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New York Times

In Huntington, an Exhibition of Pioneering Photography Through the Ages
by JANE L. LEVERE, February 13, 2015

“Damion Berger, a contemporary British photographer, creates a different kind of magic, shooting pyrotechnic celebrations around the world for his “Black Powder” series, which includes “Fiac I, Jardin des Tuileries, Paris” (2009). Mr. Berger uses a large-format camera with the lens stopped to its smallest aperture; exposures timed in sync with each fireworks launch record the paths of multiple bursts on a single negative.”

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New York Arts

Dawning of a New Age of Digital Photography at AIPAD Show
by LOUISE LEVATHES, April 16, 2013

“I think Damion Berger’s dramatic fireworks pictures are some of the most exciting in the show,” New York dealer William Floyd who was at the fair shopping for clients.

Berger, a British photographer, who was once an assistant to fashion photographer Helmut Newton, has been working for several years on a series of fireworks celebrations from around the world he calls Black Powder. He uses a large format camera, long exposures, and shifts the image in and out of focus. He digitally creates photographs from negatives by printing a facsimile enlargement of exposed film. The result is a kind of visual poetry in black and white of fiery trajectories and tumbling embers, some more abstract than others, with no reference to place. Black night is rendered white; the white fireworks explosions are black, just the opposite of reality—so one would never actually see in the real world the dynamic images Berger has created.

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Blouin ARTINFO

Contemporary Photographers Stand Out at New York’s AIPAD Fair
by LORI FREDRICKSON, April 05, 2013

“Lise Sette gallery is one of few to have risked a solo artist booth, with works from Damion Berger’s recent series of long-exposure and sequential abstractions of fireworks, printed from large-scale negative enlargement. “Solo booths are either brilliant or suicide,” explains Sette, who traveled to NYC from Scottsdale, Arizona. “We’re doing great, so we’re happy.” The artist was also on hand at the booth to discuss his work.

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New York Times

AIPAD Photography Show
by KEN JOHNSON, April 4, 2013

“At the recent end, relatively newfangled if not groundbreaking approaches are scattered throughout the show, along with myriad works by Modernist masters like Edward Weston and Robert Frank. Operating between abstraction and conceptualism, Damion Berger makes large night photographs, printed as negatives, in which fireworks trace lacy patterns of bursts and sweeping black lines on gray skies (at Lisa Sette).”

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Li PULSE

Experiments in photography push the envelope and reference the classics at Heckscher
by DREW MOSS, November 21, 2014

“…Damion Berger’s “Fiac I, Jardin des Tuileries” is just this kind of visual reinvention. Using inverted exposure and stark primary contrast, he recreates the Parisian landmark as a monolithic jungle gym of sparks and arcs where fountains turn to fireworks and trees explode in a cold, neon negative space. The power here is Berger’s reinvention of a known entity. He’s taken a recognizable place and not only made it his own, but also made it new for anyone who sees his version. It’s not unlike a cover of a great song: The chords and the words stay the same, but it has a perspective all its own.”

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Art in America Magazine

Top Ten: AIPAD Photography Show
by TRACY ZWICK, April 5, 2013

“British photographer Damion Berger’s pictures call to mind British painter John Virtue’s. There are no people in these images; they are populated with energy. Printed as negatives, Berger’s large night photographs offer semi-abstract takes on fireworks in a style that’s chalky, gritty and glorious.

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Design Arts Daily

AIPAD 2013 at The Armory
by PEGGY ROALF, April 4, 2013

The theme for my visit quickly took shape on seeing Damion Berger’s series, Black Powder, a solo presentation at Lisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale (above). Berger’s black-and-white images of fireworks celebrations around the world are created in a large-format camera, and printed on large sheets. Their ghostly quality, veering between positive and negative, come from multiple exposures and in-camera manipulations. 

