Michael Kenna

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Michael Kenna (born 1953) 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.

All works are available for purchase – please click on an image for further information.

Works

Twelve Hours over Sea of Okhotsk, Wakkanai, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Corno Grande Reflection, Campo Imperatore, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Ponte San Niccolo, Firenze, Italy, 1998

Michael Kenna

Eighteen Birds, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Night Docking Poles, Venice, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Triangle Gathering, Higashiura, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Philosopher’s Tree, Study 1, Biei, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

House Backs, Blackburn, Lancashire, England, 1984

Michael Kenna

Quiet Snow, Biei, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Lake Bridge, Hongkun, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Kussharo Lake Tree, Study No 6, Kotan, Hokkaido, Japan, 2007

Michael Kenna

Lone Tree, Bibaushi, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Structure and Thirty Six Posts, Lake Biwa, Honshu, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Lijiang River, Study No 5, Guilin, China, 2006

Michael Kenna

Nandaro Box, Nayoro, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Kurosawa’s Trees, Study 1, Memanbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Skyline, Study 3, Shanghai, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Single Boat, Kerala, Backwaters, India, 2008

Michael Kenna

Asparagus Sticks, Study 2, Biei, Hokkaido, Japan, 2007

Michael Kenna

Plane and Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil, 2006

Michael Kenna

Full Moonrise, Chausey Islands, France, 2007

Michael Kenna

Woodpile, Karlstejn, Czechoslovakia, 1990

Michael Kenna

Kussharo Lake Tree, Study No 8, Hokkaido, Japan, 2008

Michael Kenna

Hillside Fence, Study 4, Teshikaga, Hokkaido, Japan, 2008

Michael Kenna

Hermitage and Frozen Neva, Study 1, St Petersburg, Russia, 1999

Michael Kenna

Don Quixote’s Giants, Study 5, Campo De Criptana, La Mancha, Spain, 1996

Michael Kenna

Teotihuacan, Study 1, Mexico, 2006

Michael Kenna

Mussel Posts, Chausey Islands, France, 2007

Michael Kenna

Shellfish Walls, Chausey Islands, France, 2007

Michael Kenna

Tree and Mountain, Suizenji Joju-En Garden, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Winter Seascape, Wakkanai, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Ratcliffe Power Station, Study 46, Nottinghamshire, England, 2003

Michael Kenna

Midtown From Downtown, New York, Usa, 1998

Michael Kenna

Hillside Fence, Study 5, Teshikaga, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Don Quixote’s Giants, Study 8, Consuegra, La Mancha, Spain, 1996

Michael Kenna

Hillside Fence, Study 3, Teshikaga, Hokkaido, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Frozen Landscape, Teshikaga, Hokkaido, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

White Goose Pathway, Huangshan Mountains, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Tower Bridge, London, England, 2007

Michael Kenna

Snow Fence, Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Afternoon Light, Shibeca, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Five Trees, Toya Lake, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Filey Early Warning Station, Yorkshire, England, 1981

Michael Kenna

Taushubetsu Bridge, Nukabira, Hokkaido, Japan, 2008

Michael Kenna

Stark Outlook, Kucharo Lake, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Topiary and Column, Northamptonshire, England, 2005

Michael Kenna

Graceful Oak, Broughton, Oxfordshire, England, 2005

Michael Kenna

Charles Bridge, Study No 9, Prague, Czech Republic, 2007

Michael Kenna

Matin Blanc, Blue Beach, Nice, France, 1997

Michael Kenna

Tranquil Boat, Grand Canal, Versailles, France, 1996

Michael Kenna

Bamboo Harbor Guides, Study 2, Hinagu, Kyushu, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Torii Gate, Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Moonlit Path, Vezelay, Bourgogne, France, 1998

Michael Kenna

Four Birds, St Nazaire, France, 2000

Michael Kenna

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England, 1990

Michael Kenna

Night Shadows, St Malo, France, 2000

Michael Kenna

Channel Crossing, Calais, France, 1997

Michael Kenna

Asparagus Sticks, Study 1, Biei, Hokkaido, Japan, 2007

Michael Kenna

Basilica Di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy, 1980

Michael Kenna

Campo San Vio Viewpoint, Grand Canal, Venice, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Fishing Nets, Smarlacca, Veneto, Italy, 2006

