Tag Archives: Michael Kenna

BLOG POST 4 | April 23rd 2019 | Trees – hard to catch

I do love trees, but their beauty is pretty hard to capture in photographs.

I feel much of monochrome photography is similar to producing ‘line drawings’ and one of my favourite artists producing really great pen and ink drawings of trees is Sarah Woolfenden.

Here’s one of her exquisitely detailed pictures, of a Yew:

Sarah Wolfenden: Twisted Yew

Incredible detail in Sarah’s drawing. Sarah has the artists’ advantage over the photographer…she can ignore the background. Us poor people behind cameras haven’t got any easy ways to eliminate confusing backgrounds, so we often turn to choosing subjects where the background just doesn’t exist.


Michael Kenna has made some truly wonderful pictures of a single ancient oak beside Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido by making them in the snow, sometimes against misty backgrounds.

Michael Kenna :Kussharo Lake Tree study 6. Hokkaido. 2007

What a stunning ‘minimilist’ image, but then Kenna encouraged a whole genre of photography didn’t he. He certainly makes this withering tree look like an ink drawing.

Back to Sarah Woolfenden. She doesn’t ignore ‘the background’ that often in fact. Here’s a wonderful image of an oak.

 Here
Sarah Woolfenden: Rest Here

A large oak in it’s forest setting and a photographer would have to catch it like that as well.

I can see that there would be a predominance of mid-tones in a monochrome photograph of that oak and Sarah chooses to make much of the background lighter than it would have been. The photographic trick to achieve this is by using filtering and a green filter would render the foliage lighter than usual. There’s an even more extreme trick the photographer can play…but it leads to troubles if not carefully used. That’s Infra-Red.

Beth Moon: ‘Majesty’ Nonington Kent 2005

The American photographer Beth Moon started taking pictures of some of the ancient trees we have in the UK and often used a Pentax 6×7 camera loaded with Infra-Red film.

Her images are extremely powerful, like the wonderful oak ‘Majesty’ at Nonington in Kent above. She went on to record some of the ancient trees in the US National Parks and in Africa, like these Baobab’s.

Beth Moon: ‘Avenue of The Baobabs’ Madagascar 2006

In the oak image, the Infra-Red has rendered the green leaves as white. That’s what happens when you use IR to capture leaves full of chlorophyll, as they will be on a bright sunny summer day. The Baobab’s however don’t have that bright green chlorophyll soaked foliage and it is rendered somewhat more realistically. The give away is the sky, that the IR has rendered as black.

I’ve tried using an IR converted digital camera to capture trees and to make them ‘stand out’ in monochrome, but I’ve done it in the winter. No green leaves to turn white, just some grass and ivy on the trunk to render lighter…just as Sarah did in her oak drawing.

The IR camera turned the sky really dark….and I love dark and stormy skies and this is about a close as I’ve been able to come to matching the ‘intensity’ that an artist like Sarah Woolfenden can produce with her meticulous ‘pen man ship’.

Here’s a few more stunning tree images from Beth Moon:

Beth Moon: ‘The Much Marcle Yew’ Herefordshire 1999.

Less obviously an Infra-Red image, but the yew isn’t ‘big on chlorophyll’ , but the softness of the image says IR I’m sure. Here’s another:

Beth Moon: ‘The Crowhurst Oak’ 2003.

Normal film I’d say, however it’s best if IR doesn’t show it’s self too heavily I believe.

Beth Moon: ‘The Sentinels Of St. Edwards’ Stow-On-The-Wold 2005

I’d say that was also on normal film, and here’s one by Michael Kenna that certainly is:

Michael Kenna: Poplar trees Fucino Abruzzo Italy. 2016

That’s a really great image and he’s managed to get the trees ‘upright’ without leaning. I can’t work out how long a lens as there’s still lots of ‘perspective’ there so possibly he used a ‘FlexBody’ tilt-shift adapter on his Hasselbald.

Here’s another one from Kenna that I haven’t managed to work out how he got that ‘inner glow’ as trees that are densely growing don’t let much light past their crowns do they:

Michael Kenna: Stone pine tunnel Pineto Abruzzo Italy. 2016

From the same Abuzzo set of images and I think the magical light is just glorious.

NB: See note below for reply from Michael Kenna about this:

Mist is good to isolate trees of course, and here’s another attempt of mine:

David Taylor: Silver Birch | Lambert’s Castle Dorset | April 2015

A silver birch ‘quivering’ in the breeze that was present, along with the mist.

Sarah Woolfenden’s tree drawings are one her website:
https://www.sarahwoolfenden.co.uk/ with a list of galleries stocking her prints and cards.

Sarah Moon’s tree images were printed in ‘Ancient Trees-Portraits Of Time’ published by Abbeville Press.

Michael Kenn’s Kussharo Lake Tree was published in a book of that name, along with many others of the same tree taken over a number of years but it is old out. It was also included in ‘Forms Of Japan’ published by Prestel. Now that’s a book that every landscape photographer should own.