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ASERICA Magazine

Introducing: Damion Berger “In The Deep End”
Interview by LU JiaYing, December 7, 2014

Trained by Helmut Newton, the British, New York-based photographer had the perfect launchpad for a career in fashion photography. Instead, he creates non-commercial photographic series that revel in setting the medium free, using unconventional shooting and processing techniques to capture images that eschew concepts such as reality and fiction.

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Bomb Magazine

Damion Berger by Alec Quig
Interview by ALEC QUIG, July 27, 2009

Damion Berger’s work is interesting to me precisely because it has so little in common with the majority of his contemporaries. When I first saw it, we just had to talk.

So talk we did, about everything: his early mentors, the photographic rat race, form and content, and the ubiquitous debate of large versus small format. He was born in Britain and presently divides his time between the South of France and New York. This summer, he’ll begin a new series about the public ritual of fireworks. His work is currently on display at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York through September 5, and both of his major projects, RSVP and In the Deep End, will be published by Mets & Schlit in the spring and fall of 2010.

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Lisa Sette Gallery: Vessels

DAMION BERGER: Newsletter Essay, Fall 2014
(Download Newsletter pdf)

In contrast to the fleeting trajectories of powerful pyrotechnic explosions documented in his Black Powder series, Damion Berger’s latest series of photographs Vessels is the genesis of a delicate interplay of time and movement – all-night-long exposures of sailing yachts, mega-yachts or cruise ships at rest, drifting around their anchors at the mercy of the wind and currents, against the backdrop of a dark Mediterranean sea.

Leaving the camera’s shutter open throughout the hours of darkness while stopping the lens down to the smallest aperture of f/64, only the brightest point-sources of lights affixed to the ship’s superstructure register on the negative, recording arcs of movement and rotation as the lights bob up and down with the waves akin to an electrocardiogram, while plotting a slow and variable circumnavigation around its anchor.

Printed in the negative, the resulting photographs are like layered line drawings whose geometry is proportionate to the degree of a boat’s movement over time and the arrangement of its lights. Occasionally figurative but mostly abstract or architectural in form, these vessels appear as perfect islands, angular semi-spherical structures or UFO’s, whose presence seems in stark juxtaposition to the contemplative context of the expansive seascape and distant horizon.

Black Powder

by JOHN ROHRBACK
Senior Curator of Photographs, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth,Texas

Damion Berger’s Black Powder images are spectacles. Grand in both size and scale, they are as unnerving as they are inviting, subversive as they are decorative. The images ostensively record worldly celebrations memorialized with fireworks, from the inauguration of earth’s tallest building in downtown Dubai to art performances in the Tuileries. As if the excess and conspicuous wealth evidenced by each event were not enough, Berger uses in-camera techniques such as long and overlapping exposures and unorthodox combinations of focus and aperture to select, sculpt and multiply the explosions into finale-like crescendos. He then offers them back to us as negatives by printing facsimile enlargements of the exposed film–prismatic blends of cartoon-like calligraphy, Cliché Verre, and blinding afterimage sears of nuclear explosions. What more bizarre merge of war and peace can there be? Crowds clap and cheer at cannon-fire reports, flashes of light from exploding bombs, and streaks suggesting anti-aircraft tracer bullets. While some of these images proffer beguiling beauty, bringing to mind fecund botanical gardens and dense tree canopies, others, like UEFA Cup Gala, are far more troubling, mirroring a missile exploding on its submarine target.

These images reflect the unsettling dichotomies that define our time with its ideological eruption of independent terrorism and state-sponsored violence, where first world capitalism and mores are targets, and “national security” regimens are as intrusive to privacy as they are protections. We feel safe if we watch all the activity from afar. In picture- form the cactus-like spire of the immense Burj Khalifa becomes comfortably two-dimensional; its mix of detail and soft focus transforming it into a dream filled with unheard explosions and cheers; where all the preparation and expense goes up in a satisfying instant of smoke and fire, and everyone goes home satisfied.

