© Sean Kernan, 1979, Prisoner with mirror

In 1977, Mr. Kernan was photographing a personal project on carnival workers in Ohio and West Virginia with little success. Driving home to New York slightly depressed, he passed a classic hulk of a prison. On a whim, he knocked on the door to ask if he could take some photos. Now, here it comes: The warden let him in.

“I have no idea why,” said Mr. Kernan, now 69. “The odds against me getting in was enormous.”  So, the warden didn’t mind if people saw what the prison was really like. But there was one problem. Quite a few guards were out sick that day. Could a prisoner be his guide? Mr. Kernan was uncontrolled, unsupervised and with his own fixer and translator. Within a few hours, he knew he had “stumbled into another universe.” He kept arranging to go back. And the prison kept letting him return. (read more)

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Surreal Saturday

On an impulse, Connecticut photographer, writer, and educator Sean Kernan began taking pictures of books in his studio one day. As he considered the compositions, he suddenly came to realize that the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges was in them. The result of this realization was a publication of  photographic imagery using Borges’s texts about books, The Secret Books, published by Leetes Island Books in 1999. Today we present a selection of images from that book.

Kernan writes: “I began to reinvestigate Borges in the light of my picture-making, and at once the connection was palpable, particularly when he wrote about books… . In [Borges’s] story The Book of Sand, a stranger seems relieved to sell the narrator a book. This book, it tuns out, can never be opened to the same page twice. Its contents shift and slide within the pages and defy the expectation that a book should contain and fix what is in it… . The Secret Books doesn’t attempt to illustrate Borges, and it doesn’t aspire to be a collaboration–as an artist I couldn’t hold his coat… .  navigating thus under the star of Borges, I look at this book … and find myself peering down dark, unfamiliar paths across the plane of the world with a rising sense, both exciting and ominous, that everything is about to change.”