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Thursday October 27, 2016
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Photographer Michael Kenna



photographer Michael Kenna's exquisite black-and-white photos of the Ford Rouge complex.

Three of the Kenna Rouge photos in the UMMA's collection were standout works in the summer 2001 exhibit Albert Kahn: Inspiration for the Modern. This time, the visitor can see no fewer than ninety. Taken in the early 1990s and printed by a silver-gelatin process that renders the works pearly and starkly chiaroscuric, the brooding, poetic photos transform a dirty, utilitarian industrial site into meditations on the unlikely beauty of smokestacks and slag piles.

The Rouge, Study #7 (right) shows a curving chimney complex silhouetted among climbing drifts of mysteriously illuminated white cloud. A stain of inky smoke rises against pale mist. The precise outlines of the metal structure, surrounded and dwarfed by the luminous vapor, render the hulking machinery into a toylike shape in a floating-cloud world.

The factory is also dwarfed by natural phenomena in Study #18. Resembling a mountain range, a dark gray ridge of dirt or coal looms up through the bottom two-thirds of the photo. Beyond it, an array of Rouge chimneys exudes insubstantial wisps of white smoke, and seems in danger of burial by the hulking pile, as if the glacierlike coal were burying and erasing the structures.

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University of Michigan Museum of Arts