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Mois de la Photo 2014 : Michael Kenna at the musée Carnavalet


This year, Michael Kenna donated 42 of this photographs of Paris to the city’s Musée Carnavalet, which already holds 17 other Kenna prints. The museum, which is devoted to the history of Paris, is currently exhibiting a lovely selection of some fifty of their Kenna photographs.

The pictures provide ample evidence of the photographer’s aesthetic. Born in 1953 in Widnes, England, and now living in Seattle, USA, Kenna is known for his sumptuous, high-contrast black-and-white landscapes, for which he requires exceedingly long exposure times. In his photographs, the city of Paris is majestic, magical, frozen in time, from the booksellers along the Seine to the column of the Place Vendôme, the Eiffel Tower in all its forms, Notre Dame, the Palais Royal, the elevated trains, the many bridges and statues, the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries, where the leafless trees give the garden a dramatic look. The city is ghostly, devoid of human presence, which has vanished as a result of the long exposure times. Only a few birds soar overheads. One thinks of Eugène Atget, and Kenna himself has made explicit reference to other Paris lovers in the titles of two 1992 photographs: “Île de la Cité (Merci HCB)” and “Pont-Neuf (Merci Brassaï).”

At the Carnavalet, the sobriety and rigor of Kenna’s compositions stands out against the dark red walls and the paintings of fin-de-siècle Parisian life displayed opposite them. A highly didactic caption explains Kenna’s technique in detail, including what cameras he uses (Hasselblad or Holga). The small formats (19x19cm and 23x15cm) make Kenna’s photographs into dense, refined jewels.

In part of Mois de la Photo 2014
Michael Kenna
Until February 1st, 2015
Musée Carnavalet
16, rue des Franc-Bourgeois
75003 Paris

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