Michael Kenna


Michael Kenna
Jardin du Roi, Versailles, c. 1997
Silver Gelatin Photograph
Scripps College, Claremont, CA
Purchase, Scripps Collectors Circle 201

Michael Kenna’s photograph, Jardin du Roi, Versailles, is a testament to his skill as a photographer and to his understanding of photography as a medium. Born in England, Kenna attended the Banbury School of Art in Oxfordshire. There, Kenna soon realized that photography could offer him something that painting and drawing could not, the ability to capture the minute details of a single moment in time. This photo captures one of the breathtaking French gardens, one of Kenna’s main focuses over the years. The architects of Versailles worked tirelessly to use sunlight to illuminate and create visual intrigue in their gardens. Kenna is able to capture this light to create very serene photographs with an added layer of mystery.

Jardin du Roi, Versailles in particular is a great example of Kenna’s brilliant use of light. As the viewer gaze travels from top to bottom, the photo shifts from light to dark creating a mesmerizing color palette of grays and blacks. Kenna breaks the rules of symmetry confusing the eye of the viewer, creating in turn an aura of mystery. The column, which would appear to be the central focus of the piece, is not directly in the center of the photograph. This juxtaposition of man-made objects to the natural world displaces the viewer’s focus away from the natural elements to the column, ultimately creating a sense of balance. Kenna continues to baffle the viewer through his interesting use of perspective. Eric Haskell writes,  Michael Kenna “shows us gardens not as they are but as they should be, not as we see them but as we should see them.”

Literature: Haskell, Eric T. and Michael Kenna. Le Nôtre’s Gardens. Ram Publications, 1997. Print

Shaina Raskin, ’15, Wilson Intern 2013


The 17th-century French landscape designer, Le Notre brought the French formalism ideals of symmetry, order, and beauty to greater levels of perfection in his

Michael Kenna
Site of the Royal Pavilion, Marly, 1996
Sepia toned silver gelatin on paper
7 ½ c 7 ¾ in.
Scripps College, Claremont, CA, Purchase, Scripps Collectors’ Circle gardens. Two centuries later, British photographer Michael Kenna began to photograph these same spaces that have undergone disrepair over time.

“Kenna takes his cue from this aesthetic of the unexpected within a seemingly predictable pattern,”[1] wrote Eric Haskell in Le Notre’s Gardens.  Kenna’s photographs play on the interactions between natural and manmade landscapes.  By capturing these spaces at dawn or in the dark of night, he illuminates the black-and-white photographs in a serenely mystical way.

Site of the Royal Pavilion, Marly, France, is a wonderful example of Kenna’s aesthetic.  A raised terrace filled with what appears to be gravel, dominates the foreground of the picture. This barren, stark, manmade area contrasts with the wild, natural essence of the trees visible beyond the terrace. A pathway lined with small conical topiaries, alluding to the formalism of Le Notre’s garden, is barely visible on the far left. The background is bathed in an ethereal layer of mist and light that illuminates the trees and draws the viewer in. The copse of tall, leafless trees commands attention in a haunting and enchanting way. The trunks appear dark and daunting while the skeletal branches seem light and feathery against the hazy sky. The corner of the terrace points towards the trees, directing the viewer to look at them. Kenna’s framing of the photograph exposes a new understanding of the century old formal garden.

[1] Kenna, Michael, and Eric T. Haskell. Le Nôtre’s Gardens. Santa Monica, CA: RAM Publications, 1997.

Kaela Nurmi, ’15, Wilson Intern, 2013