Michael Kenna’s best-known photographs are iconic: ethereal landscape studies that seem untethered by time, steeped in a spiritual sense of place. Memories and Meditations: A Retrospective of Michael Kenna’s Photography at Tacoma Art Museum is a two-part tribute to this internationally acclaimed artist with a career spanning more than 30 years. Part one is a crowd-pleasing exhibition that includes several of his widely admired, ineffably serene landscapes (including the above); part two, opening January 11 through March 24, 2013, will introduce a different aspect of Kenna’s work, including his documentation of European sites and the concentration camps of World War II.
The TAM show is the first retrospective of Kenna’s work in almost 20 years. The current exhibit focuses on Asia but includes surprises such as textured and energetic photographs from Detroit to Easter Island. A constant thread is the lack of people in Kenna’s frame; as he said at a recent TAM lecture: “I like the idea that we can take a solitary walk and allow our minds to wander”; and his uninhabited studies invite such expansiveness in the viewer. He is known for putting long camera exposures – sometimes up to 10 hours – to brilliant effect, recording whatever passes before his viewfinder. His unique visual style requires patience, and the resulting images evoke a sense of sublimity, even when the subject matter is a nuclear plant (above, also in part one of the exhibition).
The photographs on exhibit at TAM are surprisingly small; a decision which he explains requires the viewer to draw in close, creating an intimacy with the image. Kenna does all his own darkroom printing of sepia-tone silver gelatin prints. He is known to return to certain locales over several years, recording the changes that have occurred.
The photographer’s work explores the connections between time, history and geography; an investigation that will continue in the second part of the TAM rotation opening January 11. Photographs such as Chariot of Apollo, Study 1, Versailles, France; and SS Guard House, (Death Gate), Birkenau, Poland; communicate the dark impulses that have forged European history. Continue reading