About the Photographer
American, b. 1948
Paul Berger is best known as a pioneer in exploring the artistic possibilities of digital imagery. In 2003 the MoCP mounted a thirty-year survey of his work, which tracked his methodical investigations of a central set of structural and conceptual concerns. Berger's career reveals his concentrated dedication and clarity of purpose: how do we know what we know as we are faced with a maelstrom of images, and how do we test the difference between information and knowledge when images are increasingly substituted for direct experience?
Berger initially used pre-digital photography in his explorations. In the series Mathematics (1976), for example, he created layered images of mathematical formulas on a university blackboard, capturing them with a malfunctioning camera. The images probe the relationship of image and text, exploring what Berger calls the "site of notation" —the point where an idea becomes graphic. This work also introduces his interest in relinquishing some creative responsibility to his equipment, allowing for a degree of productive error.
Another of Berger's concerns is the mechanics of narrative, especially in articulated sequences of images. In the Camera Text or Picture series (1979), Berger uses a two-page grid with a comic-strip structure, which features internal frames that often break loose to float and overlap. By using imagery from televised sports events played in closed arenas Berger introduces another layer of internal frames and boundaries for the narrative. In the Seattle Subtext project (1981) Berger used the segmented layouts of news magazines as a template to construct an alternative version of the news. This complex and dense work interweaves lyrical sequences of images and words into a reflexive narrative, mixing appropriated television footage with the artist's own photographs and accompanying it with text drawn from a database cataloguing his collection of videos of television broadcasts. The layouts are full of metaphors and internal references without resolving into the news magazine's convention of a singular editorial voice.
The large Card Plates series (1998-99) builds metaphors for memory function on the uncut press sheet, raw off the printing press. Each print is dauntingly dense, creating a composite look that, in Berger's words, "weaves a repetition and redundancy across a quasi-narrative space: a cross between mosaic and comic strip." There is an internal sub-structure to the image-sheet—individual cards that are similar but distinct—but in the pre-cut state its overall logic and degree of completeness are uncertain and only implied.
In the two part project Warp and Weft (2002-2003) Berger examines two aspects of his daily life in Seattle in large grids of images on single sheets of photographic paper, while continuing to explore concepts like the "site of notation" and the narrative sequence. Warp and Weft: Ground is derived from photographs of a deep, meandering ravine in his back yard, generally ignored beneath the superimposed grid of the neighborhoods. Warp and Weft: Figure observes the human life that occupies that grid. As in his previous work, the camera cuts into and through layers of repetition and metaphors for the patterns of perception and memory.
Berger received his BFA from UCLA (1970) and his MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester (1973). In 1978 he co-founded the the photography program at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he has taught for thirty years.