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2019 Group Show – Michael Kenna: Rafu 裸婦


photo-eye Gallery 2019 Group Show
Michael Kenna: Rafu 裸婦
Michael Kenna's Rafu, 裸婦 is a new series of female nude portraits made in Japan over the last 10 years. Roughly translated, Rafu stands for "nude or undressed female" in Japanese, and the series highlights the human body's unique form and the individuality of each model as well as examining the interplay between the body and human-constructed environments. photo-eye Gallery currently has 6 works from Rafu 裸婦 in our 2019 Group show.

Michael Kenna, Mina, Study 3, Japan, 2011 Gelatin-Silver Print, 8x8" Image, Edition of 25, $3000
Ten years ago, after a particularly tumultuous period in his life, Michael Kenna quietly made a decision to expand his photographic practice to include the human form. Kenna is well known for his minimalistic landscapes, and has been vocal in the past about the absence of the human figure in his photographs stating, "I feel they gave away the scale and became the main focus of the viewer’s attention." But, believing "fixed dogma is not a creative tool," Kenna has created Rafu, 裸婦 a series of female nude portraits made in Japan. Roughly translated, Rafu stands for "nude or undressed female" in Japanese, and the series highlights the human body's unique form and the individuality of each model as well as examining the interplay between the body and human-constructed environments.
Michael Kenna, Namiko, Study 2, Japan, 2016, 
Gelatin-Silver Print, 8x8" Image, Edition of 25, $3000

It was important to Kenna not to use professional models, "The women I photographed were a cross-section of friends of friends and their associates: office workers, dancers, yoga practitioners, actresses, and photographers, who wanted to see how it felt being nude in front of a camera…" the photographer states in a recent interview with Zoé Balthus, "…some were being photographed nude for the first time in their lives." Kenna views "both historical and contemporary creative representations of the nude as open invitations to explore this esthetic challenge. My efforts may add little or nothing to the enormous existing mountain of artistic treasures, but that is not important. This is another chapter in an ongoing story.” We are proud to feature six images from Rafu in the 2019 Group Show.



Rafu, Photographs by Michael Kenna
Nazraeli Press, Paso Robles, 2019
Hardbound: $75.00
Earlier this year, Rafu 裸婦 was published as a monograph by Nazraeli Press to coincide with a major retrospective exhibition of Michael Kenna’s photographic work at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photographic Art. The following is an excerpt from Collier Brown's excellent review of Rafu 裸婦 for photo-eye.

"In some ways, Kenna’s nudes seem inevitable. Having worked with Ruth Bernhard, one of the most accomplished photographers of the female nude in the twentieth century, I can’t imagine Kenna not wanting to try his hand at the genre. The surprising thing is that unlike so many apprenticeships, the work of the apprentice, in this case, resembles the master’s only by way of attention, not style. I see in Rafu an eye toward elegance and form that puts me in mind of Bernhard, but I see a rawness too—a mortality in the bones that reminds of me Eikoh Hosoe and the choreography of Japanese Butoh. There’s also a substance in the darkness, a depth, a “praise of shadow” that writers like Junichiro Tanizaki have described as essential to Japanese art.

Kenna’s monuments and landscapes rise up from the mists. But the nudes are hewn from harder stuff. Sculptural, Klimtian. No angelic down or wisp of incense. No Grecian symmetries. The female nude in Rafu is exactly what the body wants to be: not the dream of itself, not the paradigm or archetype, but the self-containment of its own mystery.

Michael Kenna, Namiko, Study 3, Japan, 2016
Gelatin-Silver Print, 8x8" Image,
Edition of 25, $3000
Mystery is important to everything Kenna has done. The hills and long horizons of his previous books draw us beyond the human shape of things. Oddly enough, that much is still true in Rafu, but in reverse. A photograph, even a print, says Kenna, should be “deliciously unpredictable.” It’s an ambition achieved in Rafu, where each image is a beginning and end unto itself. There’s no way of knowing what the next pose, the next expression, the next mood will be. Rafu is an exceptional addition to the nude genre in photography, living up, in its own way, to Bernhard’s insistence that artists try new things, that they be “consistently inconsistent.” She would have been proud." – Collier Brown

Collier Brown is a photography critic and poet. Founder and editor of Od Review, Brown also works as an editor for 21st Editions (Massachusetts) and Edition Galerie Vevais (Germany).


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For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 
505-988-5152 x202 or gallery@photoeye.com

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. 
Prices will increase as the print editions sell.

2019 Group Show
on view through April 20, 2019

» View work from the exhibition

Select Included Artists:

» Julie Blackmon
» Kate Breakey
» Mitch Dobrowner
» Michael Kenna
» Clay Lipsky
» Beth Moon
» James Pitts 
» Reuben Wu 
» Brad Wilson 

photo-eye Gallery – 541 S. Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501 | VIEW MAP



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