Passing Time: Seven Years of Michael Kenna’s Kussharo Lake Tree
13th October 2021
British photographer, Michael Kenna, resonates with the aesthetic, poignant and transcendent qualities of natural landscapes, which he attempts to encapsulate in his emotive black and white photographs. Kenna favours long exposure times and tends to shoot in extreme weather conditions to shroud the specifics of the landscape before him, instead focussing on the ambience, delicacy and tonal forms in his works: “I prefer suggestion over description.”
Kenna’s unique approach to photography reaches its height with his soulful images of the Kussharo Lake Tree. From 2002 until 2009, he immortalized the same tree in Japan, finding beauty in its curious yet powerfully graceful shape. Time is a running theme in the works of Michael Kenna, for 45 years he has worked solely with film, preferring its results over the digital. This is exemplified in the way he portrayed Kussharo Lake Tree and its changing existence over the years, leading the viewer to consider and confront the passing of time.
Kenna, when discussing his experience with this infamous subject has said, ‘I was most fortunate to have a serendipitous meeting with a glorious Japanese Oak on the banks of Kussharo Lake in Hokkaido, Japan…I have photographed countless trees, but this one had a special character’. This mentioned character is what drew Kenna back to the same place, capturing the inevitable changes that happened over the years, and yet its power was never wavering, even after its demise it stayed resilient and elegant in its presence, both in nature and Kenna’s life.
To achieve the fragile and wraithlike natural light that emanates throughout these images, Kenna often photographed at dawn or dusk. Each photograph takes time and care to realise, ‘I don’t do any elaborate preparation before I go to a location. I walk, explore and photograph. I never know whether I will be there minutes, hours or days.’ This style is an important source of evoking feelings of stillness and silence in his work, exemplified in this Kussharo Lake Tree series. The images are incredibly tranquil, the tree is placed amongst an unknown landscape, the long exposure evoking slight motion in the surrounding environment and yet it remains perfectly still. Throughout the images we see it gain a more anthropomorphic stance, resisting the wind, its branches standing out in sharp relief against the snow. Aptly named ‘Kenna’s Tree’, this personable character is what Kenna originally saw in this tree, returning to it as if returning to a dear friend, even after it has gone.
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.Artist Page
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