THE BERNADINIAN UNIVERSE
THE VIEW FROM THE EDGE, THE ARTIST AS MEGALOMANIAC
The Bernadinian photo-philosophy can be summed up in five words. They are:
I aim to produce pictures of terrible lucidity with “eye appeal”. My pictures are self- indulgent without being impenetrable. Self-indulgence without alienation. I make them so they can be read on two levels – either for their surface, i.e. colour, composition etc., or for their deeper meaning. I am attempting to impinge the image in the mind of the viewer, either overtly or subliminally by shock through paradox, and I am utilising an eclectic aesthetic to do so.
I have taken the staginess of Surrealism, the stylishness of classical haute couture photography, the self as experimental subject of Expressionism, the narrative elements of reportage and the slickness of long discredited commercial photography, and I have shaken them to produce the “Bernadinian cocktail”- a radical photographic synthesis.
I have gone back into the past using what De Chirico described as “progression through regression”, and I have found a club to beat people over the head with. I have left subtlety for those better equipped to deal with it and I have opted for radical eye appeal with wit and incision.
There are two things I require in my photographs: One, they should have tension and two, they should have narrative. There is no place for conventional beauty in my snaps – it is an ugly beauty that I seek.
When I make a picture I start with an event to which I underpin a location and the final act in the trilogy is colour. I try to create a relationship between people and objects and make the image as impending as possible.
Whereas, other experimental photographers of my generation in this country have chosen to treat the surface of the photograph (scratching, bleaching, toning, painting and so forth), the underlying image is the same as it has always been. I, on the other hand, have kept the illusory fidelity of the photograph and have imbued it with a new depth. A new acuity of precision. A manic Expresso-Surreality. An acid Technicolor. A world filmed in ‘Bernivision!’ They have chosen to deconstruct the photograph while I reconstruct it in my own image.
There are few faces in my work. This is because I have totally renounced portraiture. There are several reasons for this. Being enamoured of the narrative and reportage photography in the style of Cartier Bresson, I found portraits rather static in the narrative sense. They are also “ lies “. They pretend to be about the people in them but the best ones are always about the artists themselves and their vision of the world. When I look at Bill Brandt’s portraits, all I can see is Bill Brandt.
Then we come to the sitter. It is impossible to have a camera shoved in one’s face or to sit in a pose for hours and be yourself. As soon as the person knows he is to have his portrait taken, he becomes self-conscious and is faced with the problem of what to do with his face. To be recorded for posterity is an awesome thing. Should he try the smile? or maybe the casual look? Then there is the powerful statesman look? Or perhaps the beautiful look? Etc.
I was appalled by people reading these iconic symbols as if they were a pathway into the soul of the sitter, and trying to discern his whole personality from the husk left in the picture. A bit like trying to extrapolate a whole dinosaur from a fossilised toe bone. By the time the photographer has finished with his style and the sitter with his pose, there is small truth left, save a mask and an illusion.
My renunciation of portraiture led me to one of my main artistic devices: The “ Anti-portrait”. I began to use shadows, crop faces and to partially or totally obscure them in my snaps. When you see a face you reflexively begin to read it. How old is it? what sort of experiences has it had? Etc. By denying the viewer the face, I force his eyes where I want them – and that is to the event. The faceless body then takes on a poetic morbidity. It then becomes “ unhuman”. Everything in my pictures is an object, objects are objects and the people are objects. These objects cannot have anymore personality than I choose to give them. Where I have left in faces their function is to intimidate. These “unpersons” become ciphers that let me express my will. Every picture I take is a little clone-like reproduction of Alva Bernadine. I am The Bernadinist!
I only ever take one picture and it is the same picture again and again. It is the picture of Alva Bernadine.