Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Michael Kenna versus Taylor-Wessing ............ no contest on the emotional front

Lake Bridge, Hongkun, Anhui, China by Michael Kenna 2008

Dog got a raw deal today. I trundled up to London to talk money with some finance people, and then took in two galleries with a good friend by means of compensation. Dog stayed at home in her bed, having had a brief sojourn in the woods to see the autumn colours and clear blue sky this morning.

Financial meeting was long and frustrating; I wanted to fill my stomach with the tasty sandwiches and fruits on the table, but have you tried talking, listening and trying to look vaguely intelligent whilst wrestling with a prawn sandwich? It just doesn't work, hence the chocolate brownie later.

I have been determined to see Michael Kenna at Chris Beetles gallery for a while. My friend wanted to see the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery. So we did both, with tea in the middle, and chocolate brownie; all very nice for a Wednesday afternoon.

Two exhibitions, one day. One left me completely cold, and the other filled me with awe and respect.

4th prize
This image won 4th prize in the Taylor Wessing. I cannot see anything particularly special or moving about it. The subject looks sad, but that is all that I can say.

 This one of Mo Farah lacks any relation to the joy and triumph of this summer's olympic games.

I have never been a portrait photographer, but enjoy capturing images when travelling, and it seems to me that unless you know the subject, it is difficult to convey any true feeling to the viewer unless there is something particularly poignant, tender or disturbing about the image.

Child, Myanmar  © Caroline Fraser 2012
My favourite portrait from a recent trip to Myanmar is of this child in a small hillside village. It means a lot to me, but probably leaves other viewers cold. Portraits are a lot about memories and emotions experienced at the time. They are very personal things.

Time to move on then ............ to the Chris Beetles Gallery; a nice space in a nice part of town.

And what treats we found there.......... 50 black and white photos by Michael Kenna, landscape photographer. he works exclusively with a medium format Hasselblad, printing the works himself in the darkroom from film. A craftsman at work.

The prints are all small...........7 3/4 inches by 7 3/4 inches, and hand printed in limited editions of 45 by Kenna. The price of prints goes up as the editions sells; those on view in the gallery varying form £1350 to £5150. A lot of money for such small prints..........but of such beauty that I would willingly part with large sums to have one hanging on my wall. They convey tranquillity, stillness, beauty and a sense of calm. That to me is worth so much more than a portrait. I have never experienced all of those emotions from one portrait.

He even gets away with blurred foregrounds in his image of the pyramids, a fact that fills me with joy.

Michael Kenna said of his own work in 2009.....

'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 solitude is encouraged and inner contemplation possible. i think we could all use a break from time to time........'

I am with him all the way.

Landscape wins, hands down, every time.

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