Michael Kenna has been photographing trees for some fifty years. To celebrate this milestone in his career as a photographer, he put together select works in his book Arbres/Trees, just now published by Skira in Paris. We take this publication as an occasion to show some of his best photographs from this book in the gallery; at the exhibition’s opening, Michael Kenna will sign copies of his book.
His photographs, often taken at dusk or in the dark hours of the night, focus on the interaction between the natural landscape and structures created by humans. With long exposure times, his photographs capture essential things that only become visible over time.
Looking at a tree provides balance and relaxation. The trees photographed by Kenna are chance encounters. He describes them as his silent friends with whom he enjoys talking. In his approach, he is interested in seeing and ‘listening’ until their whole character unfolds before his eyes. The title of one of his photographs, Philosopher’s Tree, stands for this attitude. It is an encounter that is both physical as well as intellectual and aesthetic, and when the light is just right, beholding and photographing gain an almost metaphysical dimension.
Kenna keeps revisiting some of the trees, especially the Kussharo Lake Tree on the island Hokkaido in Japan, which he photographed regularly between 2002 and 2013. There are numerous studies about it, and by now, in Japan it is also known as ‘Michael Kenna’s Tree’. In 2013, the tree was cut down; a final photograph bears witness to this.
Time plays an important role in Kenn’s work, not just in his engagement with his themes, but also in the realisation of his works. He uses analogue photography, with the traditional medium of silver gelatin prints, and he is especially known for the intimate size of his photographs and the excellent hand-made prints that he produces in his own darkroom.
‘Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.’ (Michael Kenna)
Michael Kenna (born in Widnes, Lancashire, UK, in 1953) studied graphic design and art at the London College of Printing. After taking his degree, he went to the U.S., and from 1977 to 1985 he worked as an assistant to the photographer Ruth Bernhard in San Francisco. Today he lives in Seattle.
During his career spanning fifty years, his photographs have been shown in almost 500 solo shows and more than 400 group shows in galleries and museums around the globe, including only from 2020-2023 in the following institutions: Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy, France, Museum Kot-Deungg, Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do, South Korea, Columbia Museum of Art USA. Comprehensive retrospectives were shown in 2009 at the Bibliotheque national de France in Paris and in 2007 at the Shanghai Art Museum.
His work can be found in more than 100 permanent institutional collections in the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and other countries, including those of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Musée national d’Art moderne, Paris, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo. So far, 90 monographs and exhibition catalogues on Kenna’s work have been published.
21 October – 2 December 2023
Bleibtreustr. 48, 10623 Berlin