Vermont photographer Caleb Kenna takes a stunning bird’s-eye view of his home state.
By Ian Aldrich
Jun 28 2022
A dirt road curves through a patchwork of autumn hues in Sudbury, Vermont. Kenna says shooting on an overcast day like this one helps amp up the colors, from the oranges and reds of maples to the verdant evergreens to the ghostly white of trees that have already dropped their leaves. “There’s something about trees that I’m drawn to over and over again, whether it’s fall, summer, winter, spring,” Kenna says. “I just love the shape of them, especially from the top.”Photo Credit : Caleb Kenna
In early March, The New York Times published a collection of Caleb Kenna’s aerial photos of his native Vermont. It was the second time in as many years the world-famous newspaper had showcased Kenna’s work, and like the earlier selection, the photos revealed scenes that were both familiar and fresh. Breathtaking, almost painterly, in their abstract representations of everyday landscapes.
And just as before, readers gushed over what they saw: “My soul needed that.” “These pictures are poetry.” “Thank you, Caleb, for showing a perspective I never thought to imagine.”
The second Times spotlight—and accompanying raves—was another landmark in Kenna’s recent run of high-profile recognition, which continues this August with the publication of his first book, Art from Above: Vermont, from Schiffer Publishing, a collection of 130 color photos he’s taken via drone.
“I’ve collected photo books for years,” says Kenna. “I’ve studied them, I love them—so to have one of my own that I can put up on the shelf is pretty awesome.”
It’s also a well-deserved reward for a New England photographer who’s been shooting professionally for nearly 30 years. Raised in Brandon, Vermont, Kenna cut his teeth as a photojournalist at newspapers including the Rutland Herald and the Addison Independent before he struck out on his own as a freelancer in 2000. Over the past two decades his work has been featured by The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic publications, and Yankee, among others.
Kenna, who lives in Middlebury with his wife and son, has an eye for all the different angles of his home state: gritty scenes from a local railyard, joyous eruptions on a town basketball court, the placid waters of the Champlain Valley. But for someone who has long loved gazing out the windows of airplanes to see the land below, drone photography opened a completely new way for him to present the world around him.
“I’ve always loved pictures that make you stop and think, Whoa, what is that?” says Kenna, who began experimenting with drones in 2017 and became an FAA-certified pilot a year later. “Just to see something anew is really exciting, whether it’s a view on a town or a pattern on a field or a lake—to see how the land is shaped or how we’ve shaped the land is fascinating. Even something like a field of solar panels can be interesting.”
While Kenna balks at being pigeonholed as an aerial photographer (“I still love shooting portraits,” he says), he also understands why that part of his work has resonated with people the most. The very things that make his images appealing—their tranquility, their unexpected beauty—are also what draws him to make them. It’s why, some five years and more than 15,000 images later, Kenna feels like he’s far from done with exploring the format.
“I’d love to shoot in other parts of the country, where there’s a completely different color palette,” he says. “I love to be able to just follow what I want to do. To follow my own intuition and make pictures—that means something to me. For them to mean so much to other people is extremely gratifying.”
Art from Above: Vermont, with a foreword by Bill McKibben, will be published August 28. To see more of Kenna’s work, go to calebkenna.com.