Michael Kenna

Giza Pyramids, Study 5, Cairo, Egypt, 2009

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains, Study 42, Anhui, China, 2010

Michael Kenna

Lijiang River, Study 4, Guilin, China, 2006

Michael Kenna

Night Lights, Rio De Janiero, Brazil, 2009

Michael Kenna

Perspective of Trees, Tsarskoe Selo, Russia, 1999

Michael Kenna

Reflected Tree, Hongkun, Anhui, China, 2007

Michael Kenna

Seaweed Beds, Jeung-Do, Shinan, South Korea, 2012

Michael Kenna

Seven Posts in Snow, Rumoi, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Six Gondolas, Giadini Ex Reali, Venice, Italy, 1980

Michael Kenna

Skyline, Study 3, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2009

Michael Kenna

Charles Bridge Study No 10, Prague, Czech Republic, 2007

Michael Kenna

Manhattan Bridge, Study 1, New York, USA, 2006

Michael Kenna

Tea Estates, Study 1, Kerala, India, 2008

Michael Kenna

Winding Wall, Mont St Michel, France, 2004

Michael Kenna

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Study 1, Bordeaux, France, 2012

Michael Kenna

Sadakichi’s Docks, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan, 2012

Michael Kenna

Andaman Sea, Study 1, Thailand, 2012

Michael Kenna

Floating Seaweed, Jeung-Do, Shinan, South Korea, 2012

Michael Kenna

Alley of Trees, Damyang, Jeollanamado, South Korea, 2012

Michael Kenna

Corridor of Leaves, Guastalla, Emilia Romagna, Italy, 2006

Michael Kenna

Sixty Trees, Nakafurano, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Yuanyang, Study 1, Yunnan, China, 2014

Michael Kenna

Yuanyang, Study 5, Yunnan, China, 2013

Michael Kenna

Kussharo Lake Tree, Study 10, Kotan, Hokkaido, Japan, 2005

Michael Kenna

Maple Tree In Autumn, Kyoto, Honshu, Japan, 2001

Michael Kenna

Snow On Pebbles, Toya Lake, Hokkaido, Japan, 2009

Michael Kenna

Mt Shari, Abashiri, Hokkaido, Japan, 2013

Michael Kenna

Andaman Sea, Study 1, Thailand, 2012

Michael Kenna

Three Trees At Dusk, Fain Les Moutiers, Bourgogne, France, 2013

Michael Kenna

Le Desert De Retz, Study 8, Chambourcy, Yvelines, France, 1988

Michael Kenna

Le Desert De Retz, Study 21, Chambourcy, Yvelines, France, 1988

Michael Kenna

Cours La Reine, Paris, France, 1987

Michael Kenna

Tree, Seine and Quai Voltaire, Paris, France, 2013

Michael Kenna

Octagonal Basin, Parc De Sceaux, Hauts-De-Seine, France, 1996

Michael Kenna

Pebbles and Beach House, Cayeux-Sur-Mer, Picardie, France, 2009

Michael Kenna

Eighteen Hedges, Versailles, France, 1998

Michael Kenna

Pont Des Arts, Study 3, Paris, France, 1987

Michael Kenna

Ault Cliffs, Study 1, Picardy, France, 2009

Michael Kenna

Axial Panorama, Sceaux, France, 1990

Michael Kenna

Bassin De Latone, Versailles, France, 1997

Michael Kenna

Diving Boards and Cruise Ship, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France, 1997

Michael Kenna

Falaise D’aval Et Nuages, Etretat, Haute-Normandie, France, 2000

Michael Kenna

Five Canopies, Chausey Islands, France, 2007

Michael Kenna

French Canal, Study 2, Loir-Et-Cher, France, 1993

Michael Kenna

Jardin Des Plantes, Study 1, Paris, France, 1988

Michael Kenna

Lace Factories, Study 2, Calais, France, 1987

Michael Kenna

Lace Factories, Study 5, Calais, France, 1998

Michael Kenna

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Study 2, Bordeaux, France, 2012

