Michael P. Berman

Michael P. Berman

Fellow: Awarded 2008
Field of Study: Photography

Competition: US & Canada

Michael Berman has spent almost thirty years photographing the arid border regions of the American Southwest.  A resident of New Mexico, he is fascinated by the land and how people use and value it, an interest that grew out of his studies in biology at Colorado College (B.A., 1979), his work there with James Enderson on peregrine falcons, and his initial forays into landscape photography.  During a subsequent year taking art courses at the University of Colorado, he realized that photography merged his ecological interests and his need for creativity, and he moved on to Arizona State University, where he earned an M.F.A. in photography in 1985.  At that time he was creating paintings and installations using his cut-up photographs and negatives.  After an intitial installation at the University of Colorado in 1985, he went on the road across America.  The resulting portfolio was acquired by the Harry Ransom Research Center; subsequently his works were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, among several other institutions. A review in Art in America, a Visual Artist Fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts for painting, and a Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship quickly followed.

But believing he was losing his focus, he and his wife moved to the virtual wilderness around the Gila River, near the New Mexico-Mexico border.  He took part in the New Mexico BLM Wilderness Photography Survey in 1996 and became a founding board member of the Gila Resource Information Project in 1997.  His treks in the desert regions, with and without his camera, eventually led to a three-year Fellowship from the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona to photograph the Gran Desierto, on the southwestern border of Arizona and Sonora, an area he had been visiting since 1978.  That project led to his first publications: Sunshot (Univ. of Arizona Press, 2006), with text by Bill Broyles, and Inferno, with text by Charles Bowden (Univ. of Texas Press, 2006). Both books were honored as among the Southwest Books of the Year by the Pima County Public Library and Arizona Historical Society, and each was given a Southwest Book Award by the Border Regional Library Association of El Paso.  Inferno is the first in the projected trilogy The History of the Future to be published by the University of Texas, with text by Mr. Bowden; Exodus (2008), with Juarez photographer Julian Cardona, is the second. His Guggenheim Fellowship will help support his work on the third installment–photographs of the Chihuahuan Desert–titled Trinity, which Mr. Berman expects will take seven years to complete.

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