Mia Berg: Even in the Light
Bernarducci Meisel Gallery
April 1, 2011 through April 30, 2011
“I started this project to get away from New York City, but it’s also a response to people being [so strung up] about nudity. It’s not voyeurism,” is how the artist Mia Berg begins explaining her ten-photograph series currently on view at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York. The young photographer’s self-portraits in nature are quiet and composed, and while Berg poses nude, there’s nothing salacious about her work. Rather, its gentle suggestiveness serves as an apt reminder that yes, we can view the female form to experience something other than a thrill.
A significant contributor keeping the works cool and unprovocative is Berg’s categorical blurring of portrait and landscape. Her locations are lush, varied, and carefully chosen. She works near water or in woods -- in “Come Clean” we are treated to a view of the artist jumping at the ocean’s edge, whereas in other shots, her body is almost an extension of various trees. While “Come Clean” conveys the white-capped water’s movement as much as it does the artist’s own joyful jump, Berg tends to keep the shapes she makes with her body synonymous with the movement of whatever tree she may be posing in. The effect draws attention away from herself and to the branches’ own angles and curves. In “Sun Coast,” for example, Berg cuts off her head to focus on her suspended, arched figure, hanging inside a framework of curving branches that’s a little reminiscent of the tree structures in Where the Wild Things Are. The faceless effect makes it seem quite natural that a human form is an integral part of this oversized nest. In another image, where three branches bend one after the other toward water, the artist, standing on the same limb from which they protrude, bends forward, too. Her arm hangs gently and the pose among the branches looks natural -- her figure might have just arrived at this party, but it belongs there nonetheless.
Mia Berg, Suncoast, color photograph courtesy of the artist.
In another shot, Berg stands bent over among some branches at the edge of a lake, peering closely into the water. Viewed doubled over, the pose is unusual, and it takes a beat to reconcile the human figure in the frame. The sun is going down and there’s little difference between the artist’s skin and the bark of the tree she’s holding. Looking at this, one could imagine stumbling upon the scene by chance, only to wonder how and why a sapling is checking on the status of fish in the water.
In this photograph, as in the others, Berg tends to keep her face hidden. Somehow this seems to make her nudes....less nude. The same faceless approach in a different form, from another photographer, might have the opposite effect. It’s easy to envision how the absence of the face could overemphasize the figure, embracing exactly the spastic approach to nudity that Berg sets out to avoid. Instead, Berg’s rhapsody with nature in the small c-prints (the images don’t exceed 13.5” by 18.5”) replaces the need for a face altogether. Even in shots where she’s viewed from afar in vast settings, the pictures feel intimate -- oh, that scene where Berg leapt off a cliff? It’s just for you.
Mia Berg, Morning Tide, color photograph courtesy of the artist.
Whether Berg appears set in or next to her landscape seems to change with every shot. She takes around a hundred pictures for every one that goes out for public consumption. “I compose the frame really carefully, but I never quite know where my body’s going to be. It’s a fun surprise,” she notes. “I’m obviously aware of my body when I pose - it’s about me relating to the nature around me, but it’s also a performance, for me, my camera, and the audience.” Berg, playing painstakingly to the whole composition, elegantly integrates the female form with the natural environment.
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Susannah Edelbaum is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She writes about art, commerce, and crime.