Back in the 80’s Camera magazine that was, for me at least, a compulsory purchase. As its name suggests, it carried a camera review or two, and usually a technique section. The one thing it excelled at though was the presentation of portfolios, usually from an acknowledged master of the craft, an up-and-coming star and a talented non-professional. It was here that I first saw the mesmerizing night-time images from Michael Kenna, as the ‘rising star’ portfolio. Shortly after I bought a slim softback copy of Night Walk, a collection of nocturnal images shot on 35mm film. Since then, Kenna’s star has continued to rise, to the point that he is one of today’s undoubted masters, and a feature on Michael Kenna will always be the main billing in any journal.
Bill Brandt's Snicket, Halifax, England 1986 © Michael Kenna
Today, Kenna’s bibliography is longer than most photographers, and each new addition to the library is eagerly snapped up by avid collectors. To date, his principal publisher, Nazraeli, has produced two major retrospectives of his work, in 1991 & 2004. Images of the Seventh Day is a catalogue to accompany an exhibition of Kenna’s work held in Reggio Emilia, Italy in 2010. As such it makes a new retrospective that includes many of his most famous images from the past as well as some of the best of his most recent work. In some ways, the composition of the book is like one of those ‘Best of’ CD compilations, where the collection of old favourites is fleshed out with a few new tracks in an attempt to make the completist fan purchase the new product. In the case of this book, it looks like Kenna has taken a commission of the area of Reggio Emilia in Italy and this has been appended to the ‘retrospective’ section. No matter, the new Italian pictures are very beautiful and well worth seeing.
|Light over Dinard, St Malo, Brittany, France 1993 © Michael Kenna|
The book is beautifully printed in duotone and the images are rich, clear and show the work well. The layout is appealing and well paced, from large single images to small multiple images on the page. In all the layout of the pictures is excellent and it is a joy to read through the book. The images are of course, classic Kenna. Always beautiful, simple clean geometries, often wide angle, often long time exposure, and since about 1987 always square format and always monochrome. His style and approach has been widely copied and imitated to the point that it has almost became a cliché, such as jetties and piers stretching out into smooth blurred water at night. To my eyes there is something about the simplicity and elegance to Kenna’s work that elevates it above the other pretenders. The book covers many of his key projects – Early British power stations, French formal gardens, the Rouge Steel works, Easter Island, Japan in winter, lace makers. Some projects are missing, such as the series on Concentration Camps for example. But overall, this is a comprehensive compendium of Kenna’s work and is very enjoyable.
|Island Shrine, Taisha, Honshu, Japan 2001 © Michael Kenna|
The one area in which the book does fall down however is the accompanying text. There are three essays which are meant to illuminate the images, but all fail to do so. Originally written in Italian, the text is terribly translated, appears to be pretentiously arty-farty, and is completely indecipherable. I gave up on all three essays; my time was better spent looking at the images, which in contrast are clear, lucid and intelligible.
I would recommend this book to anyone who admires the work of Michael Kenna but does not have many of his previous tomes. Kenna’s books are usually quite expensive and sell out quite quickly, so at a around £30 currently available from Amazon and Beyond Words, this is a book that you should get before the opportunity is lost.