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MICHAEL KENNA, FINDING EXTRAORDINARY IN THE ORDINARY
There is nothing particularly extraordinary about the locations in which Michael Kenna chooses to work. In fact many of the locations he photographs in are quite ordinary. Areas that other photographers would perhaps overlook. But that is the talent of Michael Kenna. To seek out the extraordinary, to reveal the hidden beauty in everyday places.
Michael Kenna has himself said ‘For me, approaching subject matter to photograph is a bit like meeting a person and beginning a conversation. How do I know ahead of time where that will lead? Curiosity is important. So is a willingness to be patient, to allow a subject matter to reveal itself.’
MEETING MICHAEL KENNA
In 2013 I attended a photography conference in Hobart, Tasmania which was hosted by the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers. Michael Kenna was a guest speaker at this annual photography conference. I was enthralled, by both the man and his images. Although he did not share much of his personal work he did speak of his early years, growing up in England, and shooting life around him, all on black and white film. The images he shared were extraordinary. Life’s moments captured with clarity and great empathy.
I later spoke with Michael. Listening to him speak, his quiet demeanour was clearly evident and it is this quality, which is so evident in each and every one of his images. It came as no surprise to learn that he originally aspired to enter the priesthood.
He went on to share some images from his commercial shoots. Kenna has shot for Adidas, Audi, Bank of America, Beringer, BMW, British Rail, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, HSBC, Jeep Chrysler, Landrover, Maserati, Mercedes, Moet and Chandon, Rolls Royce. The list goes on and on. In each and every image his distinctively quiet style shining through.
Kenna is particularly well known for his landscapes of Hokkaido, Japan a country which he has visited extensively. Many photographers visit Hokkaido with a vision of capturing their own Kenna image.
SO CAN MY ORDINARY IMAGES BY EXTRAORDINARY?
One of the reasons I enjoy looking at the work of other photographers is not to copy their style but to compare elements. You cannot create powerful images based on someone else’s success. Each photographer must have their own accent. That ‘je ne sais quoi’.
Kenna says of himself and his images that “Patterns, shapes, and graphics attract me. Drama, atmosphere, mystery, beauty. Elements, weather conditions, movement. Character, memories, traces. It's a matter of personal connection and resonance.’
In fact I believe that it’s more about the personal connection and resonance than any of the other elements. This is why his images are so extraordinary. They reflect so much of the man himself.
Looking at Kenna’s recent work there has been a move from pure landscape to the human form. As always he still employs the use of patterns and shapes, and the mystery and beauty of which he speaks. I personally find these evocative images significantly more dynamic than his landscapes.
What Kenna doesn’t speak of is his choice to shoot all of his personal work on black & white film. Kenna is fortunate to have worked with film for years. He has an innate understanding of the medium. I myself, although trained with slide film, have only come to black and white film recently. It has however taught me to appreciate the nuances of tone and enhanced my love of all of Kenna’s work.
And so next time I am dreaming of travelling to far flung destinations in search of something amazing to capture, I must remember that there is much around me which has not been explored. Perhaps I will take myself and my camera out to an ordinary place, and be curious. Spend a little time meditating with my thoughts. Surely it will only be a matter of patience before the extraordinary will appear.