Almost a year ago, I featured the work of Chris Berntsen here on Empty Stretch. I prefaced his work with the following
“Chris Bernsten is one of those photographers whose work is equal parts inspirational & aggravating. Inspirational in the sense that his photos make me want to go out & explore & keep shooting, & aggravating because I feel like I will never be able to capture the emotional breadth they cover & the intimacy he offers the viewer into his life of wander.”
& damn if this guy still doesn’t make me hate my own photos, just because his are that good. I recently was privileged enough to have a morning conversation with the man himself, to shed some light on him & his work.
ES: Basics first, age/ where are you from/ what makes life worth living?
CB: I’m twenty seven, born and raised in New York. I grew up in the suburbs outside of the city and took every opportunity to ride the train to the city for skating or shows or hanging out. Things that make life worth living: spending time with friends, skating, shooting pictures, collaborating with others on projects, shows, sex, drinking coffee at 2 am as well as at 9 am…
ES: How did you get into photography? You are heavily indebted with punk & diy ethos i.e. music, skateboarding, & travel, what was the timeline of finding these things, how does photography play into it all?
CB: Photography was sort of a natural addition to record those things. I got my first camera in order to shoot skate photos of my friends. When I was sixteen I started a skateboard company and did that until I was 23. The camera was always secondary though and I didn’t photograph so many things I wish I had in those high school days! I look back on my photo albums from then and nothing’s really changed except the pictures might be a little sharper; still shows, friends, skating. Nowadays things come in tandem, a mutual motivation to both live that thing and to shoot it. Friendships develop through the process of shooting with them for example.
ES: it’s interesting how friendships happen through photography I have run in to people in my home town that I hung out with when I first started photographing & they have always remembered those photos I took & it becomes an interesting thing because, even though you are the one taking/making the photos the other person is forever a part of it.
CB: yea for sure, there’s a solidification of experience through photographing. Neither you or the people in the pictures can deny the existence of that recorded history, even if it has various interpretations.
ES: I come from a world of ephemeral material, small zines & photocopied fliers & my photos exist on small prints that I give away, yet being a contemporary photographer we sort of have to have an internet presence, how do you see the coexistence of these two worlds?
Does that even make sense?
CB: Yea it makes sense – yea it’s funny because it’s like double duty. I post something online, then photocopy it and mail it out to some of the same people who saw it before when I posted it online. I think the internet is cool though. I recently started sending in mail to Film Por Vida’s Print Exchange Program and that’s a perfect example of how the internet can create community around something that is founded in analog hand made craft. The internet is really just another outlet to publish pictures on, I prefer things in my hand any day though.
ES: I was thinking about it the other day but essentially the internet is still in the vein of the ephemeral because any day it could be gone. & the dispersing of work is interesting because I find myself delegating work now, saying o this is going in a zine so I’m not going to put it on my site.
CB: yea, I don’t care much about purity of medium, make things and be happy
ES: You have done installation’s with Elsewhere collective, zines & collages; what format do you want people to see your work in?
CB: I think content dictates how something gets made. I am obsessed with books, at the same time, certain work is more about installation. The thing I’m most excited about is doing my slideshows. I love the group experience of projecting these little slices of life with music. I just did one down in New Orleans and being able to have friends and strangers react simultaneously to the images is really rewarding.
ES: & then one last question I ask everyone because I can’t even answer it myself but why do you travel?
CB: haha, I don’t know either anymore. I used to feel the need to run away from New York City life but these days I’m excited about it. Traveling: random interactions, learning a lot about other people and yourself in a short time, taking pictures you’d never have at home, seeing nature, riding around other cities on fucked up bikes, what’s not to love?