His 2016 Abuzzo pictures are in the book ‘Abruzzo’ published by Nazraeli Press.

He is represented in the UK by the gallery Huxley-Parlour and there is shortly to be an exhibition ‘A 45 year Odyssey Retrospective’ at the small Bosham Gallery on the Sussex coast, who I believe are now representing him as well. I wish I had the money for a few of Mr Kenna’s Limited Edition prints!

Michael sent me the following note regarding my queries about his two Abruzzo tree images:

Hi David,
Poplar Trees was probably made with the 250m lens. I don’t keep notes and freely move between lenses so I’m not 100% sure.
Stone Pine Tunnel – again probably 250m. Yes, the light at the top was being blocked by the tree canopy.

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BLOG POST 3 | March 23rd 2019 | Acknowledging your influences

We all have influences and it’s only fair to recognise them, but hopefully move on to produce your own work and certainly not copy others.

However sometimes it’s thrilling to get as close to those ‘influencers’ as possible and one way a photographer can do this is by standing in the same spot and seeing…and hopefully feeling…something akin to that felt by your hero sometime before.

One of my great influences is Michael Kenna and in 1986, Kenna was in Halifax and took a photo reproducing a well known image of Bill Brandt’s,’ A snicket in Halifax’ taken by Brandt in 1937.

Here’s Brandt’s image, taken from his book ‘Shadow Of Light’ (Gordon Fraser):

Bill Brandt: ‘A snicket in Halifax-1937.

Like all of the images in the book, it is printed extremely contrasty. Brandt certainly printed in a variety of ways in his life and certainly went for the ‘soot and whitewash’ look later on.

I like powerful dark images and Michael Kenna certainly does too. His version is different though and was obviously taken at night with street lamp illumination. Well I say obviously, but knowing Kenna that could be moonlight. With reflection I think it’s good that Kenna’s image doesn’t exactly mimic Brandt’s.

Michael Kenna: ‘Bill Brandt’s Snicket, Halifax, Yorkshire, England. 1986’

As you can see from the credit, this is taken by Kenna back in 1986 and appears in his book ‘ A 20 year Retrospective’ (Ambient Foto 2).

Like Michael I guess, I turned up in Halifax and thought I’d go looking for the ‘Snicket’. I found it at Dean Clough, where there are still many mills, now finding different uses.

I was thrilled to see that the cobbled pathway was still surviving and later when reviewing these images, to even see the same cobbles stones identifiable in both the 1937 and 1986 pictures…and there they were in my 2015 version. The handrail seems the same even. That mill though has had a good cleaning.

David Taylor: ‘Homage to Brandt, Halifax 2015’

I was lucky to get a rainy day, just like Brandt and could image him standing there, looking at a much more grimey mill building, with probably a Rollieflex in his hand. I don’t think Kenna had yet got around to using his Hasselblads, so perhaps a Nikon 35mm. My picture was on a Leica Monochrom. Wonderful camera…alas I couldn’t keep it!

Michael Kenna has been good at crediting his influences over the years, such as homages to Atget and Cartier Bresson and others. He learned from these guys and went on to forge a remarkable style of his own. Alas I see work from so many photographers that is influenced by him, but without any credit being given. Michael we do owe you so much.

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BLOG POST 2 | March 19th 2019 | Le Mont St. Michel – working a ‘location’

In the early summer of 2015 I took my dear little Toyota campervan to France.

I headed to Mont St. Michel on the Normandy coast and found a quiet parking spot on the west side, that looked out across the marshes to the Abbey of Mont St.Michel.

A heavy rain cloud produced this image.

Dawn and nightfall are as useful for monochrome photographers as for colour photographers and as night was falling I got this with some mist lying along the shore line and just after the Abbey illuminations came on.

On another day out on the marshes I walked past a young couple, who sat down and started kissing.

Well we all are envious of French lovers so I had to capture them.

I photographed from various locations for about 3 days before settling at another spot on the eastern side.

As the afternoon past I sneaked a picture of what looked to me like a French farmer, who chatted on his mobile phone with the Abbey in the background.

I was photographing with a Leica Monochrom camera at the time and having been taking landscapes on a tripod, the camera had a strong red filter on it. In a hurry to capture a picture, I left the filter on and quickly took another stop off the exposure, as the camera meter misread the red filter.

Not sure which image I prefer…but the red filter turned the red trousers and shirt that this guy wearing…into a much more interesting (for black and white)… white!
Alas I wasn’t clever enough to realise that until I’d got the picture on the computer!

Knowing that evening was a good time and liking this spot I headed off along the track shown above. A pretty long walk but eventually, when it was now really dark I was able to get the image I guess that I had been waiting for. You usually know when a picture is worthwhile as you press the button.

It is obviously made by the ‘searchlight effect’ from the lights. I love it’s simplicity and think that even my hero Michael Kenna, who famously photographed Mont St Michel back in the ’90s, would have been pleased with getting it.

I felt able to drive away from this location…well until the next time I’m in France when I’ll try for another good image of it.

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