I haven’t spent a lot of time in Montana. A trip in July of ’90 to help my brother Rick start the cabin. By motorcycle in August of ’92 to prove to myself that I could.

And in ’94,
It was August again. Sunday. We all met at the cabin at Tom Miner’s Basin, halfway between Livingston and Gardner, to fulfill my Mom’s wishes to have her ashes scattered in a mountain meadow near Yellowstone.

Jules and I drove from LA, and Rick and Kathy and 5 of their 6 kids drove from KC. They carried her ashes, which had been sitting in their living room in a small and surprisingly lightweight box wrapped in brown paper since she died in March.
This is an annual trip for Rick and his family, but Jules and I have only been twice – either hectic schedules or the uncertainty of no work preventing the investment in time or money, depending on the year. Our gatherings are usually celebrations since we don’t see each other that often and this was no exception, although the added purpose of the trip was hovering above our heads.
Now don’t get me wrong – we were not moping around the tall grasses of Paradise Valley. Mom’s death had not been a surprise – she’d been ill for a while and was getting by, but not really getting better. More than that, though, she was really ready to leave the planet (her words) and we all had to rejoice with her that she had finally gotten her way. I have no doubt in my mind that she is much happier now than she had been for years before she left us. But still, there’s this feeling of seriousness – of purpose and of duty (she was our MOM for heaven’s sake) in knowing that sooner or later during our stay we would all have to say some real and final good-byes.
She wanted her ashes spread in a meadow in the foothills near the Yellowstone River. If you knew air was too outdoorsy for her! She wasn’t really a “let’s go for a hike” kind of girl. She had been to Montana on a religious retreat years before and for her this was a sacred place. We all felt pretty good to be helping her complete the journey she had started when she was born in Shelbyville, Indiana in 1922.
So on Tuesday we piled into the 4×4’s (it’s a 4-wheelin’ kind of place, Montana) and headed up the road. The meadow was on private property and we got reluctant permission to enter after some heartfelt negotiations. The significance of this would became apparent later.
The day was sunny, and as we drove into the mountains the air was comfortably cool for August.

Our hike from the cars to the meadow took about 20 minutes. We walked single file through the narrow trails in the woods and then spread out as the meadows opened up. The spot she’d chosen was ringed by trees, and we decided to perform our small ceremony at the edge of the woods. There she could see the meadow but still rest in the shade, protected, after we left, from the elements.
You know, I’ve seen scenes in films a bunch of times where someone scatters someone’s remains (into the sea, over a cliff, out of an airplane…), but I had never done it before; never even touched human ashes. And as we all gathered to do this thing, I realized that there is nothing that prepares us for the act of releasing the last tangible part of someone you love.
I think it was Rick who opened the box. We each gently took a handful of the gritty grey sand and moved apart, whispering to her our own thoughts and wishes. The breeze caught our murmurs and the dust as we spread our fingers wide, and she fell on the leaves and ground cover beneath our feet. It always seems ;ight, like flour, in the movies, but actually it’s heavy, and it falls more than it’s blown.

We kept to a small area, maybe 30′ square, at a point where a log crossed the trail and the sunlight splotched through the leaves overhead onto the fallen trees and seedlings on the floor of the clearing. From here she could see her meadow, and take in the passing of animals that traffic the woods along this path.

Eye contact revealed tears, and we all had a very hard time of it, especially the kids. Mom had lived with Rick and his family in their house for ten years, and the kids had never known a time when she was not around.

And then the box was empty.
This was a final farewell, and we realized that this would not be a place we could conveniently visit (like a grave at a cemetery), to talk, to share, to ask advice and say we miss you. This was quite possibly the last time any of us would be here again given the difficulty of getting in, and the distance from our homes. And if we could return, the meadow was a big place and she would really be nowhere in particular in it.
We decided she should have a marker – a symbol of the significance of this spot that would mark her last place on this earth, apparent to only the most sensitive and attuned spirits who might happen to pass through this place.
A rock, a stick, and the last wisps of her dust are her simple monument.
The rest of the day was quiet. As night settled we built a fire in front of the cabin, and counted shooting stars and satellites in the sky that canopies the valley. The fire crackled, and Rick’s neighbor, Ken, brought his dog Katrina around before they went off to sleep in a teepee he’d put up nearby beside the Yellowstone River.

