Michael Kenna - The Po River

The profile of the Po River in 100 photographs taken over a period of fifteen years from the source to the mouth.

We meet thousands of people in life, but we make friends with only a few. Why? What forms the bonds of friendship and love? How does a stranger turn into a friend? It happens. My beloved wife, Mamta, was born and raised five thousand miles from my family home. When we met, we had moved from our home countries and were living with different partners five thousand miles apart. I think gratitude for these connections is more important than trying to understand why such inexplicable things happen. With the Po River we first met in 2007, when I was invited to Reggio Emilia by curator Sandro Parmiggiani. In the following years I photographed the Reggio Emilia area and my shots became an exhibition on display in 2010. My guide at the time was Mauro Lorenzini. Even then I hoped that one day I would return to those places. When I did, years later, I felt like I was in front of an old and wise friend. (…) The Po is ancient and I am only a fleeting visitor. I have always loved the quote by Heraclitus that says No man has ever walked twice in the same river because it is not the same river and it is not the same man. I like to apply these concepts to photography. Nothing, including me, is ever the same. The river flows whether I am there or not, but I think there is some sort of energy exchange in every encounter. The Po has definitely influenced and changed me. I’m not so sure how I’ve changed the Po, other than by photographing it and exhibiting the works (…) I prefer my photographs to be closer to poetry than concrete texts, and color is too specific to the way I work. We see in color all the time, instead black and white is an essential reduction of sensory stimulation that allows our imagination to work harder. I enjoy reading Japanese haiku poems, which suggest a great deal of information in just a few words. Like these short compositions, I don’t capture all the details of a scene, nor do I try to give an accurate description of what is there. Instead, I suggest what I cannot see, but imagine might be there: underlying layers hidden, in the fog and darkness, or present beyond the edges of the frame.

(Michael Kenna)

"THE PO? A DEAR FRIEND."

“These photographs,” explains the British photographer, “are a reflection of my conversations with Po. I often compare photography to meeting a person. We pass thousands, if not millions, in our lives, but only a few of them remain as good friends with whom we stay in touch repeatedly. Why is this so? What forms the bonds of friendship and love? How does one seemingly stranger, from another country – as the Po is for me – become a dear friend? It happens.”

“I prefer to think of my photographs as closer to poetry than prose, and I often repeat that color is a little too specific, determined for the way I work. We see everything in color. Black and white, on the other hand, is an essential reduction in sensory stimulation that allows our imagination to be more activated. Black and white says precisely that this is an interpretation, not an attempt to copy what we see with our own eyes.

I enjoy reading haiku because they suggest a great deal in a few words. Like these poems, I don’t try to portray all the details of a scene, or give an accurate description of what’s there. I prefer to suggest what I can’t see, but what I imagine might be there: underlying layers hidden in the fog and darkness or hidden beyond the edges of the frame.”