Nina Berman is a documentary photojournalist with a particular Interest in American political and social landscape. Her work has been widely published, exhibited and collected, receiving awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the World Press Foundation. Her images of wounded American war veterans have become recognised internationally through solo exhibitions in galleries such as the Dublin Contemporary and Princeton University.
Purple Hearts is a body of work consisting of portraits of wounded American soldiers photographed in their homes, military hospitals and bases across the U.S.A. The Images are part of book published by Trolley books.
I find Berman’s use of light very interesting, using both artificial and ambient light to illuminate her subjects. The portraits were shot using medium format film, which results in portraits of stunning quality and colour – as seen on the above left image, the use of film produces vivid colours which really captivate the viewer; the scene of the veteran standing outside his home almost seems surreal and artificial, with the man’s semi-bionic arm emphasising this. On the contrary, the above right portrait, shot through a piece of glass or plastic, has a far more human feel due to the use of softer or ambient light. The subject is lit from one angle only, casting the right side of her body in shadow. This, and the fact the portrait was shot through the glass mottled by condensation and dirt, gives rise to a great sense of humanity and sombreness. For me, the barrier in front of the subject acts as a metaphor which represents the physical barrier he will be facing for the remainder of his life.
9/11 – afterglow
After the attacks on the world trade centre, Berman was on hand to photograph the aftermath of the event. The series was shot on 35mm black and white film, and are presented side by side to create semi-panoramic views.
I think that the idea to put present the photographs side by side creates some interesting effects, with one image leading on to the next, often blurring the boundaries. However, sometimes the effect is a bit over-powering, and I feel that the meaning is somewhat lost on certain occasions – for example the above images of the Stock Exchange partnered with a shot of some rubble. I think the fact that the two images are so busy creates a problem – when they come together it often becomes very difficult to view them as single images. I think in comparison with other work of the same subject, Berman’s photography is quite weak – Joel Meyerowitz’s body of work dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 deals with the event in a far more in-depth and emotional manner. I believe that this problem is all a matter of access – Meyerowitz was the only photographer in the world who was given access to the Ground Zero site where the workers were clearing the site.
Joel Meyerowitz - Aftermath
By gaining full access to Ground Zero, Meyerowitz managed to create photographic profiles of the workers themselves, through portraiture and candid shots, to give a far more human feel to the events. This sense of humanity is something that Berman unfortunately does not capture in her work due to her lack of such intimate access.