Berkman Exchanged with Chinese Photographers during the Appraisal of International Photographic Art Exhibition
Berkman as a Judge at the Appraisal Meeting of the 15thInternational Photographic Art Exhibition
Reporter: As we all know, a White House photographer must follow many regulations when taking pictures for leaders. I would like to know what those regulations are and your personal feeling about taking pictures in the White House.
Elie Berkman: A White House photographer can visit the White House at any time. Of course, the President’s office is not 24-hour open because the host is fully occupied. The photographer is entitled to enter some parts of the White House such as East Wing, West Wing and garden because the White House is not a private house of the president but a place of all the American citizens. As a White House photographer, I will make a reservation ahead of time if I want to enter the White House for shooting. Then I will be there as appointed. Due to limited space, not all the photographers are allowed to participate in every event in the White House. Generally speaking, I will enter the White House on average 3 to 4 occasions every month, more or less, and it is also possible to have only twice or even five times. There is nothing special,, just like ordinary taking pictures. The difference is that the president is talking and I am pressing on the button. We need to choose the time for taking pictures according to the president’s speech. As a joke goes, politicians have a pass for telling a lie. As a photographer, what we need to do is discover the question he cares about despite his constant smile.
Reporter: How do you treat the relationship between photography and real life? How do you comment on a good picture?
Elie Berkman: To me, photography is an art where I have laid all my passion. 33 years ago, I took up photography, and since then I have been taking photography as a visual chart of my philosophy and a way of exploring and reflecting the relationship between human and culture. I once threw away all the photos I dislike as early as in the film age. What I maintain are not good-looking photos but that I bear emotions. Otherwise, I would throw all of them into the garbage bin. Then what has happened? All my photos at hand are precious masterpieces.
I have been to 49 countries, and I conclude that it is not camera but idea that matters in the process of photography. I was once invited to Mexico to lecture in a college where I told the students there to learn philosophy—the principle of the world. The more you learn about philosophy, the more charming your spiritual dimensions will be. It is not the case that the most expensive camera will bring you good photos. As a photographer, you must reflect your opinion about life in your pictures.
Reporter: It is learned that you have preference in choice of digital and films, colors and black and white. Can you name the differences?
Elie Berkman: Digital is my tool for records and film is my tool for creation. I can’t remember how many digital pictures I have taken but I can name my films one by one. Particularly, I prefer black and white films, which amount to 120000 in my collection. Colors will push the viewers into a distance while black and white will bring them closer. All my color photos are exquisite and I sold them all to the magazines while I preserve the black and white films as personal creation.
Reporter: Faces is one of your underway projects, and you must have your particular reasons.
Elie Berkman: By means of taking photos of people’s faces and facial expressions in different places and cultures all over the world, I expect to find some culture and marks of civilization that people can hardly realize and recognize. I talk to them just to let them feel that somebody is caring for their life. At the same time, opening their heart will help to take a better photo. I never pursue a certain type of shooting, but the good pictures will find me. The process of exchange gave me inspirations. I never care whether their faces are beautiful or not in choosing faces because that is totally a subjective question. I cared about whether this face embodied some marks of environment and culture. I will conduct lots of research prior to my efforts in interpreting a culture or a civilization. I will learn about their personality and ways of living, and I will have thinking in his or her position. As a result, my works will always represent the personality of the figure in the photo.
Reporter: Do you have some recent plan for photography? Anything about China?
Elie Berkman: China is indeed a mysterious and time-honored country with cultural diversity. As there are 56 nationalities in China, and varied nationalities have their unique expressions. It will be a challenging and creative art practice for a professional photographer to take record of those differences. I plan to bring a “Giant Super Camera” to China. This camera will be 11 meters long and 3.5 meters high, and the negative film size will be 3 meters by 3 meters. I will take distinct pictures for every and each nationality and exhibit the 56 pictures in a specially erected exhibition center in the end. The process and outcome of this photography will be greatly shocking, especially in inspiration collection and shooting in the minority nationalities in China and taking complete record of all the Chinese nationalities’ living condition. Quite a few minority nationalities have left their source of culture and abandoned their life styles. I hope, through taking pictures, to preserve such invaluable cultural sign and text memory.
Reporter: As a senior photographer, what suggestion do you have for young peers in China?
Elie Berkman: I have been asked how they can become an excellent photographer, and I told them to learn philosophy. So long as you open your personal world, you will see a more and more excellent world from a proper perspective. In China, I expect them to take photography as an art, and try to avoid pressing buttons as fast as firing the machine gun though you may meet with couple of good pictures by chance. The difference between professional photographers and amateurs is in that the former will reproduce the same picture for hundreds or thousands of times every time they take a photo because those professional have their own profound insight of light and main object before taking photos.
Photos come from our heart but not from camera. Some seemingly beautiful pictures are very superficial, as they don’t convey any ideas. If you cannot understand life, you don’t’ have to buy a good camera because the real angle is the eyes of your heart. Good photos come from your heart instead of good camera. Chinese photographers are supposed to integrate their eyes of heart with the camera at their hands so that the picture in the LCD will be the photographer’s vision.