Michael Kenna: Japan / A Love Story - Interview with Founder and Publisher of Nazraeli Press, Chris Pichler - tortoise general store

Michael Kenna: Japan / A Love Story - Interview with Founder and Publisher of Nazraeli Press, Chris Pichler

Posted by Zack Parker on

Coinciding with an international exhibition traversing Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London, Nazraeli Press has released a new monograph of Michael Kenna's renowned photographs of Japan's landscapes, including many published for the first time.

Kenna's deep-rooted connection to Japan traces back to his 1987 inaugural exhibition, the beginning of a journey that saw him return repeatedly, each time embarking on an extensive photographic exploration of the country's diverse landscapes.

Since his earlier monographs with Nazraeli Press have been unavailable for years, we are delighted to share this essential new release, chronicling Kenna's decades-long engagement with Japan. The publication includes an introductory essay in both Japanese and English by the esteemed critic and historian Kohtaro Iizawa.

Japan: A Love Story by Michael Kenna | Tortoise General Store 

Please enjoy our interview with founder and publisher of Nazraeli Press, Chris Pichler, down below.

TGS: You’ve worked with Michael Kenna on over 20 publications since the 90s. What aspects of his photography stood out to you most when you first began working together?

Chris: The first time I saw Michael’s work was when I was in college. I was at a workshop in Carmel, California and we visited the Weston Gallery. They were showing Michael’s work. I had never seen photographs like his before, and they literally changed my life. The graphic quality of the work, and the sharp grain that seemed to be embedded in the images, combined with the silence - Michael really created a whole new aesthetic. Of course, I didn’t start working with him until years later when I had already established Nazraeli Press. I met Michael through my wife Maya, who was his representative in Japan. We have now published nearly 30 books together, and counting.

TGS: What sets this title apart from Kenna’s earlier monographs with Nazraeli, Japan (2003) and Hokkaido (2006)?

Chris: “Japan / A Love Story” is, to me, a more elegant object than the “Japan” and “Hokkaido” monographs. It is slightly smaller, and vertical rather than square, which allows the viewing experience to be more intimate. The book can be hand held instead of having to be viewed on a table top. The materials are more modest, yet very beautiful, to me in a very Japanese way. The cover design was a collaboration with our friend Hideyuki Taguchi, the Japanese designer with whom Michael and I have both worked with for many years. We are all much older now than when we worked on “Japan” and “Hokkaido” together, and hopefully at least a little bit wiser!

Japan: A Love Story by Michael Kenna | Tortoise General Store

TGS: What have you learned about the collaborative process from your longstanding relationship with Kenna?
Chris: Michael and I are both averse to spending too much time in front of the computer, and second guessing earlier decisions. We both trust our intuitions and enjoy letting each book become what it wants to be, rather than trying to make it fit some preconceived master plan. The collaborative design process comes naturally.

TGS: The book accompanies a traveling exhibition of Kenna’s work in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London. How do you envision the book enhancing the exhibition experience?

Chris: Just as photographs are a translation of their subject, so are books and exhibitions translations of the photographs. They can be different, and by being different, enhance the experience. I’m not interested in books that look like facsimiles of an exhibition, or even in printing quality that completely matches that of the original. The materials and processes are different, and that has to be respected. Looking at photographs in an exhibition space is very different from viewing a book of the same images.

TGS: The afterword by Kenna hints at gratitude and reciprocity. How do you think the book reflects these sentiments?

Chris: I have known Michael for 30 years now, and he has always shown his gratitude for the people around him as well as for the inanimate subjects that he photographs. But Michael's relationship with the country of Japan really is unique; it’s a very special combination of artist and subject, and it truly is a love story. This book is an homage to that relationship.

TGS: Lastly, how have your olive groves and AirBnB properties been going since we last spoke?

Chris: Our olive groves and vacation rentals also have a very special relationship! They help each other to exist and to prosper and be appreciated by guests as well as by Maya and myself. We are grateful for everything that farming, as well as publishing, has taught us.

CASITA OLIVA - Nazraeli Press | Tortoise General Store

The exhibition, titled "Japan / A Love Story", will be on view at Peter Fetterman Gallery in Los Angeles until July 20th. Make sure to visit if you get the chance!

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