Inspiration Monday: Michael Kenna

(c) Brian E. Miller Photography 2010

This is the second post in my new series entitled “Inspiration Mondays,” a series where I explore, review, and present an artist, a piece of work, an approach that inspires me to pursue my artistic work.  Last week I wrote a short piece about my good friend Nancy Newell and received lots of good feedback so I hope this post enthuses people much the same way.  For this post I have chosen someone I do not know personally and who has made quite a career being a photographer: Michael Kenna.

I was first introduced to Michael’s work quite by accident.  A friend’s neighbor was a photographer and was moving and giving away boxes of books.  My friend asked if I would like the photography books and I think I quite literally shrugged, saying “sure, why not?”  I received lots of old photoshop tutorials, books on film processing, and a bunch of what looks like run-of-the-mill old photographer’s books.  Upon discarding the obsolete items I settled on flipping through some of the photography books to see what I could see and learn what I could.  One of them, it turned out, was a book of Michael Kenna’s well known collection of black and white night images entitled “Night Walk.”  I had never thought of photographing industrial buildings, gondola peers, and smokestacks as particularly enticing but here I was staring in wonder at just such images.  They are strange and moody and  ethereal.  The long nighttime exposures allow clouds and fog and gondolas on the water to create beautifully blurred forms.  This approach de-realizes aspects of the images, creating ghostly areas.  This, I realized, was art.  Michael Kenna was not just taking pictures in the way that I was.  He was making pictures in studied and conscientious way.  I had never even conceptualized using the camera in this way.  And to be honest, I have a hard time remembering to do so even now.

The very next day I came across a link to a video on a blog I was following asking if we, the reader, had the same passion about photography and making art as the man in video.  It took about two minutes for me to realize that the man in the video was the same man from the book I had read, and it took me about another minute to just love his work.  And it took me less than another minute to decide to buy a tripod.  Check out the video; check out his work.

To me there is something serene and meditative about Michael’s approach.  He possesses a patience, it seems, born of many years spent making images that require lots of time spent outdoors, at odd hours.  I just love how he is able to reduce an environment to just a few necessary elements, wait for the right light, shoot it, refine it, shoot it again.

I am continually inspired by Michael’s video and by his images.  They remind me of the importance of mood, tone, and especially form in a photograph.  They inspire me to move away from the “snapshot” that first captured my imagination in photography and to move toward a more conscious and otherworldly aspect of photographic artistry.

Michael’s work can be found in his galleries on his website and through numerous books available through and other booksellers.  While you are at it, make a point to look at his commercial work.  I find it amazing how mainstream companies fit his work into their advertising.

Oh, and don’t contact me to see if I am willing to sell my copy of Night Walks; I think I am keeping it.

This entry was posted in Inspiration Mondays, Monochrome. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Inspiration Monday: Michael Kenna

  1. Steph says:

    Oooooo……how pretty 🙂

  2. Steph says:

    And yes, I read your article too :p I don’t only look at the pictures LOL

  3. elaine says:

    I love the video … what a glorious peek into Michael’s world. His photos are breathtaking… and are inspiring…

  4. Sara says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, Brian!

  5. he’s all kinds of awesome. thanks for the link!

  6. Amy Zampella says:

    amazing, I can see why you admire Michael Kenna.

  7. Tom says:

    Wow, that’s some beautiful work! Thanks for featuring this artist, Brian. I could spend hours looking at his photos.

    • Brian Miller says:

      You’re welcome Tom. I’m glad you like his stuff. And I agree with you, hours and hours!! And then more hours trying to emulate him. And then more hours trying to incorporate what I learn from his style into a style of my own! (I need more hours in the day…;-)

  8. You totally rock! The thing I love about you mostest (well besides your beautiful bride, gorgeous son, and new baby on the way…oh, and Flynn too) is that when you get inspired, you do something aboutl it. You read/watch/listen to things that make a difference and then you go right out and challenge yourself in doing something that makes you think and work at getting the end result you have in your mind. YOU are an inspiration to me and I want to be like you when I grow up.


  9. Pingback: Inspiration Monday: Bruce Percy; a photographic passion for people and place | LomiMonk Photography

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