WE WRITE ON THE DARKNESS WITH LIGHT

©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

THE POLISHED RENDITION OF A TRIVIAL OBSERVANCE

violetCrowneParkingSteps

 

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

MY NEW MEXICO LANDSCAPE

©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

LIKE IT’S ALWAYS BEEN THERE

missionBankDriveThruTeller

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

END OF THIS ERA

kitchenFloorBasementDoor

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

AS TIME SOLDIERS ON

ww1memorial

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

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

©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

OVER TIME THAT EFFORT BECOMES BREATH

berndt_houlilhansDoors

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

I DO THIS FOR MYSELF

berndt_wolfburger

 

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s magical, or spiritually conceived, or the power of a universe beyond my comprehension, when something like this comes together in front of me – a convergence of nothing that makes shapes and colors and light and emotion – and I’m able to step outside myself, away from the pressures of taxes and elections and cat throw-up and bills – for a single moment, long enough to see what’s right in front of my face and pull the camera from the bag, as much as from my soul, and fire it up and compute the necessary exposure calculations just right and adjust the focus so’s I’ll not screw it up showing the wrong part, and keep the things inside the frame that aren’t supposed to be forgotten forever outside the frame, and pull it all together for that fraction of a second that snags the moment that says “I saw this and want to share it with you because I don’t really care if you think it’s important or not but it IS to me and I LIVE to infect just one of you with the magic of the thing I saw and captured and made you look at and share it’s vibration and energy too.

I can only hope that I can do this for the rest of my life without regard for whether it’s viewed or received or appreciated or paid for, because the honest truth is that I do it for myself – it’s a selfish and self-perpetuating indulgence that must satisfy me first, and then anyone else? … whatever. And if it wasn’t that, it would be in the service of a client, a paycheck, a meal and a bed – and that would ultimately compromise my process, and that, well… that, is just no longer on the table.

 

 

©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2016 at 1:30 PM

SILENCE

backYardWagon

 

Except for that woodpecker in my neighbor’s tree and a whish of traffic, the conversation between terriers through a fence a block away, some faint skateboard scratching on the sidewalk, alternating chirps and birdsongs, the padded footfalls of an avid jogger, one chattering squirrel, that distinctive upshifting from a muffler-challenged scooter, the doppler echo of classic rock out the window of a passing pickup, an invisible Lear on approach to downtown, kids laughing (but I see no kids), Louis’ yawn, tiny chicklet sounds from my laptop, and whatever is said between a robin and a worm…

except for all that

it is silent

in this surreal hour when the cloud-covered sky chokes the end of the day, and the light fades, and the exposure difference between available and incandescent balances in the middle to hand off the world to the kingdom of night.

 

 

©2016 Mark Berndt | All Rights Reserved

Posted on Friday, July 22nd, 2016 at 1:04 PM