Kenro Izu began photographing stone ruins in 1979 after a visit to Egypt left him with a sense of both fascination and motivation. He explains that he “feel(s) that life’s source can be found in stones that have existed for hundreds of millions of years…” and while making photographs at Angkor, he “said a prayer with every exposure.” (Izu quoted by Eilkoh Hosoe, Director, Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, exhibition catalog, introductory essay, Kenro Izu “Light Over Ancient Angkor” 1996.)
Kenro Izu’s platinum palladium prints of temples and carvings at Angkor are exquisite with an otherworldy quality that the artist captured in situ. He creates large format negatives that are then processed as contact prints. This allows the original negative to be exposed without distortion and loss of resolution that can occur by enlarging the negative or manipulating the print in any way. The platinum printing process provides a tonal range of black and white that includes warm tones, reddish-brown tones and mid-tones that cannot be achieved with silver gelatin printing methods. The final print is completely matte on its surface, revealing detail in every tone including the darkest blacks, and does not curl. This is one reason this type of print is very valued by collectors.
In 1992 Izu traveled to Cambodia, which was still suffering from war. He tells us that he was “on a pilgrimage in search of something that touches my heart.” (Kenro Izu, exhibition catalog essay: Light and Shadow of the Angkor, March 1996.) The artist visited Angkor in 1993, ’94 and ’95. His pilgrimage led him to the very thing he sought. During these photography trips, which were in themselves dangerous undertakings, he met many children in Angkor who had been the victims of mines (over 40 thousand buried in Cambodia since 1940). “Angkor Child Clinic Fund” was started when he returned and resulted in building a free children’s hospital in Siem Reap, Cambodia. In New York, Izu founded a not-for-profit organization, “Friends Without a Border” and each year Izu champions a photography auction to raise funds for this relief organization. The Angkor Hospital for Children was opened in 1999 and has treated over 650,000 children to date. (http://www.kenroizu.com/html/profile.html ) He has sworn to contribute all of the funds from the Angkor works to this cause.
I am struck by the power of the silent imagery in Izu’s Angkor photographs. The artistry in his work is evidenced not just by his technical purity and excellence, but by his ability to suggest—and have me believe—that these stones do, indeed, contain a spiritual essence that is somehow conveyed by a photographic print on a piece of paper. Digital reproduction can never fully convey the experience of seeing these works in person. If you have an opportunity to see any of his works, I urge you to do so.
The exhibition “Light Over Ancient Angkor” included the artist’s newest platinum prints. The Phillips Museum owns two of Kenro Izu’s platinum prints—Angkor #71, Ta Prohm, 1994 and Angkor #73, Bayon, 1994. These were purchased by the Museum in 1997 and in 1998 with the approval of the Board and supported by contributions from Tom and Virginia Phillips, Carrie Nunan, Sally Gibson, Sidney Dickstein, Patricia Ross Weis, and Ellen Groff. Following the purchase, the entire series of Angkor Wat photos were exhibited in the Dana Gallery.
This week’s blog post was written by Phillips Museum of Art, Curator of Exhibitions, Claire Giblin