That night she delivered 8 pups, and our dog Barkley was the little runt among them.

I place a lot of significance in the fact that Barkley was born the night we had left Mom’s ashes in the meadow.

Maybe I look too hard to find meaning in things to help me make sense of this life.
But you know – Mom would think I’m absolutely right.

Hasselblad 2003FCW | 110mm | TriX

©1994-2021 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Thursday, May 27th, 2021 at 10:13 PM

f/8 and be there

©2018 Mark Berndt

Everyone posted the rainbow last night.
I saw the clouds.
Hmmmmm… I can’t really account for that.

But just so we’re clear – I am well aware of the fact that photographically this required no real skill. Photographs of beautiful meteorological phenomenon are ‘f/8 and be there’ in its purest form (that’s why the iPhone is so perfect for them). And especially sunsets and skies in New Mexico.

No plugins, no filters, no darkroom tricks. Humidity built 100-storey structures in the sky. The sun made highlights and shadows. The wind arranged them beautifully.

This is an observation I share, not an artwork I made. Total artistic effort: see it and don’t screw it up.

I’m sharing this: “Look, that’s beautiful!”

Just so we’re clear.

(Well… I did shoot at f/4).
M | 50

©2017 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2018 at 4:41 PM


©1991 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

One man walking against a crowd; silhouetted so as to be anonymous; contained, but not confined, within a grid; in motion so as to be a blur yet not so much so as to be unrecognizable; displaying obvious leftist tendencies; suited, but non-conformist; approachable in the palette of an afternoon sun.

Photographed around 1991, at the ICP in New York (the one in Midtown on Sixth, not on the upper East Side), how much does a photograph say about the photographer? Are there truly any portraits that aren’t portraits of the artist too? Are there truly any pictures made with a camera that doesn’t point both ways?

The image represents – it really can’t record. Insinuated in the frame are the contributions of camera box and shutter, of optical distortion and characterization, of the chosen capture medium, of subjective interpretation, of mood and swing and yin and yang and personal perspective and the state of a digestive system.

Nothing is shown as it “was”, and everything is selected, and excluded, and presented, and denied, and nourished, and redacted, and framed and composed to further the message of that artist, about that image, to that viewer, of that moment, with that understanding, and that intention, as that statement, in that time.

We write on the darkness with light. Sentences and paragraphs and short stories and poems. We write fiction with fact, we write dreams with reality, we write impressions with scrutiny and emotions with time.

I stand behind a lifetime of doing just that, as I wasn’t able to do, really, much of anything else.

M6 | 50 | Kodachrome

©2017 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Thursday, October 19th, 2017 at 4:18 PM




I’ve been wondering lately if the polished rendition of a trivial observance isn’t really some kind of sham – it looks like a good photograph only because it’s technically correct, but it’s really a picture of nothing, occupying valuable display space (screen, paper, page) usually reserved for ‘real’ photography.

As a portrait photographer in LA for so many years I chose to photograph non-celebrities, which I found as deserving of good photography as the stars but often requiring more problem solving and effort to make a memorable image. It seems I’m continuing that approach now with this series. I think the postcard pictures of monuments and sunsets have really already been made by now. I love the challenge of making a reasonably compelling image of something that mostly gets overlooked.


[ M9 | 28mm Summicron ASPH ]

©2017 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Monday, April 17th, 2017 at 5:20 PM


©2016 Mark Berndt


The New Mexico landscape captured me on my first drive through the state on my way to LA in 1985.

Now, moving to live here, I face the daunting challenge of making a thoughtful and relevant photograph of this place that is unique (a lot of very good landscape photographers have made outstanding images here before me), personal, representative, accurate and imbued with the aesthetic and spirit that makes me appreciate it like no other place.

I stumbled across my view in Lamy.

As you head southeast out of Santa Fe the land-to-dwelling ratio inverts, and soon the houses are hidden behind gentle hills dotted with the unmistakeable scrub vegetation that I can’t yet name. Dust-devils spin ghostly columns that float across the road and then vanish, and color mutes in the desert sun to a pale palette of dirt and sage and a blue-white sky. Arriving at the Lamy train station I imagine that to passengers a century ago this must have seemed like the middle of nowhere (it pretty much does today) – and that would have been the reason for coming here.

