Rosemont Art advisory is honoured to sit down with the New York / France based photographer, Damion Berger, who’s artwork makes the viewer question the possibilities of photography and its relationship to time and movement. Operating between abstraction and conceptualism, his unorthadox approach to traditional photographic process typically employs long exposure and in-camera techniques to make photographic ‘recordings’ that probe the nature and convention of photography. At the heart of his practice are experiments in mark-making, quite literally painting with light – exploring the relationship between time, movement and light, his work flips the concept of the photographic moment on its head, rendering the invisible…visible. Often printed in the negative, his photographs resemble layered line drawings and reference the historical evolution of photography whilst engaging in dialogue across broader artistic mediums.
This interview is part of series of artist interview, released every month in our newsletter, to receive it, please contact Karolina Blasiak
Q. What was the biggest change from you as a beginning photographer to the photographer you are now?
As a precocious 17 year old with a blossoming interest in photography, I wrote a letter on a whim to the great Helmut Newton. I soon went from thumbling around the cobwebbed darkroom of my English boarding school, to working as his assistant in Monaco, staying on to assist him full time.
His style was so singularly bold that it would’ve been impossible for my early work not to have been influenced to some degree. It wasn't until I was a photography student at Parsons in New York, that I was properly exposed for the first time to the rich history of the medium and the breadth of artists responsible for its evolution. Helmut was certainly one such example but up to that point I’d never heard of the likes of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Walker Evans and the generations of great photographers going all the way back to Fox-Talbot. It was something of a revelation, and it played out in my photography over the course of a good number of years. I produced two significant bodies of work during this time, and although I like to think both series stand very much on their own, there’s no denying that they were forged by chasing the shadows of some of the masters I so revered.
It was, however, the experience of a very specific image that triggered a sea-change in the direction of my work, instantly taking me away from the ‘straight’ photographer I once was to pursue a more conceptual and experimental path.
The image I refer to was of a typical firework display, made from my balcony without any intent whatsoever other than trying to use up my remaining film so I could send it all off for processing. After a long delay I received the film back, but through some mix up at the lab they’d forgotten to provide any contact sheets, which to any of your readers that grew up in the age of the iPhone, means that there was no way to see the final image — just the original exposed negative.
Putting the sheet of negative film on the light-box, as I’d done countless times before, was the moment that changed everything. The explosions of light from the fireworks appeared as if they’d been drawn by hand in Indian ink. The long exposure multiplying the effect further and transforming the familiar cliché into something quite extraordinary. The negative didn’t need ’interpreting’, this typically intermediary step had become my final image. Simply put, It spoke to me about the innate alchemy of photography and ultimately illuminated the way to so many other discoveries, aesthetically and conceptually.
Q. When you’re young, you have certain expectations of what you want to achieve as a photographer. Have you beaten those expectations?
Had I been shackled to my initial goals or expectations, I’d like to think I’d have become a fixture on the masthead of Vogue or been invited to become a member of Magnum Photos by now. Fortunately expectation tracks and evolves until the true nature of one’s ambitions becomes clear and cements itself. Yet, the true nature of an artist is one that never stops evolving, always pushing boundaries. I have to follow the work wherever it takes me, and as my practice broadens and starts to incorporate other mediums such as film, and sculpture, time will only tell where it’ll end up.
Q. Why do you shoot in black-and-white?
The answer most people are keen to seize on is because I’m colour-blind, which is true, although not the reason, as convenient as it may be. Mostly I’m interested today in the abstract qualities of the photograph and a conversation with drawing and other modes of mark-making which is most effective when pared down to an image’s basic properties. There is a timeless quality to black and white that I certainly embrace in my work but the typical trade-off is generally imbued with a nostalgia that’s hard to shake. I try to make photographs that are inherently contemporary, without the ‘baggage’ than often accompanies black and white photographs.
Q. What else do you look for to make the image appealing?
At the risk of coming off sounding self-important or narcissistic even, the truth is that I have an audience of one - only myself. As my only barometer of what to photograph, which images I should print and which to file away etc, an image has to have an element of surprise to delight me and keep me engaged. Whether in my work or that of others I admire, I’m attracted to layers in images, layers of meaning and mystery, and of aesthetic and conceptual resonance that unexpectedly draw you back in again and again.
Q. What is your next project and if you had to choose one artist to dine with who would it be?
Ah, that would be telling! The impact of man-made machines on our environment has particular relevance today. Suffice to say that beach-cleaning machines, robots and the like might play a cameo.
Whom would I choose for a dinner date? Well, we all know the perils of meeting one’s idols, so to avoid the potential for disappointment from anyone in realm of the living, I’d have to go with Leonardo da Vinci. With luck he will have figured out how to build a time-machine in the afterlife and be able to whisk me back to the present once we finish dessert!
Damion Berger, the acclaimed photographer artist is gathering art curators, art professionals and his collectors for a one night only pop-up exhibition of 12 large works installed on the Observation Deck and in the Riva Room of the Monaco Yacht Club during the Boat International Party on the evening of Friday 27th. A very rare chance to view the artworks and meet the artist. For more information please contact Karolina Blasiak: firstname.lastname@example.org
1- Damion Berger
2- Cubes II, 2018, Damion Berger
3- M/Y Christina O, Ligurian Sea, 2013, Damion Berger
4- M/Y Maltese Falcon, Ligurian Sea, 2014, Damion Berger
5- M/Y Serene, Ligurian Sea, 2011, Damion Berger