A conversation with photographer Aaron Berger
M: Do you remember your first photogprah that you took that became significant to your overall style going forward?
A: I think so. I say I "think" because I didn't recognize what it was at the time, and I didn't even know I liked photography yet; but, I remember the first photo I got excited about. It was a long time ago, and actually on the first day I ever tried to walk around and photograph people. A young guy was sitting on the curb at night and holding a baby very sweetly, pressing his forehead against the baby's. Right away I knew I wanted to take that photo and I remember thinking it was a masterpiece when I got home. It definitely wasn't. But it was the first photo that fooled me in to thinking I could be good at taking pictures. It wasn't until 2 years later that I really started shooting, but that picture sticks in my memory as the first random happy accident.
M: I noticed you really like to capture the realest of moments in people. You manage to so skillfully catch people for who they really are, in an unflinching way. What made you drawn to more so document the realness with your photography, versus “set up” moments?
A: I think I've always been drawn to observing how things are and trying to come up with the perfect little poignant summation for them. It's just something my mind naturally wants to do in every situation. I've never felt inspired by a photo that was set up or posed, and never related to that kind of work. If I wanted to make something up, I feel like a pen or a paintbrush or a 90 minute movie would do a much better job. But I don't have the creativity to make stuff up. Photography works well for non-creative observation.
M: I must ask, is photographer Mark Cohen one of your inspirations? He’s known to be a “surprise” photographer in a way, catching people in moments.
A: Mark Cohen has definitely taken some photos that I like, but no, I wouldn't consider him an inspiration. Definitely not the surprise flash stuff. I'd prefer to be invisible, both to the subject and the viewer.
M: That makes more sense for what you do and the photos you take, actually. Do you have a specific camera set up you stick to? And if so, what is it about the quality of the film or camera you are using that you feel benefits you as a street photographer more than other options out there?
A: Yes, I shoot a Leica M4 with color film. I just like the way color film looks, and the all-manual rangefinder is a really simple no-nonsense tool. The simpler, the better for me.
M: As a photographer, what is your opinion on film photography versus digital?
A: I don't care what anybody is using and I don't think it matters at all. I know I prefer film, but there are plenty of reasons to prefer digital. I don't think there's a right and a wrong.
M: I agree. I really Love how film looks personally, but, there are so many benefits in the industry to work with digital and you still get an incredible final product. To each their own. How has the hustle and bustle of NYC and the people residing in it influenced the style of photos you aim to take, even down to your final chosen selects? Are you trying to tell a specific story of NYC, or people in general?
A: I'm definitely not trying to tell a specific story of NYC, or any story really. I do think the crowded NYC streets have influenced me to photograph people from close range, in action, etc. Because that's what's here, and I've always been drawn to the notion of the big city. I've had a romantic ideal about larger-than-life mega cities ever since I was a kid. I kind of always dreamed of living in New York or London or Tokyo. It's odd, because I actually can't stand crowded places if I'm trying to do something. But if I'm trying to do nothing, I love it. I could sit in a quiet corner of a coffee shop in a big city and watch people go by all day. Sometimes I think that feeling is what the photos are. My selects are only the photos that I like at a given moment, they're not an effort to stick to any goal or story.
M: I find there to be a special humor in the moments you capture. Is that something you set out to find, or is it more so something that you notice in the post/editing process?
A: There's really nothing I set out to find, it's all just whatever I saw and reacted to. But of course because I'm stuck with my brain every day and nobody else's, I tend to react to the same things. I find certain things funny, or interesting, etc. And I consistently notice them as a result. And then in the editing, again it's just whatever stands out at the time. I try not to explain it to myself. The more I think, the more I'll try to make it good, or impressive, and the more contrived it becomes. Easier said than done, but it works out better when I just let it happen.
See more work by Aaron Berger by clicking here.