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About the Author
Don Snyder studied photography with Walker Evans at Yale University and with Minor White in the graduate program at MIT. Before joining Ryerson University’s faculty, he held an appointment as the first Curator of Photography at the Addison Gallery of American Art in the US, where he established the Gallery’s photography exhibition program. He has written on photographic history and criticism for a number of periodicals, has edited four books and curated more than sixty exhibitions in Canada and the US, and has held appointments at SUNY Buffalo and Bennington College. At Ryerson, he established the Ryerson Gallery at 80 Spadina, an exhibition space in the downtown arts district, and was instrumental in the founding of Function, the School’s annual publication of student work, essays and interviews. Between 2005 and 2010, he served as the Chair of Ryerson’s School of Image Arts. He also taught in Ryerson’s graduate programs in Communication and Culture, Photographic Preservation and Collections Management, and the Documentary Media MFA program.
Peter Higdon studied photography with David Heath and Art History with Ian Wallace. He is the Founding Collections Curator of the Ryerson Image Centre, (RIC), Ryerson University, Toronto. Over a period of thirty-six years, he drove the expansion of its photographs collection through numerous acquisitions, among them the Black Star Collection of photojournalism (292,000 prints). Funding accompanying this major donation allowed commencement of a long- sought building project that yielded museum-standard exhibition spaces and a research centre incorporating a print storage vault. He was also instrumental in the RIC’s acquisition of the Berenice Abbott Archive. While building the collection, his work with the Department of Canadian Heritage required extensive written contextual justification and many detailed artist biographies. For 10 years, he was consultant to the graduate students in Ryerson’s collection managements program, (FPPCM), and for over 20 years was the Coordinator of Ryerson’s Photography Workshop in France. Upon retirement in 2014, the RIC’s Research Centre was named in his honour, and an annual graduate scholarship established in his name.
Robert Burley is an artist working in photo-based media whose practice explores the built environment, history and visual studies. His past projects have received widespread recognition through numerous grants, awards and media coverage. Burley’s works have been exhibited around the globe and can be found in museum collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Musée de l’Elysée, George Eastman Museum, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and Musée Niepce. His recent books include: The Disappearance of Darkness (Princeton Architectural Press 2012)and An Enduring Wilderness (ECW Press 2017). Burley has lectured about his photographic projects through the Rouse Visiting Artist Program at Harvard University and the Senior Mellon Fellowship Program at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. In addition to his activities as an artist, Burley has undertaken many initiatives as an educator with the goal of expanding resources and curricula at Ryerson University where has currently holds the position of Professor in the School of Image Arts. These include his role as founding Program Director of the MA program in Film & Photographic Preservation, his work to establish and expand collections in The Ryerson Image Centre and Special Collections – Ryerson Library, and the management of numerous cultural programs such the Kodak Lectures and The Ryerson Gallery.
Read an Excerpt
This retrospective publication, full of new insights and information, will delight those familiar with the photography of Phil Bergerson and seduce those new to his images. The book chronicles the photographer’s early experimentation with film and his brief adventure with performance art in the early1970s as well as his evolution as an image maker up until today. Describing and contextualizing his varied bodies of work made over a 50 year period, this is an overdue and rich compendium of Bergerson’s artistic contribution and a much needed account of the institutions and individuals who enabled the flourishing of photography as a form of artistic expression in Canada, with a certain focus on Toronto. Through these pages we move from Bergerson’s social documentary photographs, to his transformed found family snapshots and seamlessly rendered colour prints of consumer culture and the weird and wonderful world of store window arrangements and advertising signage where America’s wants, dreams, and delusions are on public display. Finally, we discover in Bergerson a photographer curious about the world and the role images play in it as well as a technical adventurer and explorer of forms.
My photographs, are poetic statements full of irony and pathos. Within my extended sequences of fragmentary messages, they collectively encapsulate what I as a Canadian see and feel about
America. It is a personal view that does not attempt to be all inclusive but strives instead to be meaningfully expressive about those things discovered throughout my journeys.
The streets of America fascinate me! It is here I have discovered the signs that speak about all manner of cultural and social issues, eloquently conveying the hopes, desires and fears of their makers. It is in the street that Americans reveal a unique, often cocky confidence that sets them apart from most of their Canadian neighbours. Treasuring their freedom of speech, Americans pride themselves on their right to say what’s on their minds.
Many have no qualms about expressing even their most private feelings and thoughts publicly. I
have been drawn in, seduced in fact, by this American bravado and the resulting signs left behind. My vantage point while making these images, has always been that of the empathetic neighbour. As Annie Proulx has written, the outsider’s eye is often able to see more than the long-term habitant. Recognizing the difficulty of tackling such an enormous subject as
“America”, I’ve been careful to stay on the side of observation and poetry rather than attempting to produce a comprehensive statement.
Crisscrossing the United States in my ancient camper van, I meandered through the labyrinth of roads, mis-directions paying off in significant finds. I’ve escaped into the freedom that comes from not worrying about where I was or where I was going. My approach was to let the character of the found material give me my direction both geographically and intellectually.
While slowly working my way through the hundreds of American towns and cities I visited, I
carefully sifted through the chaotic onslaught of the street’s complex visual and textual material, searching out and photographing those few fragments that carried some special meaning about their makers.
I found such meaning in both literal and figurative signs. Sometimes it was in the ambiguous or multi-layered potential reading of the literal signs - signs made by various people for a variety of personal, political or commercial reasons. More often though, it was in the deeper potential of the figurative signs - the objects, displays or places that seep into our minds as strange yet familiar metaphors or symbols. The reading is not always obvious. Sometimes it is merely a feeling evoked; sometimes a cue to some intangible experience drifting through a viewer’s subconscious.
Gradually, I began to read these signs as messages - poignant messages left behind consciously and unconsciously by Americans as they struggled through their daily lives. These messages drew me to them. Ironic and ambiguous, humorous or offensive, they revealed elements that disturb and touch their authors and reflected much about the American experience and the cultural/social fabric of America.
America has a complex and layered cultural landscape distinct from that of Canada. It has many conflicting forces at work, acting on each other simultaneously, each with a powerful agenda.
New battlegrounds can spring up on a daily basis to deal with multiple sides of any issue,
whether it be terrorism, abortion or dieting. In response to this complexity, I chose to let opposing forces co-mingle and thus more expressively represent the paradoxical and challenging nature of contemporary American society and culture.
I used the word ‘Shards’ in my first book and Artifacts in the title of my second book. In each I
want to reference the archeological dig. While photographing, I often feel the kind of rush that I
imagine the archeologist must feel when first uncovering a new shard, a fragment of some ancient civilization’s artifact. As it is for the archeologist so it is for me that the discovery of the shard is the first step in a longer process of discovery through which its meaning is understood in relation to the culture from which it came. Sifting through the remains of America’s cultural legacy, I stopped to photograph its many shards/artifacts, trying to make sense of them, slowly piecing them together - first within the structure of the single image, then in pairings, and finally within the complex structure of the completed sequence. The process of selection,
editing and sequencing was long, challenging and exciting. Drawing from the tradition of sequence construction developed by photographers such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank and
Nathan Lyons, I constructed the poetic fragments into a powerful ensemble that could collectively express something genuine and meaningful about the mysteries of this complex nation.
During the sequencing of my work the orchestration of meaning occurs. During these moments the fragmentary elements of individual pictures fuse with one another producing a meaning which is far beyond what either picture could produce alone. With all my sequencing work, I
have tried to make unique poetic statements about America developing through several interacting, recurring themes. What I hope for in response to my work was summed up by
Robert Frank, “When people look at my pictures, I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.”