Over the years, we’ve watched our friend Fern Berman morph from elite public relations mastermind into fine art photographer. Fern always photographed, but when her Multiple Sclerosis began to exhibit serious symptoms, she became singularly committed to making art. The disease has facilitated a palpable distillation of vision, as evinced by a show of her work at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut.
Finding her capacity to walk diminishing, Fern’s practice became to “turn loss into something else”. With each photograph she wants to make, she must ask: How can I make that happen? and then work out the once-simple logistics: getting to the site of her subject, having someone help her navigate the terrain, having something sturdy to lean on so she can hold the camera steady. The gift MS has given her, she says, is slowing down and really taking the time to see. She has sometimes spent months contemplating a single subject before making a photograph.
Fern shoots film; 36 images in a roll of an endangered, archaic material makes each one count, makes her take time to decide what she wants to shoot, and compose it. She prints her images onto thick, luxurious paper so they don’t seem like photographs at all, but meditative paintings, saturated with color.
When she represented Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and other food world luminaries, Fern ate in some of the greatest kitchens in the world. She does not miss it. “I’ll look at something and say ‘That is not a life priority’”. Stripped of things most of us take for granted, Fern has committed herself making “a life that is about generating creativity”.