The Profound Beauty of Robert Bergman's Street Portraits

November 30, 2017

“Occasionally there arises an event or a moment," Toni Morrison once wrote, "that one knows immediately will forever mark a place in the history of artistic endeavor. Robert Bergman’s portraits represent such a moment, such an event.” American photographer Robert Bergman's color portraits are special. Taken in the tradition of spontaneous street photography, Bergman is able to capture images of strangers that reveal much more than whatever connection could have occurred in the brief encounter between photographer and subject.

"Born in New Orleans in 1944, Bergman began to photograph when he was a child, and by his early twenties he had seriously embraced the medium. Moved and inspired by Robert Frank’s book, The Americans, Bergman began making black-and-white street photographs in the mid-1960s. Unlike the work of his contemporaries, such as Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, his work was informed by the quiet, often meditative moments that reveal the uncommon spirits of the people in front of his camera or unnoticed qualities of the urban spaces they inhabit.

In 1985 Bergman began to work in color, using both the densely saturated and the muted hues of the city and his subjects’ attire to achieve a rich, painterly idiom. He spent the next twelve years traveling and making profound portraits of people from all walks of life. Using a finely tuned sense of form and his remarkable ability to establish rapport and trust, he depicts the singular dignity and grace of individuals, not types. Placing their faces at the front of the frame, Bergman allows us to experience each one’s psychic state, often with their immediate mix of emotions: curiosity and fear, resignation and resilience." —The Minneapolis Institute of Arts