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December 14, 2010

Brenda Ann Kenneally: Troy, New York – An American Community

BagNewsSalon is pleased to offer this exclusive audio slideshow interview featuring Brenda Ann Kenneally, and a look at an America that we rarely see in the traditional media.

Brenda admits that all her work is autobiographical. Her past is a guide that helps her explore the lives of the women upstate. Brenda grew up in Albany, not far from her main focus, Troy, New York. Some might say that her work is about the impoverished conditions present in many of America’s communities today. Instead Brenda is mostly interested in the social and moral dynamics of living in an “underclass” community.

“I’ve been trying to figure out why people often feel separated from themselves and their earliest desires and loves and aspirations,” said Brenda.

Her photographs detail the dispiriting circumstances that cycle through generations of young women, a destiny that may have included her if she had not run away as a teenager. Six years ago Brenda returned to the area, almost 180 miles north of New York City, and found that not much had changed. Through her photographs, Brenda focuses on those small details, such as ads and signs; the swimming hole and the asphalt playground; even fragments of kitchen tables, that express life Upstate. Says Brenda:

“I was dying to get out of Albany, and if I didn’t, I would’ve died.”

These scenes provide a collective experience of that challenge.

– Sandra Roa

About the Photographer


  • Lenox Napier

    Very nicely done. Thanks.

  • securings the homeland

    Great Work!
    (not all us persons displacedfromtomorrow
    …feel like tourists)

  • Rafael

    That image strikes me as akin to Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, both compositionally and thematically. The outstretched hands with splayed fingers, grasping toward things out of reach; the strong “horizon line”, the overwhelming sea (of grass/ commercial goods) that seem to swamp the protagonist, the somewhat pathetic predicament. At the same time, there is some irony in the contrast, considering the presumed spiritual strength and strong character of the figure in Wyeth’s piece, and the perhaps less noble impulses of a kid arguably brainwashed by commercial commodities.

    Any one else see a worthwhile comparison?

  • Wayne Dickson

    I was thinking what it would be like to have a slide show with similar images but with excerpts from Bernie Sanders’ speech for audio. Hmmm…. I think I’ll try that!

    What was Galbraith’s distinction? “Case” poverty vs. “insular” poverty? This is the latter.

  • Stan B.

    I think we are watching the progress and evolution of a new American master in Brenda Ann Kenneally- this generation’s equivalent of a Bruce Davidson. The major distinction that Brenda has a personal, as well as emotional, connection to her subject matter.

  • Ernie Nitka

    Well done – the aim to find the disconnect between dreams/aspirations and reality is not here …yet. I would like to see if she could expound further on what happens, how does “life’s train” get derailed? But as a start this was very well done.


  • Charlotte

    I grew up in a rural town in eastern NY, about 3 hours north of NYC. Now it’s slowly being bought up by rich people from NYC. When I was younger, it may not be the case now, one of the worst insults you could level at someone was that they were “acting like a city person.”

    I have family in Schenectady, and between those two experiences, these pictures really resonated with what I saw, and what I see, up there. Now I live in a different rural part of the US and see some of the same problems, the same “stuckness” of folks on the edges of the economy and on the edges of political power.

    Thank you for sharing these. They mean a great deal to me on a personal level, and on an intellectual one as I continue to think and teach about poverty and power.

    • omen


      nice verbiage.

  • Pingback: Brenda Ann Kenneally discusses her work from Troy, New York | dvafoto

  • Glenn May

    These pictures really reminded me of the working-class towns I have worked in as a reporter or visited while driving somewhere to go fishing: Espanola, NM, Pittsburg California, Gold Rush Country, California and a thousand gas-stop towns in Pennsylvania. To me it shows one thing: there is no culture to sustain the U.S. when the money runs out. When the jobs go, people are left with what? Run-down quickie marts that sell unhealthy food? And what are people to do? Pose for racy pictures for the boyfriend in prison? I’m not saying the people in these pictures are empty – I’m just saying this is the result when a culture bases itself solely on money. There are the urban elites, and everyone else.

  • omen

    the sober, foreboding music used to underscore the images – reminded me of the same technique used in movies to set up a scene before a bomb goes off.

    fitting, because we’re in deep shit.

  • tinwoman

    well done, but I wish she wouldn’t explain the pictures away. So much better without words.

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