Michael Kenna is a photographer whose work I greatly admire. His personal work has been widely published and although his subject matter varies dramatically from industrial landscapes to natural landscapes he has a certain style that resonates throughout.
Recently, Kenna was interviewed by Lenswork Magazine about his new work from the Huangshan Mountains in China, some of which Lenswork published in Edition 92 of both its print and CD based Extended versions. A common feature in Kenna’s work is negative space, whether it be a white blanket of snow, a veil of fog surrounding a lone tree or the deep, black shadows of night time interrupted only by a sliver of light escaping from the open doorway of an ancient building. To Kenna, negative space is where “one can loose oneself to ones imagination”. While the main subject in Kenna’s work is usually clearly evident the negative space surrounding the subject can mean different things to different people.
Studying Kenna’s use of negative space has influenced my own work. I try to use negative space to isolate the subject, simplify the composition, remove distracting elements and to create mystery. After considering Kenna’s thoughts from the Lenswork interview I have to agree that in addition to these more tangible benefits, negative space can work on many other levels, some of which are not so tangible, obvious or so easy to explain. Negative space not only focuses attention on the subject but also allows the viewer to ponder for a while, wondering what is hidden in the shadows, what is beyond the dense fog, what dangers lie beneath the surface of dead calm water.