Michael Kenna has been looking at landscapes and photographing them in ways quite out of the ordinary. In fact, a cursory glance at his work suffices to qualify it as extra-ordinary. From his early photographs of pastoral settings in Oxfordshire to his recent industrial images of the Rouge plant in Michigan, Kenna finds poetry in the landscape. This is a poetry that speaks in the most luminescent of terms, drawing us to his oeuvre.
When the artist began to photograph French gardens in the mid-1980s, his proclivity for poetics blossomed. This did not occur in the ordinary way, but rather with the same subtlety that characterizes all of his work. His palette remained serene, lyrical, and timeless, and yet these images of gardens suddenly constituted a new chapter in the poetics of Kenna’s landscapes.
Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles, Saint Germaine-en-Laye, Fountainbleau, Chantilly, Les Tuileries, Saint Cloud, Sceaux, Courances… These are the sites that comprise our itinerary, and they are the topic of Kenna’s excursions. Through his lens, the landscape is re-viewed. This act sets into motion the intricate system of visual enquiry. Surface and substance are re-surveyed. Depth and Volume are re-appraised. Foreground and background are re-framed. Due to this process of re-envisioning, a rich scenario unfolds in black and white tonalities that underscore the classic nature of the subject.This portfolio of Kenna’s photographs constitutes an elegant, articulate interpretation of Le Notre’s garden art. As such, it revives the places that his camera has brought into focus and restores them to the consciousness of yet another generation of viewers who long to become seers in the rich theater of these lasting landscapes.
Eric T. Haskell