"Some of these photographs are familiar, even famous, and many have never been seen before. It is incredible to think that this work has been lying dormant, stored away in a series of negative boxes. These images show a Northern England that doesn’t exist anymore, and they remind me of the proverb, time and tide wait for no man. Time has certainly not waited in Northern England." Dr Ian B Glover
A curated exhibition of silver gelatin prints from Michael Kenna's new book Northern England 1983-1986 published by Nazraeli Press in October 2021. This exhibition celebrates iconic works from Kenna's archive such as Bill Brandt's Snicket, Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, 1986 alongside completely new works, never before published or exhibited, such as the intriguing print titled Steep Street, Blackburn, Lancashire, England, 1985. The exhibition includes a fascinating introduction by Kenna's nephew Dr. Ian B Glover, MA PGCE, PhD who is a photographer, writer and educator, with a deep interest in the photographic representation of Northern England.
"Projects sometimes develop without prior research or specific intentions. Curiosity can lead to a keen interest, which may in turn transform into an avid infatuation. Such is the case with this series of photographs made between 1983 and 1986. As a young boy, growing up in Widnes, I was a huge fan of the Chemics, our local rugby league team. While attending their home matches, even the reserve games, at Naughton Park on Lowerhouse Lane, I sold match programmes and raffle tickets for pocket money. My dad took me to a few of the neighboring away grounds of St. Helens, Warrington and Wigan. I always wanted to visit the towns of our competitors from further afield, such as Batley, Bradford, Halifax, Hud- dersfield, Leigh and others. I might have had this in mind when I drove North up the motorway from London in 1983. I certainly knew that I intended to follow in the footsteps of my great inspiration, Bill Brandt, who had photographed fifty years earlier in Northern England. I had been corresponding with him before he died in 1983 and remain extremely appreciative of his strong shoulders.
On my travels through the rugby league towns of my youth, I encountered beautiful landscapes, historical architecture, tall chimneys, empty mills, disused canals, and rows and rows of worker houses due for demolition. There was a curious familiarity about most of the places, even if I had not previously visited them. At times, I felt an intriguing, dark presence, particularly in some of the run down mill towns. Compared to the South of England, it felt as though time was standing still in the North. It was calm while I was there, but the winds of change were about to sweep through and change the region forever. This was the Margaret Thatcher era and a crippling national miners’ strike was imminent. I photographed what struck me as interesting, and subsequently printed some of the negatives for exhibitions and publications, before moving onto new subject matter in France and Japan. The negatives and contact sheets were filed away. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented me from traveling and photographing, so I looked into my archive for negatives to print. I discovered this treasure trove. Much of what I photographed in the eighties no longer exists, and I cannot even trace some of the structures. I recollect my travels there as being a series of personal journeys of exploration down a biographically ambiguous memory lane. It has been highly satisfying to now reconnect with this special part of my homeland.
During the recent research, I was delighted to come across correspondence between the well-known photographer and film maker, Ralph Steiner, and my San Francisco representatives, Connie and Stephen Wirtz. In a letter, dated May 12, 1984, Ralph writes to Connie: “Darlingst (sic) Connie, Heavy thanks for sending me the M.K. booklet. I lean heavily towards sending Mr. Kenna a check—small- ish—$1,000. Tell M.K. I’m for him because he and I do not believe, as do many photographers, that the world has been worn out—useless—for photography— over done. He has, God bless, a fresh eye because he is alive.” The Stephen Wirtz Gallery represented my work from when it opened in the late seventies until it closed in 2014, and I will be forever grateful to Connie and Stephen Wirtz for their sustained guidance and close friendship during those thirty-five years. I visited Ralph Steiner in Vermont while I worked on this project, and continued to correspond with him until he passed away in 1986. Regrettably, I was unable to show him many of these pictures. I hope that he would have been pleased and would like to thank him now for his generous and discreet support back when I needed it most. I also want to sincerely thank my publisher, Chris Pichler, for his enthusiastic commitment to publish this series, my nephew, Ian Glover, for his research, writing and passion for Northern England, and my lovely wife, Mamta, for her constant love, support and patience. I hope that you, the readers of this book, enjoy these images as much as I have enjoyed making them." Michael Kenna, November 2021