In his new drone photography book, Caleb Kenna rediscovers Vermont from above | Books | Seven days
At first glance, the long shadows cast by apple crates in the snow resemble a purple cityscape, and the solar panels evoke a huge duvet. Drone photography in Caleb Kenna’s new book, Art from above Vermont, published in October, is an invitation to let the eyes play and the imagination wander. It is also an amazing reminder of the beauty and value of the Green Mountain State.
In 130 color photographs of everything from farmland and forests to quarries and roads, Middlebury-based Kenna invites viewers to see the state again from a bird’s eye view. Taken between 50 and 400 feet above the ground, his shots are funny, clever and stunning. Nordic skiers, so small they look like colorful commas, make a huge bloom in snowy Middlebury with their tracks; a field of dandelions in Whiting looks like wet green velvet; the roundabout near Middlebury College is a graceful abstraction of textures, colors and lines.
“I think Vermonters generally love the beauty of this place, but they’ve never seen it like this,” Bill McKibben said. Seven days by email. The conservationist, author and journalist, who wrote the foreword to the book, called Art from above Vermont “an extraordinary gift.”
Kenna’s skills with drones allow us to “see the place we love from a new perspective,” McKibben wrote. “And her eye is flawless – the organic and the artificial intertwine in such lovely patterns.
“A certain type of Vermont photography has become a bit cliché. It will open everyone’s eyes again.”
The pair met when Kenna photographed McKibben for a 2010 Sierra magazine story. A longtime admirer of McKibben’s journalism and activism, Kenna invited him to write the foreword because he believed an Earth Defender would grasp the significance of his photos.
“When shooting landscapes in Vermont,” Kenna noted, “you can’t help but be influenced by the environment and climate change.”
Ultimately, however, Kenna shoots for the fun and the discoveries he makes along the way. Married with an 8-year-old son, the professional photographer and Federal Aviation Administration-certified drone pilot says taking pictures almost every day is meditative and calming. It provides a break from the daily chores and responsibilities of life, and it enjoys the “rush to come back with what you think are good pictures”. He mostly shoots about an hour’s drive from Middlebury, often in the same places in different seasons, so he’s trained to watch subtle changes closely.
Kenna is primarily inspired by the works of 20th century American photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White, who convinced the art world of the merits of photography and found elegance and meaning in the everyday. Of the objects in his own works, Kenna said, “Yes, they are trees. Yes, they are hay bales. But I hope…they become something more through the photos.. .maybe a metaphor for something.”
Kenna’s photos are currently on display in local galleries, including that of the University of Vermont Medical Center, and he provides drone photography to many clients. But the general public got their first glimpse of his works in a 2020 New York Times Photo documentary. The colorful spread led to a book deal with Schiffer Publishing, and the Time printed a second photo essay of Kenna in 2022. On Sunday, Art from above Vermont was on the newspaper’s “What to Read” list.
On tour to promote her book, Kenna will present a slideshow and drone video on Thursday, Dec. 1 at the Vermont Hotel in Burlington. He will also be hosting a sale of limited edition prints on Saturday, December 10 at his Brandon studio and online. Prices range from $300 for a 17 by 22 inch print to $700 for a 30 by 40 inch print.
Kenna films with a DJI Mavic 3 drone: a quadcopter (meaning it has four propellers) with a Hasselblad lens. It can run for about 45 minutes on a single battery charge and fly almost nine and a half miles from its operator.
A digital screen on the remote allows Kenna to see everything the drone sees. The best moments are when the drone’s vantage point shows it something completely unexpected, like a barn otherwise obscured by a high cornfield.
“These aerial discoveries are the most fun,” Kenna said, “where you put him looking for one thing and you see something else.”
Disclosure: Seven days regularly hires Caleb Kenna as a freelance photographer.