America, unbroken: Phil Bergerson at Stephen Bulger
The title of Phil Bergerson's first book, Shards of America, published last year, is apt, if a little dramatic; the images culled from the Toronto photographer's peripatetic criss-crossing of our neighbour to the south over the past several years, Bergerson stopped in literally hundreds of cities and towns, capturing evidence of life at the fringes of American urbanity.The notion, simply put, was a sort of cultural archeology: Bergerson mining fragments of a weary American culture in an attempt, vain by his own admission, to render some semblance of a whole.
A few days ago, Bergerson opened an exhibition of newer work in the same vein at the Stephen Bulger Gallery on Queen, just west of Ossington.
Called Sublime Encounters, in these pictures, as in the book, Bergerson has gone looking for instances of self-declaration amid bleak urbanscapes in cities as diverse as Kansas City, Kansas, Pocatello, Idaho, and, at left, Martinsville, Indiana.
What he finds are an array of unique expressions of self in neglected corners of a country we often take to be far more homogenous than it really is.
The best of them, such as the one below, in Cincinnati, are quietly poignant, little personal flags planted on a faceless, usually decaying urbanity -- signs of life amid the impending doom.
For the most part, Bergerson carefully eschews the temptation to do things the easy way -- as many of us know, the tertiary byways of middle America (or Canada, for that matter) provide ample material for a photographic freakshow, as any viewer of Shelby Lee Adams work can readily attest.
Instead, for the most part, Bergerson gives us glimpses of the quietly exceptional; absent of people, his pictures abound with a humane stillness that suggests not contempt but a quiet reverence. 'Shards' suggests the rebuilding of a broken myth; I would think otherwise -- that through considered work like this, we can see it honestly, as intact as it ever truly was.