Michael Kenna


The infinitely small opens up a whole world. When we bend over to peer at a doll’s house with the front taken off to reveal the furniture, utensils and a tiny décor, we do not see a scale model of a real building, but step straight into Lilliput. The Monique’s Kindergarten series is not in the exhibition but helps us to think about the role of format in Kenna’s aesthetics. It is a set of contact prints made with a large-format camera. Kenna photographed all the objects in a kindergarten, drawing up an inventory of ordinary, well-worn toys, cotton reels, wax casts, felt rabbits, children’s clothes, baskets… Everything seems tiny and we are struck by the power of these condensed things. His plastic vocabulary is strongly present: the reels look like the monumental cooling towers of Ratcliffe power station, the cutout cardboard trees like topiaries in the grounds of Versailles, the wax models like statues in formal gardens, the heaps of utensils like the cogs and bolts of the Lace Factories or the structures of The Rouge. All these things, whatever their real size, seemed to be the same height. Miniaturizing imagination is at work; it commands the representation process and collides with the reality of things.

How does “the big come out of the small”

“Familiar objects become the miniatures of an entire world.”  Kenna does not reduce the size of things for simplistic dialectic purposes, but transforms, transposes, transgresses, translates and betrays perspectives and percepts. His eye, carried by the depth of the horizon and the solitude of distance or height spontaneously creates miniatures. Skylines, skyscrapers, windmills or Moais come to terms with the world of the kindergarten.

The photographic object, the product of objective reality, cannot be a figment of imagination, but it is chosen by the imagination. Photography fits reality into a miniature format just as fairy tales fit a whole world into a nutshell, and the loss of real size in no way changes the reality of things. But we have an intimate, contemplative relationship with these small prints. “Size does matter! Most people stand about ten inches away to see these prints. This is a very intimate distance. The bigger the photograph, the farther away you get, and suddenly it’s an object you’re looking at.... For me smaller is better.”
We look at them close up and their closeness makes them strange because “close vision is like opening a door to an inner kingdom.” And then “the big comes out of the small, not by the logical law of the dialectic of opposites, but because we are freed from all the constraints of dimension, a freedom which is the very characteristic of the working of the imagination.” (Gaston Bachelard).

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