Book Review: Forms of Japan

David Hay reviews the new anthology of images of Japan from the renowned photographer Michael Kenna. The beautifully presented collection spans his career of nearly 30 years

Michael Kenna is one of the foremost living black and white landscape photographers. His minimalist images have been the inspiration for many present day photographers. This book brings together some of his best images of Japan taken over many visits from 1987 to 2015.

The book is divided into five chapters: Sea, Land, Trees, Spirit and Sky. Four of the chapter titles are self-explanatory. The chapter entitled Spirit is a collection of photographs taken around temples and shrines. In addition to the 240 images in the book, there are short essays by Yvonne Meyer-Lohr about the photographic philosophy of Michael Kenna. The book finishes with a short essay by the photographer himself about his love of Japan and how he goes about photographing it.

Japan is a collection of islands with a high population density. Although some of the photographs were taken in Honshu, Kyushu and Okinawa, his signature style comes to the fore in the images taken in Hokkaido and Shikoku. The empty spaces and simple graphic landscapes and seascapes provide endless material for his searching eye.

Although the minimalist style which Michael Kenna pioneered was originally a modest offshoot of traditional landscape photography, it is now main-stream. The original film images, made using very long exposures at night or in very low light, can now be duplicated by digital photographers using 10 stop Neutral Density filters in almost any light. There has been a surge of interest in long exposure photography, especially seascapes, which benefit greatly from the simplifying effect on the surface of the sea. The style of photography practised by Michael Kenna has become so popular that it is now possible to go on photographic workshops to Hokkaido ‘in the footsteps of Michael Kenna’. Although you can do the same thing in Yosemite, visiting the locations photographed by Ansel Adams, it is unusual ...

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About Author

David Hay

I took up photography at the age of eleven and have been passionate about it ever since. As a retired biologist I still marvel at the beauty of the natural world and try and capture the colours and forms of natural things around me.

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