Michael Kenna

Early Morning Storm, Calais, Pas-De-Calais, France, 1998

Michael Kenna

Fountain Of Flora, Versailles, France 1988

Michael Kenna

Invitation To Prayer, Mont St. Michel, France, 1994

Michael Kenna

Lace Factories, Study 17, Calais, France, 1997

Michael Kenna

Mont St. Michel, Normandy, France, 1991

Michael Kenna

Night Landscape, Hautvillers, France, 2001

Michael Kenna

Pebble Beach, Ault, Picardy, France, 2009

Michael Kenna

Pont De La Tournelle, Paris, France, 1995

Michael Kenna

Reflecting Trees, Saint Valery Sur Somme, France, 2009

Michael Kenna

Rising Tide, Ault, Picardy, France, 2009

Michael Kenna

Saint-Michel D’aiguilhe, Le Puy-En-Velay, Auvergne, France, 2013

Michael Kenna

Seven Pollarded Trees, Chapaize, Bourgogne, France, 1998

Michael Kenna

Soiree, Beau Rivage, Nice, France, 1996

Michael Kenna

Window and Vines, Abbaye De Fontenay, Bourgogne, France, 2013

Michael Kenna

Window View, Chateau D’haroue, Lorraine, France, 2013

Michael Kenna

Passy Metro, Paris, 1991

Michael Kenna

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Study 6, Bordeaux, France, 2012

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 4, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 8, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 9, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 17, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 25, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 27, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 28, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 47, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Afternoon Light, Shibeca, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Seven Posts In Snow, Rumoi, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Sheltered Cove, Tojimbo, Honshu, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Sakurajima Volcano, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Chikui Cape Trees, Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan, 2002

Michael Kenna

Above The Clouds, Campo Imperatore, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Capodacqua Lake, Capestrano, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Castle and Sky, Calascio, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Cemetery Statue, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Distant Mountains, Passo Delle Cappanelle, Pizzoli, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Gathering Clouds, Casoli, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Gibbous Moon, Lake Campotosto, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Illuminated Statue Of Mary, Gesu E Maria, Pescocostanzo, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Moon Set, Lake Campotosto, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Morning Clouds, Pacentro, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Persimmon Tree, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Poplar Trees, Fucino, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Thin Cloud, Campo Imperatore, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Tree and Gran Sasso, Castilenti, Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 6, Chiesa Di Sant’andrea, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2008

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 9, Chiesa Di San Matteo Apostolo, Rossena, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2008

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 13, Chiesa Dei Santi Giacomo E Filippo Apostoli, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 22, Chiesa Di San Giovanni Evangelista In Santo Stefano Protomartire, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 25, Chiesa Dell’immacolata, Concezione, Pieve Rossa, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2008

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 26, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta, Toano, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2008

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 40, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta Nella Cattedrale, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 49, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta, Minozzo, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 45, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta, Gombio, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 52, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta, Minozzo, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 53, Chiesa Di San Michele Arcangelo, Roncaglio Di Canossa, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 55, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta, Felina, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 56, Chiesa Di San Bartolomeo Apostolo, Casina, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 68, Chiesa Di San Filippo Neri, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 70, Chiesa Di San Rocco, Villarotta, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 74, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Nascente, Brescello, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 3, Chiesa Di Sant’andrea, Gualtieri, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2008

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 4, Chiesa Di Santo Stefano (Detta Collegiata), Novellara, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 18, Chiesa Di Santi Pietro Apostolo E Prospero Vescovo, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 35, Basilica Della Beata Vergine Della Ghiara, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 36, Basilica Della Beata Vergine Della Ghiara, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 30, Chiesa Di San Giorgio, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 6, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Si Ma Tai Great Wall, Bejing, China. 2007

Michael Kenna

Thirty Bottles Of Wine, Pietrantonj Cantina, Vittorito, Abruzzo, Italy. 2016

Michael Kenna

Vineyard and Stone Pine Tree, Cepagatti, Abruzzo, Italy. 2016

Michael Kenna

Kussharo Lake Tree, Study 12, Kotan, Hokkaido, Japan. 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains, Study No 11, Anhui, China. 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains, Study No 1, Anhui, China. 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains Study 62, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Huangshan Mountains, Study 13, Anhui, China, 2008

Michael Kenna

Stone Pine Tunnel, Pento, Abruzzo, Italy, 2016

Michael Kenna

White Copse, Study 3, Wakkanai, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004

