Again and again Michael Kenna has taken us to places we know: Stonehenge, Versailles, Japan, power plants, piers, beaches, kindergarten classrooms, and so forth. But when we arrive there with him, we feel we did not know those places at all. We realize that we are in the midst of a revelation—that he is showing us something more essential than we had previously recognized was there. That, of course, is the job of the artist, but few do it. And few are capable of doing it because original in-sight is uncommon. Those who have it possess a special genius. In photography we expect it and see it more often in portraiture than in landscapes… The great portraitists know how to emphasize or exaggerate what a face holds so that in the presence, for example, of an August Sander or Richard Avedon portrait we read far more than lust, sympathy, or revulsion into the countenance. We think we read a soul, whether we actually do or not.
But how does one catch the soul of a place? What is it that Michael Kenna does to a place, a place we may know well, that makes us seem to see it for the first time? As a photographic critic, it is my responsibility to try to explain such things, but in this instance I cannot. Kenna has mystified me for years…