American Artifacts is a complex and poetic photographic portrait of America as it simmered its way through the first decade of the twenty-first century. It reflects that span of years some have called the “lost” decade. American Artifacts is a personal exploration by an empathetic neighbor - the Canadian documentary photographer Phil Bergerson (Born Toronto, 1947).
Much like the discovery process of the archaeologist, Bergerson describes his photographic approach as sifting through the remains of a culture – sifting through the shards of artifacts left behind by a rushing humanity as it made its way through the streets of a tumultuous America. His book is a collection of these message shards - often ironic, sometimes full of pathos. All represent the concerns of a struggling humanity: their fears, desires, and hopes with many images vibrating between reality and metaphor. A variety of recurring themes are reflected in photographs of shop window displays, and in the objects and signs from the forgotten corners of hundreds of towns and cities he visited.
In organizing his 120 color photographs to best portray the complexity of America, Bergerson turned to the art of sequencing as his primary expressive, vehicle. Working in the sequencing traditions of Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Nathan Lyons, Bergerson has orchestrated the dynamic interplay between several inter-spliced themes in order to project their multi-layered meanings.
The book’s photographic sequence is bracketed by two powerful pieces of writing, beginning with Margaret Atwood’s brilliant writing on debt from Payback, and ending with Nathan Lyons’ insightful essay on “Sequencing”.
Phil Bergerson has photographed for over 30 years. His work has been exhibited internationally and is found in many prestigious collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. His photographs have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Toronto Life and The Walrus Magazine, and his book, Shards of America was published in September 2004. From 1975 - 2007, Bergerson was a professor of photography at Ryerson University in Toronto where he established and organized the annual international Kodak Lecture Series on photography. In 1979, he organized Canadian Perspectives, a National Conference on Photography in Canada, and in 1983, the first International Symposium on Photographic Theory. He has also arranged several photographic study trips to Europe and Asia.