The complex portraiture of Robert Bergman


Minneapolis Institute of Arts photography curator David Little just got struck by curatorial lightning a second time.

"I just want to make clear that we aren't, here at the MIA, showing only photographers who won't have their pictures taken," he laughs.

He's standing beside Robert Bergman whose portraits go on display at the MIA starting on Thursday evening.

The images are simply remarkable. They are individual color portraits of people Bergman met on road trips around the US between 1986 and 1995. As had been said many times before the modern world is so flooded with images it's hard for individual pictures to stand out.

However Robert Bergman's pictures have a magnetic quality which is hard to escape. The 30 portraits show people who appear to have lived a tough life. Some are gaunt, many wear clothes which have seen better days. Yet there is a dignity and power about these people which can be breathtaking.

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But don't go looking to Bergman for details about the people in the pictures. All of them are untitled, and other than a brief explanation at the entrance to the show outlining the time period and the rough geographic scope of the project, there is no further information on display at the show.

Nor is there a picture of Bergman himself.

"Why would anyone make my portrait?" Bergman said as he stood in the MIA gallery surrounded by the images he created.. He says he wants there to ne as little interruption as possible of the interaction between people looking at the art, and the art itself. Images of him, and details about who and where his subjects are would only interfere.

This is the same argument made by Marco Breuer, a photographer who showed his work at the MIA in February. His pieces however were abstracts.

Bergman is working on abstracts now, but don't look for any pictures of Bergman anytime soon.

"My job in taking the picture, choosing the picture, and being the artist, is to vanish. My job is to disappear," he says.