A while ago I received a copy of Forms of Japan, a collection of photographs from Japan by British photographer Michael Kenna. Kenna is one of my favourite photographers, not least because of his meditative approach to photography, and this is very apparent when looking through the pages of this book. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the contents of the book, but I do want to talk about its presentation.
Upon opening the cover, itself holding a misty forest scene which does a perfect job of setting the mood for the rest of this book, you am greeted by the first chapter, aptly named First. In this chapter, Yvonne Meyer-Lohr, who collaborated with Kenna to produce Forms of Japan, talks about the influence of Japanese Zen on Kenna and his photography. From here on, the book is split into five main other chapters, each dealing with a specific subject studied in Kenna’s photographs.
- Sea – Forms of Isolation
- Land – Forms of Strength
- Trees – Forms of Transformation
- Sprit – Forms of Entireness
- Sky – Forms of Elusiveness
These chapters lead you through the book, tackling each of Kenna’s forms in its entirety before moving on to the next. Each chapter begins with a beautiful header, and a preface written by Meyer-Lohr, before showing a series of beautiful photographs which capture, as Kenna always does, a beauty that transcends that of the landscape itself.
The images are uninterrupted, save for haiku which perfectly reflect the images they accompany. These haiku, coupled with the calming, meditative nature of Kenna’s images themselves, give the entire book a contemplative atmosphere, and make browsing the pages an absolute joy. This book makes it obvious that the haiku is the perfect written form to compliment Kenna’s photography.
The sizing of images varies throughout the book, but fits every image individually. Some images take up full pages, sometimes more, and create an impact as soon as a page is turned, rushing up to strike you in the face, leaving you staring at the photograph slightly dazed. Others take up a quarter of a page, leaving plenty of negative space on the paper, and forcing you to interrogate the page to really understand the images. Often a row of images are presented on a spread, fitting a particular form, like these piers, the horizon in each image at the same height to give a sense of continuity.
I could talk for hours about this book, but it would be far better for you to read it yourself, because no matter how many words I type, I could not do it justice. The design and layout of this book – from the organisation of the chapters, down to the fonts chosen for section headers – go hand in hand with Kenna’s photographic study of Japan – a country rich in history, culture, and beauty.