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Michael Kenna – Hokkaido

I recently acquired a copy of Michael Kenna’s book Hokkaido by Nazraeli Press.  I have to say that this book is at the moment the most beautifully published Photo Book (both in printing and packaging) that I currently own.  The book features 84 photographs Kenna took in Hokkaido.  The photographs are printed on a heavy, uncoated Japanese paper using special black inks and bound between two thin maple wooden boards with a cloth spine.  The size of the book is abount 12 x 13″ and housed in a special slipcase.  The book opens with an introduction by Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama whose own Hokkaido work was recently featured in one of my blog posts.

I first came across Kenna’s work in 2005.  I was at a stage where most of the Photo Books that I purchased or browsed through at the bookshops and libraries were the works of documentary photographers/photojournalists.  I simply was not interested in landscape photography.  I respected and admired the work of the great landscape photographers like Ansel Adams but as a photographer, landscape photography just did not seem like my kind of thing.  I was more interested in people photography.  I love black and white photographs and I remember coming across a copy of Kenna’s Ratcliffe Power Station.  The book featured a collection of 49 black and white photographs of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station located in Nottinghamshire, England.  It really surprised me to find the photographs of an industrial Power Station to be extremely beautiful and haunting.  I found myself studying the photographs in the book and was constantly drawn to Kenna’s work thereafter.  I thought to myself then that if I ever decided to take photographs of landscapes (whether natural or industrial), this would be the kind of look and feel or mood that I would like to achieve.

Fast forward to 2010 when I went to see an exhibition of Kenna’s Japan work at the MIYANOMORI ART MUSEUM in Sapporo.  Before this, I had only seen a couple of his Japan photographs so this was my first real introduction to seeing his Japan body of work.  The original prints displayed were split up into 2 sections, those taken in Hokkaido and those taken in the other parts of Japan.  My wife and I spent over an hour walking through the quiet gallery.  The quietness and solitude of Kenna’s photographs made the visit an extremely enjoyable one and I was really glad that we went out of our way to see it.

In Hokkaido, Kenna has used the sparse landscape of Hokkaido greatly to his advantage.  Often shooting in harsh winter conditions, he has created beautiful, minimalistic, abstract photographs that exude the essence of the Hokkaido landscape.  There is an excellent short documentary film, Michael Kenna’s Hokkaido produced by The Joy of Giving Something on his website featuring him shooting in Hokkaido as well as talking about his approach to photography.  Both the book and the documentary film are highly recommended.

I cannot exactly put my finger on it, but there is something really special about the Japanese landscape (especially in Hokkaido) that I have not encountered anywhere else in my travels.  My ongoing Silent Japan body of work was my first foray into landscape photography and has to some degree been unconsciously influenced by Kenna’s overall body of work but at the same time it is still inherently ‘me’.  I know during my visits to Japan, that initially, I did not consciously go with the intention of making landscape photographs.  The Japanese landscape has just simply over time somehow drawn out the landscape photographer in me.  Last year, at the end of my Silent Japan exhibition, a friend who had previously only seen my travel and documentary photography work, said to me, “After all these years, you are still taking the same kind of ‘moody’ images!”.  I took it as a compliment that though the subject changes (e.g. people vs nature), the style and mood of my photographs generally do not.

Japan continues to hold a special place in my heart and I hope that I will have many more opportunities to visit the land (especially in winter)!

Hokkaido is available from Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK).