Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Conversation with Nina Berman

from "Homeland" ©Nina Berman

Growing up in Europe in the early eighties I remember seeing amputees on the bus on my way to school or in town. Most of these men, who were probably by then in their sixties, were injured in World War II. A bombed-out church in the center of my hometown purposefully remains a ruin serving as a warning, as a memorial.
It takes generations for the effects of war to subside. When war is fought overseas by a volunteer army it is easy for the civilian population to be disconnected . But the 'Homeland' is nevertheless affected. Nina Berman has photographed worldwide, but focuses on the US, telling American stories and observing her home country in transition. Her work asks urgent questions and confronts us with the America (& the world) of today.

from "Homeland", "Megachurches", "Marine Wedding" & "Singles"©Nina Berman

Nymphoto: Tell us about yourself.

Nina Berman: I'm a photographer and sometime writer and mother to a 4 year old girl, Carla, with my partner Carmine, also a photographer.
I ride a bicycle and live in Manhattan on the 9th floor of an old building which faces east.

from "Under Taliban" ©Nina Berman

NP: How did you discover photography?

NB: I discovered photography as a young teenager through Diane Arbus. I was at summer camp in Connecticut and some older kids were passing her book around in this very excited and secret almost illicit way. Well it blew my mind. I was struck by how the conventional people looked terrifying and how the so-called freaks looked so nice and friendly.
Then at 17 my dad got me a Petri Racer rangefinder and I discovered a dark room, and from there, I was kind of hooked.

from "Homeland", "Megachuches" & "Times Square" ©Nina Berman

NP: What inspires/drives you?

NB: Curiosity about the world outside myself is the number one inspiration. Anger can be another. I'm interested in how ideology manifests itself physically and visually. Some of my work has a politically subversive element to it, in that I photograph subjects or topics that our part of our political discourse, but in ways not conventionally seen. And sometimes, I'm just trying to work out questions in my own mind. For example, years ago, I spent a lot of time photographing Times Square because of memories I had of the place when I was a child, and the ambivalence I felt when it started to change into what it is today. I was struck by simultaneous feelings of revulsion and attraction. So I photographed it to try and explore my own responses.

From "Purple Heart"©Nina Berman

NP: How do you cope with what you see/experience?

NB: At times, I'm not sure I cope very well. When I can get away from my pictures, I'm fine. But when I'm talking about them, or I'm in the midst of photographing a project, like the Purple Hearts project on wounded soldiers, I'm obsessed and dark, and extremely serious which is why my partner calls me DandG which doesn't stand for Dolce Gabbana but Doom and Gloom. I think what I've seen and what I think about, and all that I read, which is a lot, has made me not as fun or free a person as I would like to be. One reason - and it may sound selfish - I wanted to raise a child so much, was so I could be part of a child's universe and have the opportunity to play and exist on that level.

from "Homeland" & "Nuclear Play" ©Nina Berman

NP: What's next?

NB: I have a new book, Homeland, so I need to work on getting that seen. As for the next photography project, I have some ideas, but they're complicated and I need to test them out to see if they're really interesting, or just interesting in my head.

NP: Thank you so much.

"Homeland" is now available in bookstores and online. See more of Nina Berman's work at, or if you are in New York see her work at Jen Bekman Gallery - through November 15, 2008.

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