Kenro Izu: Light Over Ancient Angkor

Rarely used photo process creates haunting images of asian architectural marvel

Light over Ancient Angkor opens November 4 in the Hearst Art Gallery. The exhibition presents incredibly rich and varied images of one of the world's largest religious buildings, captured in rare platinum-palladium prints. Photographer Kenro Izu used a rare 14" x 20" format camera to document the powerfully beautiful yet destructive coexistence of ancient stone monuments and the nature that surrounds them.

To produce the richly textured and remarkably detailed photographs, Izu uses ferrous salts and platinum chloride instead of silver salts in the developing process. The process is fragile and requires exceptional mastery. But the 19th century technique produces a nearly permanent print. Yet, the method has been abandoned by modern photographers both because of its costly materials and unpredictability.

Izu's remarkable work records the inexorable approach of invasive roots of giant native trees as the jungle reclaims the native brick and sandstone structures.

Angkor is composed of plazas, avenues, temples, terraced pyramids, causeways and an elaborate irrigation system that created a thriving agricultural and trade-based economy for the Khmer. At its peak, the city surrounding the temple compound sustained a population of over one million people. The temples were a symbol of the immortality of the god-kings; an estimated 50,000 artisans, peasants and slaves worked from 1113 to 1145 to construct the elaborate compound for the king, his court and royal priests.

In spite of the limitations of corbelled arch construction, the richness and size of the architectural and sculptural elements of Angkor Wat, rival the gothic cathedral. Successive rulers built additional temples that would later become their tombs, assuring passage to a divine afterlife. In 1431, after repeated attacks by northern enemies, the Khmer retreated to the southeast to form their present day capitol, Phnom Penh. By then, the architectural masterpiece of Angkor Wat had become a Buddhist shrine as well as a Hindu temple. It remains today a place of Buddhist worship.

Osaka native Izu studied photography in Japan before moving to New York in 1971. Through the sale of his Cambodian photographs, Izu has established the Angkor Children's clinic to treat the young victims of land mines and pediatric diseases still rampant in Cambodia.