Towards the Heavens: Light and Cloud in Michael Kenna’s Huangshan Mountains
11th August 2021
Translating to ‘Yellow Mountain’, the Huangshan mountain range in eastern China is believed to have been named after the ‘Yellow Emperor’, Huang Di, who, according to ancient legend, rose to heaven there in 747 AD. Surrounded by ‘seas of clouds’ and spoken about in tales of healing hot springs, the Chinese landscape is, understandably, a heavily visited tourist destination and a popular subject in Chinese art and literature.
Michael Kenna’s photographs of the Huangshan mountains seem to signify a biblical presence. Typically of the artist, the series is shot in black and white, accentuating the contrast between the light which floods through cracks in the clouds and the consuming depths of the mountain’s crevices. Each image captures the grandeur of Huangshan from a different angle and together, the series presents a landscape which is seemingly endless. In Huangshan Mountains Study 62 (2008), the viewer is drawn into the expansive mountain range by the slowly disappearing skyline. The photograph captures a point in the landscape where the masses of rock part and beams of light break through the clouds, alluding to some kind of heavenly opening. The rays of sunlight rest between the jagged rocks, casting light on something hidden amongst the mountains, out of reach to the viewer.
Consisting of forty-six photographs, Michael Kenna’s Huangshan series was created over a period of three years, during which he revisited the mountain range multiple times. In an interview, Kenna discusses the relationship between the photographer and the subject and how each evolve over time. He describes the first encounter as ‘skimming off the cream’, enabling him to produce more intimate and ‘less obvious’ pictures the second time round. His photographs can be regarded as a meditation on the relationship between humans and the natural world. Capturing a landscape so isolated from modern society, Kenna’s pictures of the Huangshan mountain range seem to reground and reaffirm nature’s autonomy.
The ArtistMichael Kenna is one of the most acclaimed landscape photographers of his generation. His photographs have been the subject of some 50 monographs and are held in the collections of over 100 museums worldwide. He is represented in the United Kingdom by Huxley-Parlour Gallery.rnrnArtist Page