All Things Considered

‘Beyond the Light’: Minneapolis artist Layne Kennedy reveals the stories behind photographs in new book

A storm on a lake
Layne Kennedy has spent his career taking photos like this one of a storm in Lake Superior.
Courtesy photo

Visual artist Layne Kennedy, who’s based in Minneapolis, has had a lifetime of seeing and capturing what he sees. Capturing things most of us may not even notice.

Now, with more than 40 years of work to his name taking pictures often on assignment for publications, he’s collected roughly 150 images and the stories behind them to feature in a new book.

Kennedy spoke with MPR News host Tom Crann on All Things Considered following the release of that self-published book entitled, “Beyond the Light: The Stories Behind the Photographs.”

Below, Kennedy revealed the inspiration behind five of the photos featured in his book.

‘Where kindness grows: Nature’s revenge’

A tree going through a car
"Where kindness grows: Nature's revenge" by Layne Kennedy.
Courtesy photo

When photographing a tractor collection in South Dakota, Kennedy came across “something you don’t see everyday” — a 1954 Ford Crown Victoria with an ash tree growing out of the hood. He said the photo of it “was picked up by everybody … they want it because it’s nature’s revenge. It’s, you know, what do you call it, stick it to the man, you know, you name it kind of a concept.”

‘Playing with fire: BWCA portrait’

A woman looks at a fire
"Playing with fire: BWCA portrait" by Layne Kennedy.
Courtesy photo

This photo is from a Boundary Waters trip in September 2021. Drought caused a fire ban. Then a thunderstorm came through and the ban was lifted, so Kennedy and his group lit a fire.

“So, we’re there, all the people in my group making the fire. They’re getting it roaring, I walked behind Carol, (the subject of the photo) I see that rim light of glow coming from the fire … and it was a moment of celebration, about a natural event that had just taken place and had been banned for almost a year.”   

‘A man of the poles: Will Steger’

A man about to jump of a large rock
"A man of the poles: Will Steger" by Layne Kennedy.
Courtesy photo

Kennedy was doing a series of portraits around Minnesota and got to capture polar explorer Will Steger. Kennedy says Steger himself is not a large man. “His personality, who he is, his accomplishments, they’re huge.”

He told Crann spending time with the subject is one of the keys to a good portrait and the more time there is, the better the photo: “When I photograph portraits, I bet nine times out of 10, the best frame I get is the last frame I take.” 

‘Circling the wagons’

Waves on a lighthouse
"Circling the wagons" by Layne Kennedy.
Courtesy photo

The weather had turned nasty at one of the most photographed spots on the North Shore, the lighthouse at Grand Marais. A Nor’easter made the big lake “angry,” as Kennedy put it. So, he summoned fellow photographers at the North House Folk School to park in the lot and circle him and his camera on a tripod to provide a bulwark against the storm.

“So that’s a big part of being photographers,” according to Kennedy. “We’re problem solvers. You’ve got to solve problems along the way. And this is one of the ones and ways we did it.”

‘Landscapes: It’s complicated’

Part of a bridge
"Landscapes: It's complicated" by Layne Kennedy.
Courtesy photo

Kennedy came across this prairie scene in Murdo, S.D., where a trench was being built on I-90.

As Kennedy tells it, “And I saw those two culvert pipes or whatever they call them. And it looked like a pair of binoculars looking out over the prairie. But yet, the prairie had been scarred. You can start attaching all these metaphors to it if you want to. For me, I didn’t go that deep with it. I just loved the way the light made this look.”

Layne Kennedy’s “Beyond the Light: The Stories Behind the Photographs” is available in select libraries, at Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais, or at