Location: Galleri Urbane
Photographer and Guggenheim Fellow Michael P. Berman presents his first solo exhibition with Galleri Urbane since 2014. The show borrows its name from and follows the release of the artist’s most recent published book Perdido: Sierra San Luis (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2019). In his book, Berman traverses by foot the San Luis mountain range that cuts through the boot heel of New Mexico and south into the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora. This journey, in addition to subsequent trips along the Texas-Mexico border, is captured through photographs in the exhibition. As does his book, this body of work captures the borderland’s beautiful and rugged landscape and provides a poetic opportunity to recognize its ecological significance.
In his foreward to Berman’s book, climate activist Tim DeChristopher presses that the individualist spirit which pits mankind against everything and everyone else has tragically disconnected humans from nature’s web of interdependence. The suburbs, cities and borders we erect protect our illusion of control, while the untamed mountains, swift rivers and vast desserts beyond them remind us of our fragile mortality. Answering DeChristopher’s call for a return to the wilderness, Berman rejects the safety of built civilization in favor of the barren borderlands. Traveling for days and weeks at a time on land occupied by ranchers, wildlife and narcos, Berman captures instances that gift us reminders of our small and delicate nature. Some of his images do this through capturing the oft-futile attempts by humans to dictate nature’s course, while others offer panoramic vistas that unlock a sublime reading of the natural world. Through Berman’s lens, our vulnerability becomes something to treasure and serves as a catalyst for understanding our collective responsibility of protecting the land.
Berman’s mastery of the photographic medium is on display through the range of formats found in the exhibition. An adept eye for the craft of printing is found in framed photographs on Hahnemühle rag paper, like Hayes Ridge, Sunset (2021) which captures the sun peering through an atmospheric gradient of dense snow storm clouds. The coveted plate composite works make a return: a single image is fragmented and mounted across multiple hand-cut and painted aluminum plates. Panoramic views are made all the more monumental, like an image of a colossal cloud formation above the Chisos mountains range in Elephant Tusk, Big Bend National Park (2021). On view for the first time are a series of single plates with composite images of saguaros found in treks across the Sonoran Desert, condensing the towering cacti into intimate images. Lastly, Berman’s newly developed Sierra San Luis Grids, printed on delicate, Japanese Kozo paper, offer a matrix of dissected images that interrupt one’s reading of each scene. These require viewers to slow down and spend time with the visual information they are being presented, not unlike what is required of Berman when out on the land.
Setting out hours before the sun rises and photographing until dark, Berman captures his images like only one who truly spends time on the ground can. In doing so, he brings an awareness of the complexity of biological worlds like the border, heightening one’s perception of the land.