John Bernhard: Diptych
When someone hears the name John Bernhard, it’s likely they will think of his surrealist nude images. These images involve women’s bodies overlaid with projections of the earth, transforming the human form into something almost recognizable. By doing so, he explores dualities like dream and reality, beauty and ugliness. His work with diptychs, at first glance, seems to be a completely different direction for him. Yes, both deal with a dichotomy in some way, but this seems to be where the connection ends. Looking back through his archive of images, he discovered similarities between photos taken years apart. He described it as a sense of deja vu, a connection between images from different worlds as well as times. Subconsciously his eye had sought connections, approaching different subject matters with similar approaches. One has to wonder: why did he shoot this the way he did? What connection did his mind make that led to this connection? There was clearly a similar mood that intuitively caught the eye, and seeing that brings a new level of significance to the images. In thinking about these questions, that past experience is reflected on and becomes enhanced, beginning a metamorphosis through the act of looking and comparing.
Thus, despite seeming like a departure from his typical work, his diptychs actually expand on ideas explored in his well-known images. His Diptych series is a natural extension of his nude images; in both he explores the world from new perspectives and reflects on the readability of his subjects. Most importantly, form is the driving force behind both of these works. Through his use of forms, he intimately looks at what it means to exist and the connections within the world. He can transform meaning by combining forms, whether that be through projection or by placing two images side by side. Ultimately, his curiosity about the complexities of our universe comes through no matter the subject matter. And through this curiosity, he opens up the viewer to questioning their existence and beliefs as well.
John Bernhard is a Swiss American artist, writer, and photographer, who traveled North America extensively before settling in Houston in 1980. For more than three decades he has chosen the medium of photography to explore the everyday world from new perspectives, breaking away into different pathways of artistic expression. He continues to devote all of his energy taking photographs and bringing them together to enhance their meaning with visual interplay. Bernhard has had more than 30 solo shows with three museum exhibitions throughout the U.S. Canada, and Europe. He is the author of 9 books and his photographs are included in 20 museum’s permanent collections.
I always work on themes, I actually keep several on the stove at once. I like to think that I specialize in versatility, it stimulates my creativity and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I like to explore new grounds and I constantly work on ideas, producing essays, photographing people and the female body.
I guess my choice of themes fluctuates between dream and reality, between reflection and emotion and also a bit of fascination with transformation. It is the transformation, transition and change in people, bodies, myself and our environment that I am after. Transformation has always driven my work, from my nude series to the street scenes of Nicaragua and China. Even in my Diptych series, which is a personal visual odyssey, a journal unveiling my photographic interests, an intense curiosity of some moments in my life brought up through the duality of two images.- John Bernhard
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