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Sean Kernan is a photographer, writer, and teacher who came to photography from theater. He is the author of two monographs, The Secret Books (with Jorge Luis Borges) and Among Trees, with Anthony Doerr, a book on creativity called Looking Into the Light , and In Stone, on the sculptor Darrell Petit.

He has exhibited at galleries and museums in France, Egypt, Mexico, South Korea, and Italy, as well as in the US, and has created media for performance pieces with Alison Chase at MASS MoCA, Guggenheim Projects in New York, and Portland Performing Arts Festival, most recently a theater/dance/multimedia piece, Drowned.

He has produced and directed several award-winning documentaries: The Kampala Boxing Club, about boxing in Africa; Crow Stories, about the Crow Tribe of Montana; A Mind of Winter, about the feeling of cold; and The Visitor, filmed in his grear-grandfather’s house in upstate New York.


His images are strikingly beautiful: not just in terms of the print quality which is rich and deep, but also in terms of vision. Kernan’s images are so clean, so honestly seen and so deeply felt, that the sequence and all its components are extremely moving. This is a fine show by photographer who is not afraid of his own emotions.

A.D. Coleman, the Village Voice

The first time I heard the opening strains of An American in Paris, the first time I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first time I saw Sean Kernan's photograph Book with Nails, my heart and mind stopped for a moment and moved to another plane, never to forget the experience, pain by thoughts of beauty and dread. This simple but sophisticated work recalls a pop-up book very knowing children created by a magic realist to dazzle and entertain. In this work the book lies open flat like a stage. It's a simple statement, a book driven throw with concrete nails, yet is powerful enough to give me chills, to evoke and calls to mind many images ,from Western iconography to tribal fetish piercing, to ideas of censorship and control of knowledge. This picture projects evil, pulls you in with glamour that makes you search for meaning. Over the years it keeps returning to my eyes. It still creates a sensation in me that is always uneasy, as if the book were human flesh. It makes me ask if I should care. A good photograph can be beautiful; it can also be strange and engaging.

Critic John Bennette in 21st periodical.

He…was like a 2-year-old, wandering around and openly encountering whatever he saw. Yet that lack of preconceived notions — and agenda — led to remarkable photos.

James Estrin, New York Times, on Life Without Mercy, Photos from Prison.

Kernan’s images are densely layered, and like a well-written book allow each viewer to find his or her own way along the trail of the story, to places unknown yet familiar.

Larry Lytle, B&W magazine

In this image we have symbols for both knowledge and rebirth; even the soul's journey toward self-realization.

Doug Beasley, publisher of Shots magazine, referring to Snake Book photo

A beautiful and profound evocation of the power of the book to inform and inspire.

Goodreads, review of The Secret Books