Michael Kenna

Confessional, Study 1, Chiesa Dei San Pietro Apostolo E Prospero Vescovo, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2007

Michael Kenna

Chrysler Building, Study 3, New York, USA, 2006

Michael Kenna

East 40th Street, New York, USA, 2006

Michael Kenna

Midtown Twilight, New York, New York, USA, 2006

Michael Kenna

Homage to Kertész, Gramercy Park, New York, USA, 2003

Michael Kenna

Flatiron Building, Study 2, New York, USA, 2003

Michael Kenna

Early Years

In 1953, Michael Kenna was born in Lancashire, England, into an Irish Catholic family. From an early age Kenna aspired to be a priest and, aged eleven, began studying at a seminary school. However, art quickly became his strongest subject and at the age of 17 he moved to Banbury School of Art in Oxfordshire. He studied painting and then photography, before going on to pursue a degree in photography at the London College of Printing. Initially Kenna concentrated on commercial photography, however, he soon turned to landscapes after seeing the work of Bill Brandt, Josef Sudek, Eugène Atget and Alfred Stieglitz, who were highly influential on him.

Photographic Career

In 1977 Kenna moved to San Francisco where a number of galleries were willing to showcase his work. He quickly settled into life in California where he has lived and worked as a photographer for over thirty years. He is drawn to certain times of day and night, preferring to photograph in the mist, rain and snow. Clear blue sky and sunshine do not inspire him.

He also only photographs his work in black and white, as he believes, “black and white is immediately more mysterious because we see in colour all the time. It is quieter than colour.” He started printing for Ruth Bernard when he moved to San Francisco in 1977 and learnt from the creative license she took with the negative to achieve compositional and tonal precision. Greatly influenced by the transformation of negative to final print undertaken by Bernhard, Kenna patiently makes every print himself, burning and dodging to perfect the balance of each image.

Kenna travels around the world constantly photographing the varied landscapes of the planet, including China, the United States of America, Brazil, Czech Republic and Egypt. However, it is France and Japan that he has returned to most frequently. Kenna looks for interesting compositions and arrangements within the natural landscape. Working in a tradition that owes more to the Romantic landscape painters Caspar David Friedrich, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner than to trends of his contemporaries, Kenna’s vision of the landscape sees the human dwarfed by the grandeur of the natural world. He transforms the mundane into the extraordinary by registering the presence and absence of the human in the landscape.

Kenna prefers to photograph on his own, in silence, creating a sense of calm, solitude and tranquillity in his photographs. As he stated, “I prefer suggestion over description. The world is pretty chaotic, seemingly always speeding up and getting louder and more visually dense. I am interested in finding and/or creating calm shelters from the storm, places where quiet and solitude is encouraged and inner contemplation possible. I think we could all use a break from time to time…”

In many ways Kenna is an anachronistic contemporary to the Pictorialists, the pioneering pre-Modernist movement of photographers that saw the atmosphere of the photograph as central to its emotive force. Like the Pictorialist photography of Alfred Stieglitz, Kenna’s photography places an emotional hold over its viewer through the atmospheric effects of photographing at night, in crepuscular light or in mist, fog and snow. Kenna does not seek to present an accurate copy of the world, but to extract something original and emotive from it. Kenna prints all his own work in the darkroom, ensuring that the tonality of his small, black and white images is evocative rather than informative, interpretive rather than documentary.

His series Confessionals is a culmination of 10-years work, and a departure from his traditional landscape imagery, in which he documents hundreds of Catholic confessional booths. Confessionals is a typology of confessional booths from a distinct geographical region, Reggio Emilia, Italy, and records booths from the 13th century to the present. The project is deeply rooted in his religious upbringing, each booth is uniformly the focal point of each image, framed by the details of the church interior.

Exhibitions and Awards

Kenna currently lives in Seattle, with his wife and children. His photographs are held in permanent collections at the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He has been exhibited globally including solo exhibitions in the United States, India, Japan and South Korea. Kenna is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Imogen Cunningham Award in 1981 and in 2003 he was made an Honorary Master of Arts at the Brooks Institute, California.

