Sean Kernan had never studied photography. So when he was offered a college teaching job he came up with exercises that drew on what he knew, mainly theater and writing. The assignments provoked student's seeing and their own experience, and they made photographs from there.
And it worked, well enough that Kernan felt as though he had somehow stumbled on a secret door to creativity. Far from keeping it a secret, he has continued to develop these “wake up” exercises for over 30 years, often collaborating with fellow artists: dancers, musicians, painters, writers, actors and directors, meditators, installation artists, and poets. The exercises transform classic photographic concerns—focus, composition, portraiture, figure/ground—into the photographer’s actual whole-body experience of perception. This highly unusual approach to photography leads to a deeper seeing—and to photographs that are more awake and alive.
He has used this approach in countless photography workshops, as well as with art school faculty, psychiatrists, corporate design departments, editors, medical school personnel, and ex-child soldiers and street children in Africa. He has taught at the New School/Parsons, International Center for Photography, Maine and Santa Fe Workshops, among many others. For his work, the Center in Santa Fe gave him its Teaching Award in 2010.
He has exhibited widely museums and galleries in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, published two monographs of his photographs; The Secret Books with Jorge Luis Borges, and among Trees with Anthony Doerr. He has directed two documentaries, The Kampala Boxing Club, about boxing in Uganda, and Crow Stories, on the Crow Reservation. He is currently collaborating with Alison Chase on a theater/dance/multimedia piece, Drowned.