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  • The Secret Books
    The Secret Books
    by Jorge Luis Borges, Sean Kernan
  • Among Trees
    Among Trees
Teaching and Lecturing

I began my working life in theater, but quite soon I wandered off to travel and look around.

Which led me to photography. It wasn’t that I wanted to take pictures, let alone have a career. Like anyone in his 20s, I just wanted to find things out. And photography provided a vehicle and a focus for this impulse. It let me see what was right in front of me. I could do it any place at all. I’d plant myself, open my eyes, and the rest of me would open too. There’d be all of the world, with me looking at it.

Shortly after I started photographing (and long before I was qualified) I began teaching it, first at Manhattanville College, then at the New School in New York, and on from there. Once again I hadn’t set out to be a teacher, but honestly, when I was asked to, it never occurred to me to say that I couldn’t. And I was good enough at it that I got away with it. The best thing was that teaching quickly revealed itself as a wonderful way to learn, and it has been a path ever since.

Since I had never studied photography I didn’t know how to unfold it in an orderly way for the students. But I had a lot of energy, and so did they, and we used our energies to look for, not photographs, but presence and energy and patterns and interactions in all directions. And we manifested that awareness as photographs. I still work that way…on good days.

In order to support all of the stupendous but unpaid labor of forming myself into a photographer, I began to do commercial work. I still do, and it is something that I take very seriously, and it supports my other work at the same time that it is enriched by it.

From the beginning I have continued to work on projects that take me out into the world and into my own head. I have worked in prisons in the U.S. and monasteries in India. I have crossed the Borgesian universe of books in the company of Mr. Borges himself. I have tracked the worlds of old railroad men and modern dancers, Sudanese refugees and fighting bulls.

It continues to be fascinating, especially when I remember what makes it happen is not what is in front of the camera, but what is in me, my awareness and presence.

And it all began not by looking for interesting pictures, but by standing still, opening my eyes, and seeing what had been there all along.

Here's one of my very first. This child and I were both lounging around the streets of Dublin, waiting for something to happen, when we met each other.