Sean Kernan’s Prison Photography

Sean Kernan

Kernan’s portraits of inmates from various state prisons in the northeast.

A few years ago, photographer Sean Kernan was returning home from a disappointing photo shoot with carnival workers when he drove past a state prison. With nothing to lose Kernan pulled over, knocked on the door and was taken to the warden’s office where he explained his spontaneous idea to photograph the inmates.

“He stunned me by saying yes,” Kernan said in Graphis Photo Annual 2008. “I spent an hour in the yard stopping inmates and doing portraits. When I got home, I realized that one of [the photos] was one of the best things I had ever done. If there was one, perhaps there were more.”

Kernan wrote the warden and was invited back — this time to begin five, one-week-long visits to two maximum-security prisons in the northeast. The results of the endeavor garnered much acclaim and several spreads in Graphis.

He spent these weeks “in a state of alertness and awareness such as I had never before experienced….The work had a life of its own, and I knew I was done when I felt it didn’t need me to go back. Nothing has been the same since.”

Kernan is an award-winning photographer and writer who lives and works on the Connecticut coast. His photographs have been shown in museums around the world, including the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Museum of Photography in Greece, and the Whitney Museum in the United States. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Communication Arts, and the Atlantic Monthly. He is the author of Among Trees and The Secret Books, with Jorge Luis Borges.

To see more of Kernan’s work, click here.

Sean Kernan

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