Interview with Michael Kenna

Transcript

Kenna: A place like France, its everywhere. It’s on the seafronts, it’s in the wineries, it’s in the old chateaus, it’s in the formal gardens, it’s in the cities. There’s a wealth of material. I mean, I’ve photographed there for, what, 40 years, and I could photograph there a few more lifetimes. Its endless. I think if there was one country id have to choose to photograph, then it probably would be France. I can’t describe it too much. It just kind of keeps going on and on and on, there’s so much to photograph so many pictures to come out of France.

Giles: When a lot of people think of your work, they think of your Asian work, Japanese work, Minimalism, quiet, clean lines of that type of landscape photography. It seems that with your French pictures, the other half of your photography in a way comes through the influence of Brassai, of Sudek, of Bill Brandt in particular, which I don’t see quite so much in the Asian work and other work. I just wonder A) if you agree and B) if so, why France in particular makes you photograph in this slightly different way, and why Japan and other places make you photograph in that particular way?

Kenna: I truly believe we’re all very much the products of influences and I have actively emulated many other photographers. I am English, brought up in the North of England near Liverpool. So, my heritage is really European. All the initial influences photographically were European photographers, you’ve named pretty much all of them. Sudek, Brandt, Atget, Stieglitz (from America) but… Jack Neilly… and so, if I am photographing with European subject matter, having come from a European heritage with European influences, the images are bound to have this feeling of being European, basically. I would study Josef Sudek, I would go to Prague and I would look for places he photographed – why he photographed them, how he photographed. I did the same for Bill Brandt, I went to the North of England, I photographed around Yorkshire and Lancashire. A lot of my photography came out of Bill Brandt’s work. With Eugéne Atget, I went to France and studied Le Nôtre Gardens, Paris, again the places where he actively photographed. This was a part in part of my photographic education.

Going to Asia in the mid 80s was very insightful. It was a whole new culture for me, the fact that the language was different, it was calligraphically different… things seemed to read from right to left instead of left to right, you know, bottom to up. There was this kind of feeling of zen simplicity, of Haiku. And it’s something that touched me very deeply. It’s something that I had been doing in some ways, some of my early photographs have a Haiku feeling to them, it’s about suggestion rather than description. I often photographed in mist for example. Going to Japan really gave me a whole different influence, and I would say if I looked at my career, the first half is European and the second half is Asian. And I found more and more I’ve been photographing in Asia. And then I would come back to Europe and continue photographing. And I think actually, in the later images in Europe there’s a strong Asian influence which is not there at the beginning of the career so much. [Photographs] Something like this could be in Hokkaido. Its graphically very streamlined, beautiful... it’s about design, it’s about very few elements, it has that essence of Haiku, basically.

Giles: That slightly leads me to my next question which is that, throughout all of your pictures, really, there are no people. And I just wonder whether you could explain why not?
Kenna: I don’t like people, you know that by now. [Laughs]

Giles: And also in Paris, how you avoid them?

Kenna: I often use the analogy of the stage. I like to photograph before the characters and the actors come on the stage, and after they’ve left. I like the presence, the atmosphere that’s left, and the tension. We all go to concert halls, whatever, and when the band or the orchestra is warming up, there’s a certain edge… we can use our imagination to create scenes on the stage, and this is essentially what I like to do. I like to present a stage and invite a viewer to walk into that and finish and create their own photograph. Technically how that happens with me of course, is that I use a lot of long exposures, so even if there are people in the photograph, they disappear. And I do that all the time, sometimes I spot them out with my retouching brush afterwards. But I just find that in the Victorian age of photography, figures were used essentially to give scale. So, they’d place figures and you’d say… that’s how big the bridge is, that’s how big the tree is. But a lot of my work is about enigma, about whether its photographed during the day or photographed at night – how big or small something is… and they’re also… they’re timeless in the sense that this is not 2014, this could be 1814 if photography been created then. They’re not so specific. And I find that putting the figure into the photograph somehow focuses the attention on that person, on that scene, on that time. It gives scale and perspective to the whole scene, which doesn’t impress me so much.

Giles: Are you interested, despite all that, in narrative in your pictures? Do you find yourself interested in the story of the place and the people that might have inhabited it or used it, or do you find yourself most interested in form and shape, and so on?

Kenna: I find that I feel I act more as a medium. So, I don’t need to know the whole history of the place. I have done projects where I have really studied what has happened, but I like to present the scene so that other people can use their own interests to come into it.

