Even in the spray painted graffiti and wild vines of a stucco wall, Fern Berman infuses life and spirit into a seemingly inanimate and ordinary scene. She typically observes a subject for months or years until the decisive instant when she decides the light, composition and color are just right. She then captures on film a precious moment with startling specificity, rendering it eternal through her lens. And yet in this prolonged waiting and meticulous preparation, there remains an unmistakable urgency to her work, and a palpable joy.
Born in Brooklyn in 1958, Berman was raised in a home that encouraged her interest in art. She drew and painted, experimenting with oil paints, watercolors and pastels.
She stood for hours at her grandfather’s side as he worked at his letterpress. He taught her the precision and patience of technique, and the magic of making something visible to the world. She learned to appreciate the smell of ink and the texture of paper. Berman also visited her father’s commercial web press. As they watched the machines print on continuous rolls of paper, he explained to her the nuances of color saturation and intensity- and the way a small adjustment can have a dramatic effect.
When she was twelve years old, her parents gave her an Olympus camera. It became her constant companion, and her photos regularly appeared in local newspapers.
She studied photography formally at The Art Institute of Boston and New York’s School of Visual Arts. While her early first photographs explored black and white images and the effects of shadows, her work evolved to focus on the examination of color and pattern.
Berman’s artistic influences are the painters she first met in museums and homes around the world: Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Lyonel Feininger, Franz Marc and Gabrielle Munter. When she finally made Manhattan her home, New York City’s museums and galleries became as regular a part of her daily life as breathing.
Color inspires and invigorates her work. Like Kandinsky, Berman believes that the effects of color awaken the soul. Her memories of standing in museums are of standing “close enough to see the brush stokes of the artist and try to see if I could smell the oil paint.” Her work persistently exudes this desire to connect the past and present through the sensual experience of art.
Her photographs luxuriate in color and texture. She achieves her desired density and saturation by printing only on archival watercolor paper, which gives her prints the texture and complexity she wants to communicate.
Berman now resides in coastal Connecticut where the slower pace and visually rich environment give her the opportunity to focus solely on her observation of the world around her- seemingly commonplace scenes whose decay and ghosts intrigue her and bring her back again and again.
A 2010 Republican-American review of Berman’s work concisely observes:
“Perhaps that’s [her] way of reminding us how each of us lays a thin layer of ourselves which ultimately erodes 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.”
It is this radiance that ultimately defines Berman’s work. In her urgent pursuit of the finite, in all its richness, color and complexity, Fern Berman’s photographs lay bare the beauty that exists in a precious moment.