Whether you call it déjà vu, serendipity, or coincidence, we have all had those moments when our experiences echo through different aspects of our lives. What we see in one part of our lives is sure to manifest in another, and nowhere is this phenomenon of manifestation more prevalent than in art.
When we first launched our new blog, we had the great idea to for our staff to contribute by sharing some of their favorite art works and artists. But since different artists choose to create different echoes from varied and meaningful aspects of life, how do you choose just one? Surely you can’t pick only one favorite artist! My mind immediately whirled with possibilities, and certainly in my top 10 artists of all time is Michael Kenna, an extraordinary photographer. As coincidence would have it, Kenna has just released his latest series, based on Thomas Jefferson’s time as a minister to France in Paris!
Jefferson, being an alumnus of William and Mary as well as a Founding Father, is hugely important to the College. Jeffersonian history remains a vital part of the campus today, and of course Swem Special Collections and the Muscarelle Museum have some of the most significant writings and works from or about Jefferson in their archives. Kenna, invited to visually retrace Jefferson’s footsteps in Paris from 1784 to 1789, has contributed his own unique touch by “adding a new visual record to this fascinating chapter in French and American history” in his latest publication, Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Walks.
Kenna’s work produces a calm in an otherwise noisy world. He has reinvented landscape photography by capturing the graceful movements and quiet stills of life simultaneously. His mastery of manipulating the atmosphere when capturing available light often creates a dreamlike quality to his works. While much of his work contains nature, there is often that small imprint that reminds of us of a human presence in the environment. His compositions are always exquisite, but it is in the subtleties of his work that the beauty emerges. One of my favorite pieces is from his Japan series in 2003, Six Sticks, photographed in Omi, Honshu, Japan (above). It is simply 6 lines seemingly floating in a vast canvas, but, upon closer inspection, the sticks are actually coming out of a body of water, and their reflections that create the illusion of floating are just blurred enough to bring you back to reality. In the distance is the softest of lines that hits at a horizon. His compositions draw you in, but the nuances captured in texture and space immerse you into a world unseen. That is one Kenna’s great gifts; he brings the ordinary to extraordinary, capturing a moment or space one might experience a hundred times without ever seeing it.
Written by Dr. Amy Gorman, Curator of Education and New Media