Giles: Interesting. Well, what I want to do now is just focus on three pictures that are in the show and just find out a bit more about them. This is the fantastic full moon rise in the Chalsay Islands in France which is a great trajectory of the moon captured in print. Can you tell us about this and how you did this, and what the story was?

Kenna: I mentioned that many of the photographs that you see here were actually commissioned in some way shape or form. I had many commissions in France to photograph specific areas – sometimes I’m doing advertising. The Calais lace factories, they’re photographed on my own, but this is for example from Château Lafite, so they commissioned me to photograph all of them. The Chalsay islands I was commissioned by the French coastal commission to spend two weeks in this Archipelago and…

Giles: Where are they in France?

Kenna: They’re very close to Grand-Ville. They’re in the channel, basically [Laughs]. They’re strange territory, so we don’t really hear about them much. And very few people live there. So, it’s this huge collection of islands that at high tide disappear and at low tide you can see them. There’s a big agriculture there of fisheries, selfish, seaweed and so forth. So, for this particular photograph, I attempted it three times with two cameras each time. Because I use film cameras, I don’t do digital. I can’t actually see what’s happening. This exposure is six hours. I never know where the moon is gonna come from, where its gonna end up. It’s all guess worked based upon experience. And most of the ones, you know the moon shot off the edge, it started somewhere else and didn’t quite work, and this one worked out absolutely perfectly in so far as the moon ended up right in the top corner.

Giles: Is this (And you’ll have to go and look at the print, it’s difficult to see) an aeroplane light?

Kenna: Yes, this is an aeroplane here. An aeroplane or a helicopter.

Giles: It’s absolutely marvellous, you must go and look at that and see the winking lights going through the picture.

Kenna: There’s something wonderful about photographing at night insofar as it is unpredictable. You can’t actually sense what’s going to happen over the next four or five hours. Sometimes you do get… I’ve photographed many night scenes and you get helicopters and planes forming all sorts of straight lines. As the earth moves of course, that leaves star trails… presumably there was a light cloud at some point, and that’s why this is misted here – because the moon panel dissipates a little bit. And basically, the tide has come up and gone down during that period of time, so you can see some islands.

Giles: Moving on, this is another place that just… you know, your work is all about atmosphere. And I actually googled this place earlier just to show an image of it. And actually, outside of your photography it didn’t look quite as exciting. It’s a beautiful building, but the cold light of day photographs I didn’t think were worth repeating, and it’s a testimony to your photography that you made the whole thing extra romantic and atmospheric. But nevertheless, it’s an extraordinary building. Can you tell us a little bit about this, and what it is?

Kenna: Again, I came across this by a good fortune. I’ve been working with a press in San Francisco and they were doing a project on this, le Desert de Retz. This had been an abandoned estate for many, many years. It is completely overgrown. An architect named Olivier Chopin de Jean-Vries, I believe, bought the estate for one franc in those days, in return for this guarantee that he would completely restore it - which he did over five years. I was fortunate to get there in 1988 just when the restoration was starting, just when they were starting to clean the place up and just when you could get in. It felt as if there were ghosts and presence and it was slightly haunted, and just the wonderful resonant of atmosphere… there was tension, there was the patina of age, there was just the beautiful quality about the place. And I spent many weeks, I would keep returning. I photographed continually, it was a fascinating place. And then they restored it, and I came back the following years, and it was fascinating to me… Something I already knew, that in the process of restoration all the interest somehow disappears. It’s this ‘wabby sabby’ concept, you know, the idea of imperfection, the idea that things are not just so clean and perfect and wonderfully… it gets boring somehow. And so, I was never really able to photograph it again. I mean, I went back and photographed, tried to photograph, kept trying to photograph. And it’s as you say, it’s like a museum now somehow. It’s completely clean, you can go visit… but it doesn’t have that atmosphere, that walking back in time somehow.

Giles: You captured brilliantly about that. I felt the same looking today. I thought I’d talk about the Lafites pictures because I like wine and I think you like wine. And also, there’s an interesting part of your work, and you still… despite being incredibly successful and an influential photographer, you still do a lot of commissions. I’d like to hear about this commission and what it was like to photograph this.

