Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986–1995

October 11, 2009 – January 10, 2010

West Building Ground Floor

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_1.jpg

    Untitled, 1990, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

    Robert Bergman has traveled the streets and back alleys of the United States for more than 40 years, photographing the people and scenes he encounters. Born in New Orleans in 1944, he began to photograph as a child and seriously embraced the medium in his early 20s. Influenced by Robert Frank's book The Americans (1959), Bergman began to use a 35 mm camera in the mid-1960s to make black-and-white photographs of American city dwellers. Working in the rapidly changing urban environment, he increasingly sought out quiet moments that reveal the humanity of the people in front of his camera.

     

    In 1985 Bergman began to work in color, using the varied palette of the city and his subjects' attire to achieve a rich, painterly style. He spent the next 12 years making a series of large portraits, with no special lighting or equipment, only his ability to create arresting compositions and establish a rapport with his subjects. By focusing on their penetrating gazes, downcast eyes, or distant stares, he depicts individuals—not types—revealing their "strength and delicacy," as the distinguished art historian Meyer Schapiro noted. Placing their faces at the front of the frame, Bergman allows us to view each of his subject's mixed emotions: fear and curiosity, resignation and resilience. Viewed together the photographs form a provocative series that speaks not only of the physical presence of these individuals but also of their psychic state.

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_2.jpg

    Untitled, 1990, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_3.jpg

    Untitled, 1989, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_4.jpg

    Untitled, 1987, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman, 2005.158.23

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_5.jpg

    Untitled, 1989, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_6.jpg

    Untitled, 1994, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_7.jpg

    Untitled, 1990, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift, © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_8.jpg

    Untitled, 1994, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_9.jpg

    Untitled, 1990, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_10.jpg

    Untitled, 1991, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_11.jpg

    Untitled, 1990, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_12.jpg

    Untitled, 1989, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman, 2005.158.89

  • Robert Bergman Portraits, 1986–1995 /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/robert-bergman/bergman_13.jpg

    Untitled, 1987, inkjet print, printed 2004, Anonymous Gift © Robert Bergman

THIS EXHIBITION IS NO LONGER ON VIEW AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY.

Overview: 30 color photographs by American photographer Robert Bergman were on view in the exhibition. The images were selected from a recent gift to the Gallery of more than 90 photographs by Bergman, most of which had never before been exhibited.

On November 1, author Toni Morrison read "The Fisherwoman," her introduction to Robert Bergman's book A Kind of Rapture.

Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art. Sarah Greenough, senior curator of photographs, was curator.

Attendance: 35,421

Other Venues:
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, June 18–August 22, 2010

Audio/Video

NGA BackStory: Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986–1995: A Conversation with the Photographer
Sarah Greenough, senior curator, department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, and photographer Robert Bergman

NGA Notable Lecture: Reading of "The Fisherwoman" by Toni Morrison from Robert Bergman's book A Kind of Rapture, in conjunction with the exhibition Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986–1995

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