Imaginary Landscapes of Laura Berson
By Michelle Sevior
Through her use of poetic and profound subject matter, Laura Berson is on a quest to figure out her position in the world in relation to the elements that surround us.
Specialising in portrait and landscape photography and having won multiple awards, Berson has a professional background as an actress, screenwriter, and filmmaker. Her work focuses on the treatment of pictorial and cinematographic light, in which she refers to the dramatic use of light explored by the Dutch and Flemish painters from the seventeenth and early eighteenth century as a source of inspiration. Her artistic practice explores how the body, mind and nature are all interconnected. There is an ever-present element of nature in her work that is related to macro- and micro-organisms, things we do not see, but things that exist, and how everything is connected yet somewhat disconnected at the same time. She tries to express all that she doesn’t know, what she feels as a human being and her perception of the world, in order to find the essence of something. Her conceptualised artistic practice allows her to play on forms by expressing the infinitely large and infinitely small.
From the series “Efni”, 2018, C-print.
Courtesy of the artist.
Berson began practising photography at age 19, and it is through her sensitivity and softness that she is inclined to approaching themes around the body of women, mixing eroticism and fantasy, and conveying a subtle world in which strength and fragility are two sides of the same coin. Her landscapes are often a purified attempt to transcribe an architectural universe in which Man is erased by its smallness.
By orchestrating light and staging, she gives free reign to her sensibility and seeks to transcribe reality into a dreamlike and reassuring image. To dive out of everyday life allows her to better understand her positioning in the world from an objective point of view. Berson’s influence is varied, ranging from elements of the universe, nature, the environment, to how all of these overlap with one another in order to form a more complex system. Our position in the world and the footprint we leave on the environment are themes that are also explored, as well as how our bodies respond to illness. She is particularly attached to show that which we do not see, stating that some illnesses are not visible to the human eye at first glance, yet that doesn’t mean that the pain one is enduring does not exist, and to explore these ideas in an empathetic manner.
In 2013, she directed a documentary on identity and its relationship to art after having worked on various short films and clips as chief camera operator and assistant. Berson worked briefly in the fashion industry where she notes that we are all transcribing to unattainable ideals of what is considered the perfect body, or image, and that we are conditioned to think in certain ways through exploitation of these images. She felt a misconnection in the treatment of human beings, which led her to feel as though the industry was meaningless and sanitised. The true essence of what is meant to be human is lost, so in her work she tries to portray women (and human beings in general) as they really are, depicting them as imperfect while she steers away from stereotypes, showcasing their sensitivity and strength.
In October 2014 Berson recalls, “I came across an article about women who are sold as slaves in Iraq and Syria. It shocked me, even if this practice is not new. In early January 2015, I learned in a dreadful document from the Iraqi news agency Iraqinews (reported by the Parisian) of the prices these women are sold for, and how they are atrociously reduced to slavery. The novelty for me was that the sale price of these women was made public, official, written in black and white, and the older the woman, the less her worth. It’s as if they were advertised in some form of catalogue, except that the items are not clothes or furniture, but women of all ages. They are sold with a thirty-four-page “manual” on elaborate rape, like a product’s purchase notice. It’s easy to imagine for an object, much less for a human being. This instrumentalisation deeply shocked me”.
In response to this article, she presented a photo exhibition Ici et Maintenant at the Maison de la Mixité in Paris, alongside the association Ni Putes Ni Soumises. Inaugurated on 25th of November 2015, a day of struggle of violence against women, Ici et Maintenant showcases portraits of women and girls in light of the inhumane acts of certain cultures that still practice modern-day slavery. They are all depicted in the same fashion against a black background, where the women are dressed in a simple black T-shirt with a slate around their necks on which appears a price, and from time to time, a word. Their faces express a feeling of sadness, sorrow, despair, anger or incomprehension, symbolising the fact that women far too often have their identity stripped to a mere number and are treated as objects in society, and are considered inferior to that of men. The images in this series are presented as if it were someone you knew, to heighten the emotional attachment to the inexplicable ways, in which women are still treated in society today within certain cultures.
The artist and the series “Ici & Maintenant”, 2015, C-Print
Her work shares an interest in the investigation of identity and the place that each individual occupies in the world in relation to space, body, and consciousness. In her series Percipere, she experiments with a metaphysical doubt in a concrete way. The images pose certain questions, such as whether the body is connected to the mind, and reflect an impression of a world without meaning. The basis of the project lies in the way in which reality is constructed; a process in which our five senses intervene, and in a disorganised manner, cause our perception to change. This phenomenon referred to as derealisation, which simply put, is a disorder in which we perceive the self and the environment in a strange way. She raises this sense of not belonging to the world and the need to find a balance between these two points.
From the series “Le mythe d’Endomètre”, 2018, C-Print. Courtesy of the artist.
Berson was heavily influenced by the contemplative slowness of the film ‘The Sacrifice’ by Russian director Tarkovsky in her series Zhertva. She reflects this ambiance in her work through an ever-present solemn element, and tries to transcribe this feeling of loneliness that is felt in the film, with the main character being on a quest for the meaning of life surrounded by elements of nature which are always present but in unusual ways. It explores how everything is connected yet somewhat disconnected at the same time, and how our relationship to the body and our relationship to the world are deeply intertwined. She articulates a physical space and a lived space, with our experiences of life being both concretely and culturally constructed within our environment, and poses the question as to how the body is built in relation to the space we inhabit in the world.
Berson’s photographic practice is identified as a search for the essence of something, an identity we can prescribe to, in relation to that which we are surrounded by, in which multiple realities are possible. She invites the viewer to explore the sensitivities to her varied subject matters in an ethereal manner.