Portrait of Sean Kernan
About the Photographer
Sean Kernan always knew he was an artist. He commenced with writing, progressed to acting, and then discovered photography - which provided his first concrete sense of expression. "Photography set me squarely into the real world while lifting my imagination into the air. It was the perfect form for me."
Born in 1942 in New York City, Kernan began his creative life at a young age. After graduating from the University of Pennslyvania's writing program, he fell into the theater where he immediately felt at home. Those early years in theater have largely formed the way Kernan creates; never taught photography in a formal setting, he nonetheless became a renowned teacher and inventive photographer. His work has been shown around the world, from the Whitney Museum in New York City to the Museum of Photography in Greece, even appearing in the Biblioteca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt and he has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Communication Arts, Graphis, and the Atlantic Monthly.
His monograph, The Secret Books, is comprised of individually hand-printed images. The series was a serendipitious moment that grew into a series of over forty photographs. While taking a break from photography in order to bring freshness to his work and remain "aware", Kernan began writing poetry. One day he noticed an old book on the table in front of him, and in a moment of inspiration, Kernan pulled out four Japanese rocks and placed them on the book. To him it looked like a poem itself - perhaps a haiku, perhaps free verse. He took a photo of the poem and began the series that turned into The Secret Books, photographs of old books juxtaposed against light and objects such as a mirror, a dried bouquet of violets, and a hand with water. He nailed a book, painted over one completely, created a text out of ants, and bound one in steel bars. The book is paired with writings by the famous South American author, Jorge Louis Borges, whose blindess at a young age altered the way he wrote and thought about books. The combination of Kernan and Borges seems more than fortuitous - rather, it seems divinely inspired. For both Borges and Kernan have created works that challenge how we as humans collectively respond to the Book as an archetype, and go on to subvert the common idea that a book is merely the sum of its pages, or the content, or "good" and "bad". Instead, the Book becomes the starting point for a journey of inspiration and internal dialogue. You can find both a universe and a death in the pages of a book, if only you have the eyes to see.
Borges once wrote: "A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it established with its reader . . . A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships." Kernan complements this idea by striving to create work that is suggestive, rather than illustrative or pedantic. His work continues the dialogue of the book, firmly rooted in Borges' belief in trusting the viewer to find the meaning and relationships that are individually important.
Sean Kernan - Original Photographs - (The Secret Books)
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