In the first solo exhibition of American photographer Robert Bergman (b. 1944), approximately 30 color portraits will display the artist's exceptional ability to reveal the singular nature of each of his subjects and their common humanity. On view at the National Gallery of Art
, Washington, from October 11, 2009, through January 10, 2010, "Robert Bergman: Portraits, 19861995" presents everyday people the artist encountered in the streets of the United States during his travels from 1985 to 1997. The portraits were previously published in Bergman's book, "A Kind of Rapture," with an introduction by Toni Morrison and afterword by art historian Meyer Schapiro.
"An underground legend for decades, Robert Bergman has produced a moving body of work," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "Drawn from a recent gift of 98 photographs, this exhibition is part of a series of exhibitions in the last several years celebrating work by contemporary photographers recently acquired by the Gallery."
Using a handheld 35mm camera and available light, Robert Bergman spent 12 years making a series of large color portraits that address not only his subjects' physical presence but also their psychic state. Drawing on his finely tuned sense of form and an ability to establish a rapport with his subjects, he never sensationalized or objectified them. Instead, he explored their penetrating gazes, downcast eyes, or distant stares to reveal their startling array of emotionssuspicion with curiosity; despair with resiliencethus making clear each individual's "strength and delicacy," as Schapiro noted.
Born in New Orleans in 1944, Bergman's father was a doctor and his mother was a Shakespearean actress. He first began to photograph as a child and seriously embraced the medium in his early twenties. In the mid 1960s, he was deeply influenced by Robert Frank's book The Americans. Like so many other "street photographers" of that generation, he abandoned the large-format view camera he had previously employed and began to use a 35mm format to make black-and-white photographs in the American urban environment. Although he worked in the rapidly changing cityscape, he, unlike many of his contemporaries, increasingly sought out quiet, meditative moments.
In the 1980s, Bergman began to make color photographs that combine the saturated and muted hues of both the city and his subjects' attire to achieve a rich, painterly idiom. He resides in Minneapolis and New York City.