Daybreak, Vaux Le Vicomte, France, 1996
Michael Kenna was born in Widnes, Lancashire, an industrial town in the north-west of England in 1953. As one of five children born to a working class Irish-Catholic family, he aspired to enter the priesthood and attended St. Joseph’s College, from 1964 to 1972 but his passion for painting led him to The Banbury School of Art in Oxfordshire, for a year before starting a three year course at the London School of Printing where he graduated with distinction in 1976. “I realized that there wasn’t a chance that I would survive as a painter, so I studied photography because I knew I could at least attempt a living doing commercial and advertising work.” Kenna’s interest in fine art photography was triggered after viewing “The Land” an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1975, curated by Bill Brandt. Today Kenna acknowledges the influences of Brandt, Atget, Emerson and Sudek – as well as Americans, Ruth Bernhard, Callahan, Sheeler and Steiglitz – on his personal photography.
In 1977, Kenna relocated to San Francisco where he worked as an assistant to Ruth Bernhard for the next decade. A legendary photographer, most famous for her nudes and still life, Kenna remembered Bernhard as “a stickler for print quality. I learned an immense amount from Ruth, who has been a very powerful influence on my life and work.”
Although Kenna worked primarily as a commercial photographer in his early career, by the late eighties he had established his own fine art reputation and today prefers to work on projects – usually three or four at a time – often taking as long as seven or eight years to complete.
After suffering a back injury in 1995, Kenna began hiring darkroom assistants. California photographer Wiliam Scott became Kenna’s first printer later that year. Eventually Rolfe Horn and others would assist in the darkroom while Kenna concentrated his artistic attention on numerous ongoing photographic projects.
Kenna has been widely published and exhibited in most major museums. His work is included in countless museums around the world.
Suspended Vine, Marly, France, 1995
Long Wall, Birwick, Northumberland, England, 1991
Invitation, Mont St Michel, France, 1994
Glastonbury Tor, Study 3, Somerset, England, 1990
Genie De La Science, Observatore, Nice, France, 1996
Nightwalk, Surrey, England, 1983
Plank Walk, Morecambe, Lancashire, England, 1992
Golden Gate Bridge, Study 4, San Francisco, 1988
Pier Remains, Bognor Regis, England, 1990
Swings, Catskill Mountains, New York, 1977
Dark Cloud, Cerne Abbas, Dorset, England, 1990
Winter Trees, Oxfordshire, England, 1984
White Copse, Wakkanai, Hokkaldo, Japan, Study 1, 2004