installation 2

Along the Silk Road
Photographs by Kenro Izu. Text by Yo-Yo Ma, Theodore Levin, Bright Sheng, Elizabeth Barber, and Hamid Naficy.
University Of Washington Press, Seattle, 2002. 144 pp., 65 color and 25 black-and-white illustrations, 7¾x11¼".

"In 1998 renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded the Silk Road Project, Inc., a nonprofit foundation devoted to the living arts of peoples of traditional Silk Road lands. The greater Silk Road encompassed certain sea routes and the loose system of trails that crossed the mountains and deserts of Central Asia to connect East Asia and the Mediterranean."-the pub. A richly illustrated book whose contributors include a composer, an archaeologist, a photographer, and two art historians, among others.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
June 9, 2002- January 5,2003

Coinciding with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival's celebration of the ancient Silk Road trading route, the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Avenue. S.W.) will present an exhibition of 25 large format platinum prints by the renowned New York photographer Kenro Izu (b. 1949). "Kenro Izu: Sacred Sites along the Silk Road" is on view from June 9, 2002 to January 5, 2003.

Focussing on sacred Buddhist sites in western China, Ladakh, India, Mustang, Nepal and the Tibetan plateau, these richly evocative black-and-white photographs picture the arid, rugged landscapes and difficult terrain encountered by travelers along the Silk Road. Izu's subjects include monasteries, royal tombs, ancient cities and small personal shrines set amid the immense grandeur of the Himalayas or vast and desolate deserts.

"Reaching beyond the purely documentary, Izu's prints are both starkly clear and evocatively dreamlike, emphasizing both beauty and decay," says curator Debra Diamond.

Not a highway in the modern sense, the Silk Road was instead a loose network of trails connecting China, India and the Mediterranean via the mountains and deserts of Central Asia. Traveled for millennia by merchants, monks and adventurers, these routes and their scattered oasis settlements played a crucial role not only in the dispersal of goods but also in the spread and exchange of religious ideas and cultures across the continents. The sacred Buddhist sites pictured by Izu in this exhibition in particular document the spread of Buddhism from India to East Asia.

Kenro Izu was born in Osaka, Japan and grew up near Hiroshima. He first used a camera to document medical specimens, but abandoned his early ambition to become a doctor to study fine art photography at the Nihon University College of Art in Tokyo. Izu visited the United States as a student in 1970 but stayed to work as a fashion and commercial photographer. Known also for his still-lifes of decaying flowers and sensuous nudes, Izu first photographed monumental ruins in Egypt in 1979 and has also produced acclaimed photographs of other monumental sites including the ancient Buddhist temples at Angkor, Cambodia.

Izu's photographs are taken using a custom-made 14-by-20-inch large format camera. His film is special ordered from Kodak and his photographs are contact printed on paper to which he has himself applied the emulsion. This resulting product is a matte image that is literally seeped into the fibers of the paper. "To capture the spirituality I feel in stone remains and the density of atmosphere that embraces them, I can think of no other medium than platinum prints made by contact printing with large format negatives," he says.

Where possible traveling by jeep, Izu uses horses, donkeys and yaks to reach the remote mountainous sacred sites he photographs. Each trip lasts approximately one month, during which time he takes only 80 exposures, often waiting hours for the spiritual essence of the site to become apparent.