Background information, obituary for Jerry BERNDT
"Jerry BERNDT (1943-2013) began his career as a photographer with a kamikaze action: when the University of Madison in Wisconsin was looking for a photo lab technician in the mid-1960s, he signed up for the job. Within a year, the autodictator acquires the skills he lacks. With the help of books by American photographer Ansel ADAMS, he learns photographic perfection. When the renowned Harvard University is looking for a photographer for a field test in 1967, Jerry BERNDT is again in the right place at the right time. The social-psychiatric institute of Harvard University wants to investigate the social and economic structure of the so-called 'Combat Zone'. This red-light district has some peculiarities: mostly black pimps send young white women to work the streets. The white middle-class free agent, however, can enter the Combat Zone unmolested, although muggings, rivalries and fights between black and white gangs characterize the street scene. The Boston Harbor neighborhood is an urban combat zone with multiple implications. A team of sociologists and psychologists is assigned to document the scene - Jerry BERNDT quickly becomes the main protagonist and remains in Boston even after the lead professor gives up after a year and makes off with all the film and photo footage, documenting the Combat Zone for three more years. This work is in many ways exemplary of his photographic approach: He translates the direct confrontation with violence, prostitution, social and urban destruction into images that paint a complex picture beyond simple stereotypes: precise, atmospherically dense, multifaceted. Jerry BERNDT changes position depending on the situation: once almost invisible, then exposed again. Coarse-grained B&W shots from bars, side entrances and backyards or dignified portraits mark the spectrum of his approach.
Jerry BERNDT also becomes a comprehensive chronicler of student protest and the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States. He was a political activist since the early 1960s, organizing demonstrations and illegal actions. A trip to Cuba in 1969, during which he cut sugar cane with Fidel Castro (sic!), earned him FBI persecution and a temporary ban from the profession. It was only through a job as a newspaper photographer for a Detroit newspaper ('The Newspaper') that he was able to regain his professional footing in the early 1970s. Through his journalistic work in Detroit, his oeuvre expanded. He photographs everyday American life, unpretentiously and precisely. He shows pageants, portraits of children, shopping malls, diners, parking lots, workers and cars, members of the middle class and residents of the black and white ghettos. Unlike most of his peers in the student movement, the photographer, born in Milwaukee in 1943, did not come from the middle class. The son of Polish-German immigrants, he grew up under difficult conditions. 'I learned to read while sorting beer bottles in my father's bar,' he reported. Early Jerry BERNDT leaves his parental home and goes his own way. His role models are the beatniks. Intellectually, he was decisively influenced by the writings of Paul Goodman. School or university degrees remain denied to him. If the authentic experience of the street counts for anything, Jerry BERNDT could claim it for himself. As a photographer, he comprehensively documented the period of burgeoning protest, emancipation and creativity, but also the gradual decline of American society, triggered by the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, by political distrust, persistent discrimination and economic crisis. Jerry BERNDT remained politically engaged throughout his life and worked successfully as a photojournalist: San Salvador (1984), Guatemala (1985), Haiti (1986-1991), and then later the wars in Armenia (1993-94) and in Rwanda (2003-2004) mark his willingness to take risks and his ability to work around the world as a photographer. In California, he worked on the complex of works 'The Act of Faith' since the 1990s. Despite his immense productivity, Jerry BERNDT's work has long been largely unknown. In 2007 a Hamburg gallery presented his work for the first time in Germany. In 2008/09, the first retrospective followed under the title 'Insight'." (slightly adapted text for this description, for the original text: © Maik Schlüter, 2013 in: 'Kamikaze and Concept - Obituary for Jerry Berndt')
This catalog volume of the exhibition 'Insight' (works from which were exhibited under the title 'Streetwise' in the USA together with photographs by Diane ARBUS, Lee FRIEDLANDER, Robert FRANK and Garry WINOGRAND) shows the multifaceted oeuvre of Jerry BERNDT as a photographer, filmmaker and lyricist and how he tirelessly and astutely criticizes society in its ruthlessness and absurdity. The Nite Works series is an outstanding example of his ability to make images of great conceptual quality. Begun as a 'work in progress' in 1973, the series features deserted night shots of cities and streetscapes that, like film sets, express all the poetry and trepidation of nocturnal isolation. Over a period of 10 years, he and his daughter Emma created a touching, analytical cycle of images about the expressions of a child's imagination, at the same time exploring the possibilities of a conceptually grounded image-text work in the field of tension between document and staging.
About the American photographer, Jerry BERNDT (1943-2013)
Photo books by Jerry BERNDT
- Susanne Holschbach, Kathrin Peters
- HC with dust jacket, 28 x 24 x 2,5 cm., 245 pp., highly b/w illustrated, German / English