the unknown. Although the Piezography system did allow either matt or gloss printing, it required a change of the darkest black ink bottle and a further ‘overcoat’ of gloss to each print. I however only wanted to print on matt photo paper and was looking to match the images I got in the darkroom with say Agfa Brovira paper, which had a distinctive warm tone to the finished image. I always found ‘pure greys’ a bit dull and had played a lot with selenium toning in my darkroom days.
Piezography was available in a selection of toned inks such as Neutral, Warm Neutral, Carbon and Special Edition. The later being a ‘split toned’ version. Jon Cone produced a set of prints to judge the possible results of each ink, although this of course would also matter which paper you used. These prints were about postcard size, so a bit difficult to judge accurately but I opted for the Warm Neutral as possibly giving me the finish I was after.
Running the R2880 printer with even Epson inks was expensive as after all ink was what printer manufacturers make lots of their money from. Cones inks weren’t cheap either but seemed to be well worth a try.
He’s pulled all his documentation it into one document recently, that I link to below, but you still have to know a few of the concepts of printer management.
The results once I’d changed over my printer to all monochrome inks using the Warm Neutral I chose was a revelation. The smoothness in the image from black to white was wonderful and a good print exceeds anything I could get in the old darkroom….and using Photoshop exceeds anything I could do in the darkroom as well…a double win!
I had settled on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper, which I’ve stayed with. The whites aren’t the brightest available because the paper doesn’t use ‘brighteners’ like some and being a matt paper I get the beautiful tones I was after…but I do have to fight a bit to get them. The fight being between getting a good print match to what I edited on my PC and also getting a newly refilled set of ink cartridges to actually let the ink flow..machines do have ‘personalities’ I believe and my R2880 fights me at every refill!
It’s made difficult because Piezography requires the use of special software to produce the mixing of the 7 inks I use in the correct amounts. It’s a 3rd party thing called QuadTone RIP that was put together by Roy Harrington, a shareware $50 download. I’ve never needed to update this and it is the tool you open to print instead of say Epson Print. It comes with a set of curves that map your ink to the paper, however these only drive the software to spray out the ink correctly…proper ‘soft proofing’ to see the image as it will print is somewhat more tricky.
Computer screens are always high contrast devices…they are ‘back lit’ where as your printed paper image is decidedly ‘front lit’! QTR Rip and the Piezography method doesn’t allow the sort of ‘soft proofing’ that I would expect, well not easily. Soft Proofing, as available in Lightroom and Photoshop relies on an ICC Profile that matches your ink and paper, so ‘on screen’ you see a representation of what you’ll actually get when you print, provided your computer monitor is accurately set of course. I now have a BenQ monitor that has it’s own inbuilt software to give a full AdobeRGB match, or in the case of Piezography monochrome, an Gamma 2.2 image. However the downloaded ICC profiles for my Warm Neutral ink and Hahnemuhle paper don’t always match quite what I’m going to get. So I have to judge my prints by eye and then ‘tweak the numbers’ in Photoshop to get my preferred result.
All sounding rather off putting! No …. don’t think that, the results really are wonderful (after all the hardwork)! Piezography and the QuadTone RIP software does exceed the graduation of tones and detail that even the latest Epson K3 inks will produce.
To make things even more complicated…but hopefully better still, Jon Cone has now brought out a Pro version of Piezography that has an extremely black, black inkset…. the darkest ‘DMax’ that is possible on matt paper he believes. Other things have changed and now you can mix your own split toned prints, using the facilities inside QuadToneRIP and you can get very technical and make your own ICC curves, although this requires a very expensive spectrophotometer and only works on a Mac. I will gravitate to this new inkset when I’ve used a bit more of my existing precious ink up though, probably via just adding the new black ink to my existing Warm Neutral for awhile.
Considering that it’s such a great idea to adapt a printer to be a specialist monochromatic device and squeeze more out the grey scale pallet, there isn’t that much on the web about Piezography, but Brian Stewart wrote a series of posts that are interesting if you wish to explore more:
Jon Cones’ world is divided into his workshops and print teaching base in Vermont called Cone Editions Press: https://cone-editions.com/ and his web based shop https://shop.inkjetmall.com/ which sells the Piezography inks and his colour replacement ink system ‘Cone Color’.
The tome he wrote, ‘The Piezography Community Edition’, giving details of the system and various other information is downloadable from his Piezography web site: https://piezography.com/
There isn’t a UK dealer selling the inks but there is a French one Taos Photo: https://taosphoto.fr/en/ We just need to stay in the EU (No Brexit here please) and avoid anymore import charges!
Taos Photo sell both the Piezography and the Cone Color inks.
If you want to talk about Piezography at anytime do send me an email.