Photographer of the Nazi camps, the Briton Michaël Kenna, master of black and white landscapes and silver prints, presents his work from an artist residency in Rivesaltes.
“There is a mysterious rendezvous between the deceased generations and the one to which we ourselves belong”. Quotes from Walter Benjamin, including this one, scattered throughout the exhibition of photos by Michaël Kenna at the Rivesaltes Camp Memorial, remind us of his intention. “To make alive the memory of the Holocaust and its victims”sums up the British photographer.
The past needs artists
“The past needs artists to take a fresh look at events, revisit the memory and thus complete the vision of the past”, adds Céline Sala-Pons, the director of the Memorial who welcomed the photographer in residence in March 2022 so that he could take an order of fifteen shots, which became forty-three, and all donated to the Memorial.
Michaël Kenna has been photographing the camps of Europe for over twenty years. In Rivesaltes as in Dachau, Birkenau or Lublin-Majdanek, he freezes fragments of camps in a constraining square, the format he chooses “because it is neutral”he says, for the majority of his photos.
The exhibition devoted here to his work begins with two series of shots taken in different Nazi camps. A surgical and necessary introduction to the discovery of his own work in Rivesaltes, presented below. Same format, same ultra polished black and white, same meticulous framing, same subject finally; safeguarding the most painful memory of the Second World War.
Kenna wants to do her part in this endless and above all constantly renewed work. Show the infinite weight of these deserted places, “the presence of the absence”, as he says. The presence of those absent, which must be kept strong.
The master of black and white landscapes
Exhibited more than 850 times around the world, distinguished by a dozen countries including France, which awarded him the Arts and Letters, Michaël Kenna is the master of black and white landscape photography. The Briton, who now lives in the United States, makes all his silver prints after exposure times that can last up to ten hours. His colossal work on the camps has just been the subject of a donation to the Media Library of Heritage and Photography and to the French Ministry of Culture.
He also offered his additional shots of the Rivesaltes camp to the Memorial.