“For a photographer to make her mark today as an artist, her work must resonate with something that marks it as her own otherwise it is simply a photograph. You see that in the works of masters. Cartier-Bresson, Ralph Gibson, Mary Ellen Mark and Desiree Dolron can be recognized without glancing for a signature. Berman’s work resonates with its uniqueness. She takes the quotidian and makes it special.”
“When I first saw Fern Berman’s photographs a couple of decades ago, I was struck by the intensity of ordered sensuality. Today, I find them ever more astonishing as her aesthetic vision has evolved, playing with the differences of surface and depth, sometimes focusing on a richly sculptured wall, sometimes bursting in Kandinsky abstractions of line and color. She keeps exploding the possibilities of what film can do even as a photographic medium, is disappearing. Through the quality of her art, she is preventing the use of film from being a wholly lost art.”
Betty Fussell, writer
“Fern Berman’s work is the best kind of photography. Her photographs do not look at, they look into. She sees the powerful or beautiful or witty image and takes it–and us–some place we have never been before.”
Amy Bloom, writer
“Most of us can see, but how many of us can see? More to the point, can we observe life in all of its richness, detail and mystery even though it is right in front of us all the time? That seems to be the special province of artists and poets, who remind us how vibrant, beautiful yet transient is our world even when things seem dire. Such a poetic artist and observer is Fern Berman, whose photographs are both worlds unto themselves and fascinating details of the world we share. Her mastery of color and composition, while extraordinary, are only tools that enable her to create these worlds on paper. Fern Berman’s photographs have the exhilarating effect of making us see in ways we had never done before.”
Fred Plotkin, author and pleasure activist
Fern Berman’s painterly images
July 30, 2010
Republican-American, Associate Features Editor
They only look like paintings.
Perhaps its the vividness of the color, the richness of the texture or the surprising revelation of the subjects themselves, but Fern Berman’s stunning series of photographs, on view at Good News Cafe & Gallery through Sept. 20, take your breath away.
That’s because once you get over the essential legerdemain [--] that these are color photographs and not abstract oil paintings [--] there’s another shocker in store. These vistas, with their ebullient, Matisse-like color and bracing, Kandinsky-like color contrasts, are ordinary splashes of color that we pass every day.
Some of these images are close-up examinations of flaking stucco paint on a wall. There are tiles and hub caps and the rusted rim of a cornflower blue window. They are, in other words, banalities, not only ordinary, but, in their way, sub-ordinary. But under Berman’s lens, they become sparkling, luxuriant meditations on beauty, the passage of time and the rich parenthesis of our visual culture that we otherwise overlook.
An image of what appears to be the front axle of a rusting car turns into a painterly evocation of light on an arc of gray. Above the rim, moss green hues bleed into irregular swaths of butterscotch, blotted with swabs of crimson.
It is not just the color, however, that makes these works so evocative. Berman manages to convey the sandpaper texture of the flaking paint, as well as the abrasive, splintering feel of blistered metal. Step closely and you see these visual haikus for the first time. Step away and an abstract landscape emerges.
Berman shoots film and prints on archival, typically watercolor paper. That is likely how she gets the opulence of color that define her work and gives it its lavish texture. Too, there is the composition itself. Berman has an eye for absurd juxtapositions as well as enigmatic, often surrealistic compositional swatches. This is particularly evident in a series of four images of what appear to be the same blot of graffiti on a wall.
Graffiti may be our most organic folk art, or it may be litter, but what Berman does to it suggests the color harmonies of Paul Klee. Berman captures the creamy mint green and turquoise orbs snuggling against the thick black lines of the words “Everything Fades.”
Well, yes it does, but the fading itself is a marvelously lucid, hypnotic whorl of color that Berman urgently articulates in these thoughtful compositions.
It would be incorrect to label Berman a travel photographer. But in works like “Amalfi,” and “Morocco” and “Sicily,” she conveys the ambience of a place merely by enlarging a corner of it.
So “Morocco” is a coppery tapestry of pyramid-like tiles. “Together in Peace” features bright Moorish tiles of blue, white and yellow bisected by the shadow of a cross.
More often than not, however, what you get in Berman’s photographs are bewildering landscapes of brittle, friable material, typically puckered or frayed, revealing earlier, older colors bleached away by time.
Perhaps that’s Berman’s way of reminding us how each of us lays a thin layer of ourselves which ultimately erode to reveal something earlier and more atavistic. Or perhaps it’s a reminder that corrosion itself is a kind of beauty. More than likely, though, it is the photographer’s gentle nudge to encourage us to look a little closer to see radiance in the neglected, moldering architecture that defines our lives.