Creating a panoramic and humorous view of American life in the second half of the 1800’s, this exhibition is a pictorial tribute to the fabled 19th-century photographic establishment known as Zohar Studios and an homage to all the unsung and forgotten photographers from the 19th century whose stories faded like un-fixed photographs.
It was estimated that by mid 19th-century there were three thousand photographic operators plying their trade in America. Half were way faring photographers and the other were established photographic artists who ran thriving skylight studios. Day in and day out, these photographers recorded daily life, but by the end 19th-century the vast majority of these grand establishments began to falter and then vanish, a casualty of the sudden democratization of photography ignited by the unforeseen arrival of an amateur snapshot camera.
By staging elaborate tableaux vivants and utilizing the historic wet-collodion photographic process, this exhibition examines the intrinsic nature of photography during its nascent period. It rediscovers the ephemeral nature of pre-photographic history, the scientific interplay of light and optics, and the quest for optical amusements, also known as philosophical instruments. Exploiting the archaic quality of this medium to re-imagine the nineteenth century, Berkman creates displacements between notions of the past and the present to bring light and relevance to the history of the medium.
Since 1997 Stephen Berkman has been working with the wet-plate collodion process and he is considered one of the first photographers of the modern era to resurrect this vanished art form. Some of the earliest images for this exhibition were made while he was an Artist-in-Residence at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Berkman’s photographs have been featured in the book Photography’s Antiquarian Avant- Garde, The New Wave in Old Processes (Published by Abrams in 2002) Other publications include Blind Spot, Art in America, i-D, magazine, and the book The Journal of Contemporary Photography: Strange Genius. Also included in Strange Genius was an essay about Berkman’s photographs titled The Aura of Relic.