Whenever I look at Michael Kenna's work from the mid 70s to the late 80s, his landscapes and townscapes seem to capture something of Bill Brandt's work whilst showing him to have established his own distinctive style . What they appears to share is a similar of mystery and isolation in the way they photographed place. Of course there are differences - Kenna loves as many subtle shades of grey as possible whereas Brandt exploited the starkness of high contrast black and white - but they both shared a love of the unexpected in the British landscape, often the juxtaposition of the industrial with the pastoral. .
Kenna likes using long exposures that soften edges, iron water to silk and make clouds of smoke seem like ghostly angels rising from menacing cooling towers. Brandt loved the way water caught the light on cobbles and slate, and mist draped itself over the hills like a shawl. Both found a way to make their images of the Industrial Revolution's heritage in our towns and cities timeless whilst still capturing something of Blake's 'dark satanic mills'. Both make you look beyond the surface, as if forcing us to narrow our eyes, thereby working harder to notice the detail.
Sometimes the exercise of placing the work of two photographers side by side can be very revealing, their similarities being as seductive as the differences which place them firmly in two different eras. But, looked at together, Brandt and Kenna show us just how versatile black and white images can be when used with such confidence and clarity of vision. As such, they can be an invaluable inspiration to those who still know that black and white photography is able to capture place, whether pastoral or industrial, in a way colour images fail to do.