Michael Kenna recently donated, by notarized agreement signed on November 10, 2022, all of his photographic work to the French State. Françoise Denoyelle wrote him this letter.
It is with immense joy and a certain emotion that I learned of your great and irrevocable decision to bequeath your work, and for that, to choose a country that is not yours. It is a difficult decision to make. Telling yourself that it’s time to think about “the aftermath”, telling yourself that it is wiser to transmit to an institution rather than to your child. To say to yourself that of the two countries of which you are a national, none has as many advantages as a third, the country of your heart, the one that you have photographed the most.
Dear Michael, I imagine how much you weighed the pros and cons. Turned the question around in your head. I remember Willy Ronis, in 1978, of his torments about the future of his work of which, he said then, nothing would remain and who then made two successive donations and a bequest to the State. I remember the year of negotiations with the children of François Kollar, not all on the same wavelength as to the best solution to bring to life the work of their father which had fallen into oblivion and that their mother, the exceptional Fernande Kollar, since disappeared, had succeeded in making people known again.
I am still haunted by the vision of the mess left in Yvette Troispoux’s photo fund after her death and whom I had known in her small so tidy apartment. She imagined that, photography being “her family”, an oral agreement with the National Library of France settled the question. The BnF only recovered most of her work after an epic saga.
The premises of the oldest collective of photographers, Le bar Floréal photographie, returned to their original use after the end of the collective. I see the hundreds of working prints abandoned for lack of space, the photographers too discouraged to sort them out, the exhibition prints too big to take away, the archives of thirty years of publishing, of exhibitions on shelves half empty. Without the ultra-fast mobilization of the BnF, the Heritage and Photography media library, the dumpster would have been the ultimate destination recommended by the auctioneer.
Recently, I dined with Lan and Jean Mounicq. Happiness always renewed from their friendship. They donated Jean’s work to the State in 2019. It joined the MPP with the funds of Boudinet, Gladys, Kertész, Parry, Réquillart, Ronis, Nadar and many others. At 91, after many questions, many wanderings – a project well underway with the Carnavalet museum did not succeed – Jean Mounicq is serene in the depths of himself because his work, like yours, will be saved. He continues his activities freely, at his own pace, as you will do, and has just released a new book: Portraits, published in July.
Dear Michael, your donation, 3,683 original silver photographic prints of images taken in 43 different countries, accompanied by their negatives and scans, 175,000 other negatives accompanied by their corresponding contact sheets, 6,422 working prints from the years 1983-2000, 1,280 Polaroid prints, 87 books and monographs, reflect the scope and quality of your work, testify to your generosity. The French can thank you for that. Thank you for the sublime prints that you make yourself in the solitude of your laboratory, thank you for the trust in the preservation of your work, which has been recognized, exhibited and published for a long time.
Late in the 2000s on the subject of the conservation of prints and negatives, institutions: museums, libraries, archives, media libraries… have since worked twice as hard.
France welcomes many foreign artists and creators. Passing guests, some stay there their whole life, but end up entrusting their work to their country of origin. You, dear Michael, citizen of the world, photographing in so many countries, you have chosen France, that of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, of Niépce and the law on the inalienable nature of works donated to the State. Thank you
Your generosity is not new, more than 20 years ago you donated 300 prints and 6,000 negatives from the “Concentration Camp” project produced in the years 1988-2000. Martine d’Arc, so much missed Martine who disappeared too quickly, had been the architect. It was complicated, very complicated, but Martine was stubborn and you had, you have, reiterated your confidence. Martine has worked so hard to make your work known in Europe. She talked about your projects, your photographs with so much passion. Sabine Troncin-Denis took over.
The announcement of your donation was made public in the press and on the networks. It will appear in the next edition, volume 4 of + Photographie initiated by Marion Hisslen and taken over by Fanny Escoulen, head of the Photography department at the Ministry of Culture. Your donation is thus added to all those, small or large, of which France is honored and over which the curators, conservation officers, storekeepers, restorers, watch over…
Thank you dear Michael, you are an example, an encouragement for your colleagues who are wondering about the future of their work.
I kiss you
Archives – November 14th, 2022
Donation by Michael Kenna to the French State