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Michael Kenna

Press release

Michael Kenna – Rafu

Being familiar as I am with Michael Kenna’s beautiful landscape photographs of Japan, particularly the austere but sublime ones of Hokkaido, I saw in these photographs of nude Japanese women, almost by association, a treatment of the body as landscape. Just as in the photographs of nature, he always seems to seek out and find the subtlest abstract values in isolated forms and through various perspectives generated by strong contrasts between darkness and light – between the darkness of the tree’s bark and the snow saturated by sunlight –, Kenna, this time, in this series of nudes, offers us imaginative figurative ‘landscapes’ through the reshaping of the body in various poses and through the artificial manipulation of light in the studio, generating abstract forms that seem to glow in the ever-deepening shadows, but from inside.

However, in Kenna’s work, it is not just a matter of ‘reshaping’ the body as if it were merely a piece of clay or a matter of ‘manipulation’ as in tricking the light into achieving certain effects. There is a tenderness and a sense of discretion at work here that allows these women to function not merely as Subjects but as Women unfolding the shapes of their own bodies. Some of them are solemn, some playfully surrealistic (seemingly referencing Man Ray’s photographs), and others simply veer off into the purest sublimations of the body.

Their beauty is both undeniable and imaginative. As is Kenna’s signature in all his work, he leaves us wanting to go to the ‘places’ he visits, even where sometimes those places, those summits and valleys, are so intimate and sublime, so abstract and yet so profoundly and poignantly specific, they seem utterly unapproachable.
— Richard Milazzo
Michael Kenna is particularly famous for the intimate scale of his photography and his meticulous printing. He works in a traditional, non-digital photographic medium. His intimate, exquisitely hand crafted black and white prints reflect a sense of refinement, respect for history, and thorough originality.