Michael Kenna and the confessional booths of Reggio Emilia


Michael Kenna has gained international renown as a landscape photographer; his atmospheric photographs of Japan, China, France and the United States capture the drama of the natural landscape. However, over the past ten years, between 2007-2016, Kenna has worked on a project documenting the catholic confessional booths of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. Born in 1953 in Lancashire, England, into an Irish Catholic family, from an early age Kenna aspired to become a priest and, aged eleven, began studying at seminary school. His series Confessionals is deeply rooted in his religious upbringing. As a child, each week Kenna would visit the dark confessional box in his local church of St Bede’s, Widnes and confess his sins to the local priest. He recalls, “I would feel greatly relieved leaving the church – I was never sure if it was because I was forgiven, or because I didn’t have to go through the ritual again for at least another week.”

The series is a typology of Catholic confessional booths from a distinct geographical region, documenting booths from the 13th century to the present. Shot in black and white, each booth is uniformly the focal point of each image, framed by the details of the church interior which happen to be in shot albeit a crucifix, pillar or ladder offering small clues as to the Church’s architecture and context in which the booth is placed. Kenna also likes to photograph on his own, in silence, creating a sense of calm, solitude and tranquility in his photographs. He is not interested in documenting man’s physical presence, but rather the traces that are left behind by man and he believes Confessionals to be containers of memories and hidden secrets. Kenna states: “As a photographer, I have long been fascinated by memories and traces, stories that have unfolded over time, atmospheres that are left behind, remnants and remains. These images of confessional boxes in Northern Italy symbolise what I continue to search for – the invisible within the visible, the intangible contained in the tangible, the illusion of reality. If words, thoughts and emotions could be made visual, these containers of memories would reveal a multitude of densely packed hidden secrets, confessed, exchanged and discarded, in return for some prayers and a priest’s blessing and forgiveness.”

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