Phil Bergerson: Emblems and Remnants of the American Dream

Top photo: Phil Bergerson, Pocatello, Idaho, 2007, inkjet colour print from colour negative © Phil Bergerson. Reproduction courtesy the artist and the Ryerson Image Centre.

[F]rom photographs of hand-painted murals to shop window displays, Ryerson Image Centre’s new exhibition, Phil Bergerson: Emblems and Remnants of the American Dream, captures both the concept and characteristics of American culture.

Canadian photographer Phil Bergerson, who is also a Ryerson graduate and professor emeritus, began his project in 1995 based on a series of trips he took across the United States. The exhibit, opening on Jan. 22, focuses on Bergerson’s travels through small and middle-sized cities, with occasional big cities like New York City. It features photographs of abandoned automobiles, businesses, urban streets. Throughout, there are notions of patriotism, religious passion and hints of violence.

Bergerson was inspired when he realized the change in his work after he decided to go back to the “basic root” of photographs and a trip to Pittsburgh.

“A lot of my time was spent in the United States because there was so much material to photograph, but really I was starting to speak about the culture of the states without actually being inspired or trying to do so,” Bergerson said. “What I am attracted to, is elements that speak about the human condition and are connected to [cultural] issues of the United States.”

The exhibition displays the images in a topographical manner that begins by looking at the outskirts of town and then leading viewers into the city. The space of the exhibition is organized by maneuvering from wall to wall to follow Bergerson’s concept. Guest curator David Harris said the arrangement of images on separate walls is for the purpose of juxtaposing the different themes of “abandonment,” “public disquiet” and “wonderment” throughout Bergerson’s photos.

Bergerson published his first book, Shards of America, in September 2004, which features photos from this exhibition. His second book,  American Artifacts, will be launched at the exhibition opening. He said the books reference what he was thinking through the cities he traveled, and sifting through the remains of things left behind during a “complicated” time for Americans.

“So those undercurrents of things that are about the human condition, they are either subliminal things you see within the pictures or things just below the surfaces of what you’re first seeing when you look at one of my pictures,” said Bergerson.

Emblems and Remnants of the American Dream opens on Jan. 22 and runs until April 13 at the Ryerson Image Centre.

Birmingham,Alabama
Caption: Phil Bergerson, Birmingham, Alabama, 2006, chromogenic colour print from colour negative © Phil Bergerson. Reproduction courtesy the artist and the Ryerson Image Centre.

Orangeburg,SouthCarolina
Caption: Phil Bergerson, Orangeburg, South Carolina, 2006, chromogenic colour print from colour negative © Phil Bergerson. Reproduction courtesy the artist and the Ryerson Image Centre.