NMSU professor’s latest book shares 25 years of ‘street photography’

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LAS CRUCES – Asked about his new book, Bruce Berman could say that it is “nothing”.

The “Seinfeld” comparison is not far from the truth. Like the TV show, “Backlands: Photographs 1975-2000” explores the nuances of everyday life, but instead of New Yorkers, Berman’s photography reveals the nooks and crannies of small-town America.

“I was traveling a lot those years,” said Berman, an associate professor of photography at New Mexico State University. “I’m in Utah, I’m in Minnesota, I’m in Wisconsin, all those places. If you like photography, those are the best years because you’re shooting your own stuff, just shooting. That’s my homework, not homework.”

Bruce Berman is an associate professor and has taught documentary photojournalism at New Mexico State University since 2008. He has been a photojournalist for national and international publications since the late 1960s.

Berman describes the book as 90% about people. From a man kissing a llama in the cover photo to nuns hitchhiking and a man driving his 1953 Buick through a foggy California forest. Others in the book include a Dallas groom with his shotgun on his wedding day and an Albuquerque taxidermist showing off his wares. The book has a story with no beginning, middle or end. He was then. It is now. The reader can only experience it one page at a time.

“The challenge is to work with people and not just to get a surface image, not to take my picture and run, but to know something about the soul of the person and transfer it,” said Berman.

On the cover of the book, Berman calls the 121-page collection of photos “a state of mind, made by ‘The Grid.’ simple landscapes, places where there is a lot of generosity, absurdity, intimacy, a bit of mystery and where slow time still exists.”

Coverage of "Hinterland: Photographs 1975-2000." The book reflects 25 years of "street photography" by Bruce Berman, professor of photography at NMSU.  The photo captures the interaction between a llama and a practicing trainer backstage at a circus.

“Backland” is Berman’s third book in less than three years. His previous title, “Cutting the Wire”, is a collaboration with two poets. It won the Southwest Book Award in 2020.

A photojournalist working for national and international publications since the late 1960s, Berman began teaching part-time at NMSU in 2006 and has been an associate professor specializing in documentary photojournalism since 2008.

He loves teaching, especially passing on what he has learned to his students and giving them the benefit of his decades of experience in the field. Berman wants them to learn techniques but more than that, he wants them to find what resonates with them.

“If I had to sum up the book, I would say it’s a book about becoming, basically about developing your point of view,” Berman said. “Photographers call it ‘finding your signature’. I think musicians call it ‘finding your voice.’ That’s what this book is about: finding my voice in photography.”

“Backland” started out as a two-week project that turned into a six-month journey. For Berman, photography is an adventure that he will pursue until the end of his life.

Opposite pages of "Countryside" show a Dallas groom aiming with his wedding gift: a shotgun (left) while an Albuquerque taxidermist poses with some of his finished and unfinished works.

Video may be king in today’s social media and internet environment, but Berman sees the still image as a more powerful way to capture a moment in time and cement its influence for future generations. This moment is what he calls “dropping the veil”.

“If they let you in, if they drop that veil, you’ll know,” Berman said. “Someone will drop that veil, and then you will really look at who they are.

“It’s not really a book about nothing. It’s a book about me and about walking between the lines, between the people I’ve met and who I think you might want to meet too. “

“Backland: Photographs 1975-2000” is available online.

Minerva Baumann writes for New Mexico State University Marketing and Communications and can be reached at 575-646-7566, or by email at [email protected]

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