British photographer Michael Kenna on the complexity of India and why it’s not been an easy place to shoot in
A ny “Westerner” encountering Asian aesthetics immediately knows and feels something is different.
When photographing Asian landscapes, I felt compelled to use the influence of my exposure to Japanese Sumi-e painting and haiku poetry. Over time, my work has become more sparse, with fewer elements. Suggestion—rather than description—has always been my mantra but now it has become even more evident in my images.
India, therefore, has not been the easiest of places for me to photograph in: the sheer density of people, intense kaleidoscope of colour and constant activity has made it difficult for me to fully focus. I need to spend much more time here in order to better integrate and see beyond the surface. Faced with the absolute magnitude and complexity of India, I feel very small and humble.
In remote areas like Kerala and Munnar, I have had some solitude but for the most part I haven’t experienced this enough in India—yet. Up to this point, my journey in Asia has been primarily spent in Japan, China and Korea, with additional trips to a number of other countries. It is an indefinite, ongoing journey with no ultimate destination, and I trust India will ultimately comprise a major segment of my travels.
In Japan, I have spent a great deal of time in the frozen northern island of Hokkaido. In midwinter this place is stark, white and empty. In China, I have spent weeks in the mountains of Huangshan. Often, there would be days of rain and mist. Patience was a key component in my camera bag.
In Korea, I have been to the remote 1,004 islands in Shinan, a beautiful archipelago in the south-west. In these places, it is quiet and calm, making it easy to have intimate conversations with the landscape. Fewer distractions inevitably translate into more focused concentration on the subject matter.
This, I also hope to attain in India. I firmly believe that every place has its time, and I hope and trust that my time in India will come soon.
These photographs form part of the exhibition “Michael Kenna, A Journey Through Asia” organised by Tasveer and Vacheron Constantin, travelling through India 2013-2014
Michael Kenna is an award-winning photographer from England, who now lives in Seattle. Among the foremost landscape photographers in the world, his work is held in over 80 permanent collections, including the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. There are 42 published books of his photography.