Dream Recycle: Phil Bergerson, American Artifacts Exhibition

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Americam Artifacts cover-HR

 

The American dream; decayed, distressed, decomposed and then recycled by the eye of photographer Phil Bergerson

Who?

Canadian Photographer Phil Bergerson, who since 1995 has made many road trips throughout the US, criss-crossing the continent and recording American Artifacts. He has been photographing and exhibiting internationally for over 40 years and his work is held in many prestigious public and private collections internationally and appeared in publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine

(c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2007. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

What?

Exhibition and Book release of American Artifacts at WORK Gallery, London WC1X 9NG.

San Marcos, Texas, 2006.

San Marcos, Texas, 2006. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

Decisive moment?

The American Dream, in a book! Published by Black Dog Publishing, this beautifully assembled collection of around 130 photographs is presented as page after page of square format images framed by crisp white borders – a visual précis of American Popular Culture. His framing of subject matter are a reminder of just how iconographic the America landscape is, the extent to which interiors and exteriors are marked with signage, graphics and image/icons. Bergerson as photographer is a collector of the iconographic waste material of the American Dream.

Big Spring, Texas, 2007

Big Spring, Texas, 2007. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

This rich set of images – some of which have an almost Pop Art feel – encapsulate America’s promise to its people and any outsiders who want to grab a piece of the Dream. Raw, graphic compositions taken with a very selective eye show the hopes, aspirations, consumerism, patriotism, success and glamour of American Culture. Trouble is, this collection of images now represents the downside. The ongoing recession and its effects on the US are recorded here in full, glorious colour – and without, the colour palette of capitalism when the money moves on and the light goes out.

Dallas, Texas, 1997

Dallas, Texas, 1997. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

The elements in each picture are very human without actually including people as they show poignant tableax by shopkeepers, flyposters, town planners, window dressers, graffiti artists and blue collar workers, all unintentionally arranged for Bergerson’s camera to record. These husks of American Culture are in predominantly urban settings; small town environments that the great US citizens of the past built in the pioneering spirit of yesteryear. What we are left with is the detritus of that culture and the slightly hollow feeling that we have all been duped by the illusion of The American Dream.

Porcatello, Idaho 2007

Porcatello, Idaho 2007. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

Trend?

Is it Art? No, it’s Documentary Art. It’s a kind of ‘re-cycling’ or ‘up-cycling’ where Bergerson has taken notice of what is there on the streets of America and re-purposed it into something else – poignant and strangely beautiful, via his vision. This style of photography – honest, truthful, beautiful to look at but telling it like it is, will resonate with today’s Instagramming, selfie-ing, image generating generation. But over and above that it is also classic ‘Road’ photography in the tradition of Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, William Egglestone and Stephen Shore. This approach to image-making never goes out of style.

Adel Georgia, 1998

Adel Georgia, 1998. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

Art meets Commerce?

More and more advertisers want a slice of this raw realism these days. It lends credibility to brands to appear un-art directed, real and in touch with the consumer their product is aimed at. Photographers are also striving to achieve this look and feel in their personal work which they show to Art Buyers and commissioning clients in order to win jobs.

Joplin, Missouri, 2005

Joplin, Missouri, 2005. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

It may cost clients a lot of money, research, styling and photography production fees to achieve this off the cuff slice of life – but carefully constructed, it doesn’t have to show!

One question for the image maker?

The American Dream has been such a powerful myth driving an idea of America, in the 21st Century is it still possible to recycle The American Dream?

American Artefacts is available from Black Dog Publishing for £24.95

Augusta, Georgia, 2004

Augusta, Georgia, 2004. (c) Phil Bergerson, and courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.

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About Author

Ashley Jouhar is the Creative Director of Image Source. He has worked as a senior creative in the photography industry for over 12 years, previously as Deputy Director of Photography at Getty Images. He is also a photographer in his own right, shooting lifestyle, documentary and portraiture for a wide range of clients. Before turning to photography full time, Ashley worked as a senior Art Director and Group Head at McCann Erickson, London, creating award winning advertising for Bacardi, Shredded Wheat, Black & Decker, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Birds Eye, amongst others.

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