 

Lisa Sette Gallery: Black Powder

DAMION BERGER: Newsletter Essay, Fall 2013
(Download Newsletter pdf)

Damion Berger’s Black Powder series documents, in massive and powerfully beautiful representations of glass-plate negatives, the gestural vectors of pyrotechnic explosions launched to memorialize grand celebrations around the world. The British photographer, once an assistant to the renowned fashion photographer Helmut Newton, has chosen fireworks as his subject and captured the celebratory spectacle of worldly events, from the inauguration of earth’s tallest building in Downtown Dubai to art performances in the Jardin du Tuileries.

Dating back to the innovation of gunpowder in 7th century China, as a means of either supplication or banishing evil spirits, says Berger, in our age fireworks have come to reflect the deep civilizational concerns of patriotism, pride, and grand-scale social ritual often deployed to fulfill the voracious demand spurred by the interests of marketing, entertainment, tourism, and the conspicuous consumption of our times.

The clear philosophical import of Berger’s images is eclipsed by their stark, exhilarating beauty. Intense and fractally layered collections of gunpowder sears, tumbling embers, and fiery trajectories are captured and transformed into ashy, crepuscular abstractions that are as confrontational as they are compelling. While some images in the Black Powder series foreground familiar landmarks of civilizational power, like the Tour Eiffel or the Burj Khalifa, others are composed entirely of serial explosions, delineated in stunning lacerations of black and white. Decontextualized, in the absence of sentimental crowds and festive colors, what remains are monumental exposures of finale-like crescendos, a beguiling mix of the the mortal materials of war —guns, bombs and searing chemical blazes, interwoven in a rich latticework that brings to mind botanical gardens and dense tree canopies.

As dramatic as the photographs themselves is Berger’s method of capturing them. Berger uses in-camera techniques such as long and overlapping exposures and unorthodox combinations of focus and aperture to select, sculpt and multiply the explosions onto a single sheet of film. He then offers them back to us as negatives by printing facsimile enlargements of the exposed film. Gaining access to many of the occasions Berger documents can take years of preparation and planning but that is only the beginning, as Berger carries out a process at once determined by his instinctual mastery of his equipment in reaction to the uncontrollable nature of his subject and, at the same time, vulnerable to the variables of mother nature and the unexpected.

“Working with a large format view-camera and setting the focus in advance on the ground glass, I load a single sheet of film at a time. Pulling out the dark slide, and holding the cable-release in one hand, I wait to trip the shutter in sync with selected explosions informed by past trial and error. In-between exposing the same negative multiple times and in quick succession, I sometimes shift the camera in and out of focus, vary the duration of each exposure and open or close the aperture to effect the quality and quantity of light on the film. The more figurative photographs require a supplemental long-exposure after the display to burn in the subtle contextual detail that takes more time to register on film than the bright, vivid explosions. The physical act of making these photographs seems every bit as intense as the fireworks themselves.”

Berger seems to revel the most in those aspects of his medium and subject matter that are unaccountable and uncontrollable; the mysterious confluence of light and time that creates on his negatives moody, sparkling distortions of deep black, or the cherry-blossom hexagons of multiple shutter-openings. “In many of the more abstract images, there are areas that are deliberately out of focus, and sometimes there are these great analogue artifacts sculpted by the mechanics of the lens and shaped by the arrangement of the shutter blades,” he enthuses.

In his use of negatives, his muscular and unexpected take on a common subject of photography, or his ability to coax from the camera lovely and striking effects, Berger’s subject is in part the possibilities of photography as a human-operated tool, and the unique qualities of the analogue medium: “The negative as a delicate and intermediary step in the traditional photographic process, with its inverted tonalities, renders this other-worldly and somewhat magical image… all of this speaks to the analogue process and holds a particular fascination for me,” says Berger.

As photographers like Damion Berger increasingly use the camera to reveal a purer visual poetry than simple reproduction or digital alteration could achieve, it seems there is a distinct place for this technology—the chamber of light—that is as ancient, sacred and vital as those 7th-century explosions in the sky.