Kenna: Well, Château Lafites’ Baron Rothschild, he has commissioned a photographer I think for 35 years now each year to do his new years’ card. And this is not like a little card, this is a big three-piece card that has the history of the vintage that year, which presumably he sends out to all the people that collect his wine, so there’s a large audience. And so, I essentially turned up on a Friday at 4 o’clock. I met the chief wine master who said, “here’s a house, the fridge is full of food. Any drink, anything you want in the cellar. We’ll see you next week.” And that was it. [Laughs] and it was absolutely great. I had complete carte blanche, I could wander anywhere I wanted around the estate, into the cellars. And I got to taste some great wines.

Giles: What wine did they give you in your cellar?

Kenna: The best one was a Château Lafite 1995 which I googled, and it was worth £1700 at the time. But don’t tell anyone about it [Laughs]. But I did drink a lot of good wine. Most of the photographs are still in focus, but not all of them. So, I would literally go out at night and place cameras around the estate and photograph these beautiful trees, the clouds, the vines and so forth. This particular photograph was actually made from the bathroom window of where Baron Rothschild lives. So, he has his kind of castle on the hill. And then down below this was the old village of Château Lafite. And his wife has a painting studio right here, so that’s what that’s about. But yes, commissions are great when they happen. I love commissions.

Giles: I could pick pretty much any picture in this show but I thought I’d pick this one. I want to talk a little bit about your passion for and your appreciation of dark room printing. I know there’s a big part of your work, perhaps you could just explain to everyone why and how you came about this particular passion.

Kenna: Well, printing is something I’ve loved since day one, I think. Even when I was at school I was in charge of… I was the head printer when letter press printing… before photographic printing. But something about this kind of two-dimensional surfaces with lines, shapes, tonalities printed on it, it just drives me wild. And so, I’ve been very fortunate to have chosen a profession where I get basically everything I want – I get to travel, I absolutely love travelling. I get to photograph at all times day and night, I see interesting places. And I get to hours and hours on my own in a dark room, usually listening to a book on tape or something.

So, I believe there are infinite variations that one can make in any scene. You know, you get a thousand photographers, they should come up with a thousand different photographs because we each have our own individual perception and imagination. And I believe it’s the same in the printing process. I could never give my negatives to somebody else to print. I’m sure they would have a very good print, but it wouldn’t be my print or my interpretation. There is just so much you can do in the dark room, and a lot of it is very subtle. But this particular image… its interesting because this is a 2000 image and at the time I printed three other variations, totally different photographs and I never printed this one. It was only when the book project came along and I was going through my negatives that I found this negative and printed it. And it’s because on the contact sheet it’s just completely soft and very calm and very grey, and it didn’t look very interesting. But taking it into the dark room and building up the contrast, and playing with these shapes down here and getting just enough tonality and working with these beautiful stormy clouds… it’s in the dark room… it’s in the negative and it’s in the dark room. And even the original scene didn’t look like this... I just don’t remember it in this kind of dynamic way. So, you can create things in the dark room, and for me it’s an integral part of the whole photographic process.

Giles: my last question before I see if you guys want to join in a bit is if you were talking to your twenty-year-old self setting out as a photographer, what advice would you give yourself?

Kenna: I think you need to work 25 hours a day instead of 24. Basically, a lot of it is hard work. I’m absolutely driven and passionate about this. I’m very fortunate and I understand that I have great appreciation for the fact that I somehow ended up in this profession that is so wonderful. But as a result, its consuming and as a photographer you need to work all the time. It’s not something you can do on the weekend, it’s not something you can do now and again. It’s a bit like playing a musical instrument, you need to be on it all the time and it takes years to get to the point where you don’t even know it’s a musical instrument and you can play with your imagination. Photographically it’s the same… you get to the point where you don’t think technically anymore. You have a camera, you have film, you have exposures and light equipment but that goes away. You use your imagination, you connect with your scene. I often say you have a conversation with what you’re photographing. It becomes almost an existential experience in itself, regardless of all the equipment. So, I can have a conversation with a new person and sometimes it’s a bit predictable, sometimes exciting, you don’t know what you’re going to talk about… the conversations I really like to have are with the same person many, many, times, people I’ve known for years and years and years. The conversation is deeper somehow, its more intense, the roots are deeper, so it becomes more interesting as a friendship, as a relationship, as a history. That is why I can keep going back to those places.