I shot my landscape, however, across the street, County Road 33, in the Lamy Railroad and History Museum, inside a glass case where an exquisite HO-gauge model of the station and a working miniature of the Southwest Chief clicks in a circuit through the hills and back to town. I’ve seen model train layouts before, but none so successfully captured the look and the spirit of a place as this.

The glass let me layer a suggestion of myself in the image, not yet fully formed here in my new home.

My New Mexico landscape. I’m not sure I can top this.


[ M9 | 35mm Summicron ASPH ]

©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 at 4:22 PM



When you see a photograph that’s already done, it seems obvious, like “Of course that’s the picture”. Like it’s always been there. A successful image hides everything that went into making it so the viewer can simply experience it. If a photographer has done his work well, it’s invisible. And so, from that point on, we take for granted that it was THAT moment that was captured, that THAT was the shot, that it’s in focus and well-exposed, that all of the elements appear in complex yet exquisite balance, that the hues of the colors and the values of light lead your eye through the story that plays out inside the frame, and that it gathers our attention and it asks us to look.

But before it was done, it was NOTHING.

It seems obvious, but regard it with the respect it’s due – just like a blank canvas, there is no picture until we make the picture.

Interesting things occur all the time, but pictures get made of them because there is a photographer present who is not only able to recognize a photograph before it becomes a photograph, but also has a camera along and knows how to use it. I’m talking about real photographs here, not snaps of my lunch or a friend’s new shoe.

Like this photograph of a teller at the drive-thru at my bank yesterday. I didn’t leave the house to make pictures, it wasn’t a ‘photography day’, I was simply running errands. But as usual I did bring my camera, and I did preset ISO, shutter speed and aperture to something in the ballpark for a proper exposure on the front porch before I got in the car. In the course of my travels the opportunity for this image showed up, but the only reason I get to share it here is because I picked up my camera from the car seat and made this picture – on a real camera with real resolution and real processing for a real print – yup, the real photographer experience.

Happy : )

[ M9 | 35mm Summicron ASPH ]

©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 at 12:30 PM



There’s just a week of mornings left for opportunities like this, in my 90-year-old farmhouse on this street in my hometown. I grew up around the corner, bought this house almost 10 years ago, and moved here with Pilar for an adventure in 2011. We gave it 5 irretrievable years before admitting that this is just not the right town for us, and never will be.

I love my old house. I think I must have dreamed of it my whole life – a classic craftsman, from an era of midwest tradition, with windows, old glass, woodwork and character that feels like a home and conjures up a history of nights of music and years of life. I hate to abandon the familiarity of tradition and comfort from a time that preceded my own childhood yet inhabits my dreams, and would carry it with me if I could. The world inside these walls, the plays of light on the surfaces, rippled through panes of century-old glass, orangey sun on wood floors and sharp cuts of sparkling light on crystal doorknobs, don’t look the same in new home construction. There’s a quality to the air in an old house like this, of echoes and substance and past conversations, that hasn’t had time to accumulate in new-built homes. I’ve tried in my way to capture that sense with my cameras, photographing the patterns and shadows, the telltale expressions of decades of home that hide in the nooks and crannies of rooms, in the layers of paint, in the cut edge of sunlight, especially at the beginning and the end of most days.

And so in a week our era here will be done, we will pass on this container, with the volume of its history 5 years bigger inside. The next house will reveal it’s keepsakes of light for a new collection of photographs. I will miss this old house, and I look forward to the evolution of a fresh space, a new home, with renewed opportunities to observe and celebrate!

[ M9 | 35mm Summicron ASPH ]


©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 at 3:42 AM



I visited the Liberty Memorial here in Kansas City the other evening at about the end of dusk. I’m not a monument visitor as a rule, but I wanted – let’s say I needed – to make a photograph before the end of my day. It’s an impressive experience – the approach, the broad terraces and the 200 foot tower, inscriptions and plaques, on a hill overlooking the core of downtown. The traditional shots have all been done so beautifully, in all kinds of weather and memorable light. As usual, I wanted an unexpected view, that you won’t find in a book, that will never spin with the happy postcards on the rack at the gift shop.

