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.
Long may he keep it up.