Michael Kenna and Eugène Atget in the Gardens of Versailles
Kenna cites the nineteenth-century photographer Eugène Atget as an essential influence on his work and pays explicit homage to the master in his series at the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. As he stated in an interview, “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.” The geometry of Kenna’s minimalist studies of rows of hedges emerges from his appreciation of the haunting atmosphere of Atget’s views of Paris parks.
Like Atget, Kenna is attracted to photographing liminal spaces, where urban meets rural and cultivated meets wild. For this reason, the gardens and parks surrounding the grand chateaux of northern France are reoccurring motifs in his oeuvre. André Le Notre’s seventeenth-century garden at Versailles provides an archetypical crossover space in which nature is sculpted to human want. In Bassin de Latone the silhouetted sculpture of the goddess Latona stretches out her arms towards the grand mist-shrouded gardens: she appears a symbol of art looming over the artificially created landscape.
Similar to Atget’s photographs, a theatrical tension is always at play in Kenna’s photographs: “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.”