Re-Humanizing the Face in America: The Photographs of Robert Bergman
Was the 1998 publication of color photographic portraits by Robert Bergman a landmark in art history? His book, A Kind of Rapture, includes an introduction by Toni Morrison, and an afterword by Meyer Schapiro. These authors conclude that Bergman's work is comparable to that of history's finest painters and photographers (Schapiro), and "will forever mark a place in the history of artistic endeavor" (Morrison). This paper will examine evidences, chiefly internal to the photographs, for such a critical appraisal. The nature of Bergman's portraiture is to defy the use of the face as commodity, and to unhinge received notions of the gaze. Bergman forms an alliance with his subjects whereby they attempt a sublime mediation between the particulars of physical existence and that transcendent inner life which we want to call "the soul". It will be argued that three of Bergman's accomplishments are: 1) elevating color portrait photography to a technical level and thematic stature equal to art history's acknowledged masters, while 2) re-invigorating the photographic book as art, and 3) bringing the reader through an experience that re-humanizes the face by evoking the unique and irreducible Otherness of each depicted person.
Keywords: Photography, Photographic Book, Photographic Portrait, Robert Bergman, The Face, The Other, Transcendence, Otherness, The Gaze
Prof. Del Rey Loven
Professor of Art; Chair, Division of Art, Design and Architecture, Judson College. Elgin (greater Chicago) Illinois