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 www.michaelkenna.net and through numerous books available through Amazon.com 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.