Michael Kennas first solo exhibition at AO Vertical Space Gallery
opened on Friday, June 20th. Titled CHINA, this exhibition highlights an impressive body of photographic work made in China by Michael Kenna between 2006 and 2014. The exhibition features the famous mountains and landscapes of Huangshan, Lijiang and Yuanyang as well as less known locations in Heliongjang, Xiapu and Yunnan. It includes work from the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, and locally from Hong Kong. Many of the images are compiled in Michael Kennas latest book project, also titled CHINA, recently published by Posts and Telecom Press, Beijing.
Michael Kenna is arguable todays most important landscape photographer. His timeless monochrome images capture the inner essence of natures beauty. Kenna filters reality through long time exposures, which create empty space, reminding us of Chinese ink paintings. When photographing, Kenna looks for simplicity of lines and interesting abstract forms. As per Kennas own words: I dont need to be fast, I dont need high definition, I dont need to see the world in colour - thats what we see all the time. I want my work to be mysterious, an interpretation, a catalyst for ones imagination.
Michael Kenna is one of those rare people who have resisted the fast pace dictated to us in todays rushed city life. Kenna prefers to take his time and work alone, slowly. He has been doing this for over forty years. When he explores a new location he never knows ahead of time how long he will be there: a few minutes, some hours or days. He often returns to the same place repeatedly over a long period of time. As Kenna says: Its like connecting with a friend; you never know how long a conversation will last and which area the conversation will go into. This attitude extends to his working method in the darkroom. Kenna still works in analogue only. He photographs primarily with Hasselblad film cameras and spends hours in the darkroom developing the perfect photographic print as if he was chiseling a sculpture. The resulting atmospheric imagery expresses a unique zen-like tranquility.
Initially influenced by the European masters Bill Brandt, Eugene Atget and Josef Sudek, Kenna has been photographing in Asia since the mid eighties, particularly in Japan, and more recently in China, India, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. He admits to being strongly influenced by the sense of serenity and calmness in the Asian landscape. It harkens back to the essence of haiku poetry, the power of suggestion over description. Ive also looked at Asian calligraphy and traditional sumi-e paintings. These artworks have been very influential. My style has grown increasingly more minimal and sparse.
Michael Kennas exhibition offers a refreshing escape from our pressured city life and encourages the viewer to slow down and take some time to absorb the spirituality and beauty of what is around us.
Michael Kenna was born in 1953 in Widnes, Lancashire, England, just 12 miles from Liverpool. At the young age of 10 he felt a calling to a more ascetic life and his parents enrolled him at nearby St Josephs College, Upholland. This was a junior seminary school and Michael trained to be a Catholic priest until he was 18. Spirituality and meditation were important parts of his education. Reaching puberty age, Michael realised the life of a celibate priest was not his vocation. He continued his studies at the Banbury School of Art (1972-73) and finally graduated in photography at the London College of Printing (1973-1976).
In 1976 he first experienced the art gallery scene in New York and a few years later he moved from the UK to San Francisco where, for a while, he took any job he could to survive. However, he particularly enjoyed his years assisting the famous West Coast photographer Ruth Bernhard. Kenna spent numerous hours working with her and learning from her to perfect the craft of analogue printing.
A breakthrough happened in 1981 when he received the Imogen Cunningham Award and subsequently sold out a major exhibition at The Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco. Since then, there have been close to 400 solo exhibitions of Michael Kennas work in galleries and museums throughout the world. Kenna has had over 50 books published on his work and has won numerous awards including the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture, France. His limited edition fine art photographic prints are in the permanent collections of such important institutions as the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., (USA), the National Museum of Modern Art, Paris, (France), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, (England), the Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, (China), the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, (Japan) and many others.
Michael Kenna currently resides in Seattle, Washington, USA.