People came and went, gathered in clusters with phones at arm’s length, looking out, looking up, and of course looking at themselves. There was an engagement photo session with a light on a stand, and groups and couples watching the last of the sunset sidelight the skyline. Ninety years this has stood, but I think it looks the same today as on the day of its dedication. I’m impressed by the designers whose creativity and vision built a stone and steel icon that is ageless today. I could feel the power of the structure’s intent, and the presence of people who have paid their respects.

I decided to shoot from the side, not head on, with just the base in the frame but the tower unseen. (This will never make the guide books. If you haven’t been there you’d never know where it is. But that kind of picture was not my intent). I waited for people to pass through my frame so the space could be empty, and timeless, with no reference to now that a proper Nat Geo photographer would include. And I blocked the right side of the tower’s fluted shaft to connect the two parts of the picture with no break from a second sliver of sky, and to lead the eye around that obstacle to get to the message, set back at the edge in both space and in time.

This image, read left-to-right, is a 1/4-frame tribute to lives lost in World War One, and 3/4-frame blackness of cut limestone blocks on the right that is Time, as Time soldiers on. It’s our failure to learn. It’s our choice to repeat. It’s the heaviest part of the picture; the weight of wars waged and the count of lives lost, in The War to End All Wars – and all of the wars that then followed that war – right up to today.

[ M9 | 28mm Summicron ASPH ]


©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Sunday, August 14th, 2016 at 1:31 PM


©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved


What group of creatives and engineers got into the R&D departments of multiple companies worldwide and invented equipment, and then convinced a conference room full of suits to tool up entire factories overseas to mass-produce, that has all its plugs in the back, that you’re supposed to place on the floor under your desk, and that REQUIRES that you unplug – have a cup of coffee – and then REplug the power and connecting cables EVERY TIME YOU WANT TO USE IT! This is the solution? This is tech support? It seems to be the universal GOLD STANDARD for product design these days.

Let’s see – what would that look like in my business…?

“Hello. Yes, I know that your print is a blank piece of paper again this morning. That’s how we designed it.

All you have to do is remove it from the frame, then in a totally dark room place it in a tray of Dektol for 2 minutes at 68 degrees with gentle agitation (much like what you’re feeling right now), drain it and move to an acetic acid stop bath for 30 seconds and then into the fixer for 5 minutes (or 10 unless you use rapid-fixer). Don’t get any on your fingers (click here to agree to indemnify us).

Now, that fixer can’t remain on the print or it will destroy it, so you’ll need to follow with 10 minutes in a hypo-clearing bath followed by an hour of washing at 68 degrees in constantly changing water. Just squeegee dry (try not to kink or fold the paper or you’ll ruin it), then air dry for a day, flatten it in a dry mount press (you have one of those, right) and reframe. Enjoy your print and thank you for choosing Mark Berndt Photography!

Please “Like” us on Facebook.

Visit our website to buy more.

Click here to purchase a monthly subscription that will auto-renew for the rest of your life.

You will find only questions about this issue online, no answers.

We are a hi-tech company but have no telephone number.

This is a recording.”

Yeah, that’ll work.


©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Saturday, August 6th, 2016 at 10:07 PM



You know, I know already that I work my ass off to make pictures that (I fantasize) other people don’t see. I mean, I really try to see differently and photograph differently and render differently and find a perspective or point-of-view or a slab of light that maybe hasn’t been noticed, at least in the same way, by anyone else.

I always thought that, to be a real artist, this was what you had to do. To never repeat yourself, never compromise, to always start fresh without preconception or recollection, to avoid at all costs repetition and formula, to wake up every morning breaking new ground and creating from scratch.

As you can imagine, this makes for an exhausting life – especially in youth when the effort required to always strive for originality is constant. Only in age do I realize that over time that effort becomes breath, and the result is simply living, and it can no more cease to function than the lungs can end their involuntary expansion and contraction. The effort is oddly diminished as the habit confirms a life. And so the images grow more obscure, more confounding and cryptic, as the need for their existence becomes imperative, no doubt seen as even more accidental and unnecessary when revealed to the world.



©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2016 at 1:46 PM