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Light, Land and Water - Beauty in Africa - Review

Desert of Namibia, Kenny exhibition: Light, Land and Water: Beauty in Africa

Feature by Veronica Blake

AN exhibition of black and white fine art photographs by John Kenny.

JOHN Kenny spent much of 2006 travelling to remote regions of Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia in search of images that captured the power and beauty of the people and their environment.

The locations he chose shared a common bond – a desperate shortage of water. This life-giving element is predicted to be the source of many future conflicts and its absence is key to the behaviour of the tribes and wildlife he encountered. It is also reflected in the patterns and form of the dramatic landscapes.

The exhibition includes stunning portraits of some of Africa’s remotest tribes, such as the nomadic Karo of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. The faces display a pride shaped by fierce rivalries over scarce resources, and centuries of tradition.

John’s eye was also drawn to the landscape and the line, form and texture of areas where the influence of water is minimal.

These include ghostly copses of trees that died over seven hundred years ago and towering sand dunes from the Namibia Desert, dramatically illuminated and criss-crossed with the tracks of dew-collecting beetles.

“I was fascinated by how Africa and its people are still governed by fundamental patterns in their environment,” he explains. “The challenge was to portray the inherent elegance of the people, animals and their surroundings as well as illustrating the privilege I felt at being amongst them.”

The photographer, John Kenny is a Manchester-born photographer with a fascination for line and pattern, and a desire to reveal the inner beauty of his subjects.

His style is inspired by the darkroom technique of the masters.

“I imagine the illumination in advance, and then do everything I can to achieve that visualisation,” he says.

In his latest work this was anything but routine…

Girl of the Himba - Light, Land and Water: Beauty in Africa

“In many villages I had no obvious means of communicating, yet needed the subject’s cooperation to find the spectacular lighting that I had imagined. The heat was often fierce, the natural light intense, and the villagers, many carrying guns, sceptical.

“Yet eventually, through humour and a growing mutual respect, I managed to achieve the feel I was looking for.”

The results are simply breathtaking. Tribespeople appear to emerge from an enveloping darkness, their skin shimmering with a metallic tone, their expressions proud yet relaxed.

All of this was achieved using only the ambient light of a borrowed village hut and a lot of patience.

John’s exhibition Still Lives was listed in the British Journal of Photography’s Top Five during October 2005.

From the same body of work, the Lady in White was selected as Image of the Week in The Times and was used extensively in the publicity for the 2006 UK Affordable Art Fair.

Photographs from the subcontinent also featured in the India special of Conde Nast Traveller magazine.

Imagery from the current body of work, Light, Land and Water: Beauty in Africa, has been used as publicity for this year’s Affordable Art Fair (2007) and will be published later this year.

The exhibition is showing at the London gallery Capital Culture until April 28, 2007. The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, from 11am to 6pm; Sat: 1pm-5pm. Entrance to the exhibition is free. Capital Culture is located at 3 Bedfordbury, Covent Garden (behind the London Coliseum).