Unexpectedly Beautiful Photographs of Catholic Confessionals

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Confessional, Study 49, Chiesa Di Santa Maria Assunta, Minozzo, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2015© Michael Kenna, courtesy of Beetles + Huxley

Michael Kenna's series about the most secret spaces of northern Italian churches is on display in London now, and it's completely captivating

“Confession is one of seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic religion,” says photographer Michael Kenna, “and as a boy, growing up in a Catholic family in Widnes, England, I would go into a dark confessional box in my local church of St. Bede’s every week to confess my sins to a priest.” Kenna is contextualising his recent photographic series, Confessionals, which is currently exhibiting at Beetles + Huxley in London. “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.”

Confessionals comprises a series of black and white photographs, simple in their composition but imbued with a sense of ritual so solemn that it will strike a chord in even the most areligious of viewers. This is a sensation that Kenna, too, identifies with. “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,” he says.

Made in northern Italy, the series reveals the surprising variety of architecture and aesthetics confessional booths ; some are gargantuan and stately, while others lean towards diminutive and uncomplicated. All of the photographs have an air of stillness and calm about them.

“These images symbolise what I continue to search for – the invisible within the visible, the intangible contained in the tangible, the illusion of reality,” Kenna muses. “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.” Therein lies the intrigue of Kenna’s shots: each is laden with illicit tales whispered in trust. What could be more enrapturing?

Michael Kenna: Confessionals/Abruzzo is on show at Beetles + Huxley, London, until July 15, 2017.