Kenro Izu: Bhutan, The Sacred Within

Image Copyright © Kenro Izu-All Rights Reserved

I was glad to go to the Rubin Museum of Art (RMA) yesterday to see Kenro Izu's exhibition of photographs from Bhutan. The RMA devoted its entire third floor to the exhibition, and it was visually most of its exhibitions are.

From the RMA's brochure: "Bhutan, the Sacred Within exhibition is the last of Kenro Izu's trilogy related to sacred landscapes, si the second to premiere at RMA. The people of Bhutan, heirs to an unbroken tradition of Buddhist government and religion, sustain the values of family bonds, community life, agrarian labor and worship. Izu finds this focus in the faces and postures of his subjects. His meticulous, hand-printed platinum prints bring us closer to a population that seeks to maintain traditions while on the brink of modernity."

Using a turn of the century technique, Kenro Izu takes platinum palladium prints with a custom built camera that produces 14 x 20-inch negatives. In a significant departure from his previous large scale projects, most of Izu's photographs of Bhutan are of people. The subjects are posed, and I was told that because of the lens aperture, the poses were unusually long by modern standards and resulted in a slight softness in some of the photographs; the subjects of the photographs understandably moving a little.

The total number of prints on the third floor are probably about 50, out of which a handful were much larger than 14x20 inches. The photographs are either carbon pigment prints or platinum/palladium prints. Having no clue what was a carbon pigment print, I looked it up on Wikipedia and it's "a photographic print produced by soaking a carbon tissue in a dilute sensitizing solution of potassium bichromate. The solution also consists of carbon, gelatin, and a coloring agent." As for the platinum/palladium prints, they are contact prints — the photographs are the size of the negatives, and they cannot be enlarged.

I was told that while all the regular-sized photographs were hand printed, the handful of larger photographs had been digitally printed because of their size.

I particularly admired a photograph of two tsechu dancers, one poker-faced and the other almost frowning, made the Tamshing Lakhang in Bumthang. Another masterpiece is the triptych of dancers made during the Wangdue tsechu in central Bhutan.

There's no question that this is a must-see exhibition if you live or are in New York and you're interested in Bhutan, Buddhism, and in sophisticated visual arts. Others -who are more qualified than I- as well as press releases have already lauded the exhbition and the photographs...but take it from me, it shouldn't be missed.

Incidentally, Kenro Izu has published a wonderful book of his Bhutan photographs...more like a monograph...and it's available at the RMA's bookstore if you want to take these photographs home. I couldn't find it do take a look at it while you're there.

I found a couple of older QT snippets of an interview with Kenro Izu and his process on the Peabody Essex Museum website.

Izu's Interview

Izu's Printing Process

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