Rising up through Tibet’s Himalayas, the snow-covered peak of Mount Kailash glows as if illuminated from within, radiating a hallowed essence. The sacred site is one of hundreds around the world that Izu has photographed since 1979. His 14×20-inch large format, platinum/ palladium contact prints — among them, Egypt’s Step Pyramid, Stonehenge, Angkor Wat, Easter Island, Machu Picchu and the Mayan ruins — appear in Kenro Izu: A Thirty Year Retrospective (Nazraeli Press, 2010), his ninth and most recent book.
“It’s not my purpose to photograph the architecture,” Izu tells me from his studio in Rhinebeck, New York (www.kenroizu.com). “I’m trying to photograph the air surrounding it. I feel that the accumulation of prayers over thousands of years is embedded in the atmosphere.”
This spiritual aura was waiting for him over 30 years ago at the pyramids of Egypt. “I was looking for myself, my own vision of photography,” says Izu, 62, who as a child longed to see all Seven Wonders of the World. “I was struck by the atmosphere that surrounded the pyramids; I sensed that there was something beyond the architecture. The whole area seemed to be sacred. The experience of feeling the atmosphere sent me on the path to see more sacred sites, but it took time for me to realize that.”
Born in Osaka, Japan in 1949, Izu was raised as an only child, just two years old when his father left. At age 12, he and his mother moved to a small town near Hiroshima. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and devoured the biographies of Albert Schweitzer and Louis Pasteur. “I wanted to find some new bacteria to cure an unknown disease. I had tremendous respect for the people who did,” he says.
With his newspaper delivery earnings and his mother’s help, he bought a microscope and peered at microorganisms, mold and bacteria he grew in his bedroom. He marveled at their magnified beauty and bought an SLR to photograph it. When his inadequate math and physics grades thwarted any chance of a career in medicine, he started taking pictures of people, flowers and landscapes, and decided on photography instead.
After graduating from high school in 1969, Izu attended Nihon University College of Art in Tokyo. He listened to Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, admired the offbeat photography in American fashion magazines and skirted the Beat and hippie worlds. He heard so much about the New York City art scene that he felt compelled to go there. “I was looking for something in my life, not just a profession,” he says. In 1970, at age 21, he dropped out of college, got a two-month tourist visa, sold his car and bought a one-way ticket. “I had to live the life that was meant to be.”
More of this article can be read in the Winter 2011 issue.