Map of Mountains and Seas #18
Map of Mountains and Seas #19
Three Views of Yellow Earth (Vertical)
Map of Mountains and Seas #10
By focusing on and conveying the essence and energy of natural phenomena, a painting could feel more “real” than something like a photograph because it contains timeless qualities of nature beyond one unique moment. This approach to painting could rectify nature as much as depict nature.
So how can a photographer overcome this seeming impossibility for photography to convey the essence of traditional Chinese landscape painting, when a photograph is captured from a specific location at a specific moment? Well, given that the vocabulary of brushwork that informs Chinese painting was drawn from nature, one should be able to find it within nature, though it is usually hidden in the details.
Copying from nature or from masterworks has been an essential element of the Chinese landscape painting learning process, and photography certainly is copying. But a certain quality of observation is also required. My explorations come after having first spent time absorbing classical works. When wandering, a moment will arise and a visual trigger will occur that leads to the click of the shutter; the trigger can sometimes be subconscious. After traveling, back in the studio it becomes a matter of searching for qi within the frame.
My intention has been for the photographs to serve as a conduit for nature; for a world that can be touched. Altering the image would defeat the purpose, so I refrain from that. Only Nature may exaggerate herself.[i] This still leaves many tools that can be utilized, such as cropping, masking, enlarging, and folding.
My hope is to imbue photography with a sense of the rise and fall of the ten thousand things. Yet photography also allows the journey that leads the viewer through the depth of a piece to include a return via the realization that what is being seen is indeed light as it existed for a moment in the physical world, and thus offers a feeling of connectedness between the viewer, the physical world and its essence.
[i] Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849.
b. 1969 in New York, lives and works in Beijing
Michael Cherney studied Chinese language and history at the State University of New York at Binghamton, followed by graduate language study at Beijing Language Institute. A self- taught photographer, Cherney's formal studies, combined with his rigorous personal studies of China's art historical past, have resulted in his abiding appreciation and even reverence for China's rich history and painting tradition, particularly landscape painting. His relationship with China has been deepened by his residence in Beijing for well over two decades along with his extensive travel throughout China, seeking out the specific sites that have historical relevance to his work. He has described his art as a way “to look upon a place imbued with a vast (sometimes daunting) accumulation of history and cultural memory, and then to capture one instant, fleeting, tangible moment of it with a photograph.”
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive
Cleveland Museum of Art
Getty Research Institute
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Middlebury College Museum of Art
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Peabody Essex Museum
Portland Art Museum
Princeton University Art Museum
Saint Louis Art Museum
Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California at San Diego
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College
Wellin Museum of Art, Hamilton College
Yale University Art Gallery