Kristofer Dan-Bergman Becomes an Observer in his "First Degree" Series

By Jacqui Palumbo

When it comes to his body of work, photographer Kristofer Dan-Bergman’s priority is to keep evolving. “I always try to keep up that initial enthusiasm I had from developing my first print,” he says. Dan-Bergman’s craft may always be in a state of flux, but one concept consistently permeates his collection of images: his observations of how people interact. He hones his skill of observation as much as his skill in the photographic medium itself, keeping an endless series of snapshots that he organizes via different blogs. His “Red Wall” blog documents people who pass in front of a red brick wall between his home and studio, while his “Sliver of Light” blog captures people on the street, illuminated by various narrow fields of light.

His observational series have led to more developed work, with an ongoing project called First Degree, now composed of five different installations – “Yearbook,” “S_PACE,” “Wall(k),” “TRAench” and “Away.” Each is based on a different concept, yet they complement each other with similar themes and emotive qualities. Once a year, Dan-Bergman invites friends to his studio for a shoot, photographing between 100 to 150 people in one evening. The installations develop organically, and even he admits that the direction and understanding of each series may change over time.

From the installment "S_PACE."

Human interaction versus detachment is a concept that prevails in much of Dan-Bergman’s First Degree project. “S_PACE” explores the shared expanse that humans occupy, while simultaneously living in our own subspace. “Wall(k),” inspired by his “Red Wall” blog, focuses on a similar feeling of solitariness. “I am fascinated by how detached from each other we are while walking the streets,” Dan-Bergman explains. “We hardly recognize the people we pass.” 

From the installment "Wall(k)."

The sense of solitude is most poignant in “Away,” a portrait series that denies the viewer the faces of his subjects. Each person is turned away from the camera in a simple gesture that is haunting in its quietness. Dan-Bergman based the series on a painting his father made of a woman looking away when he was a young man. He says, “I have always been mesmerized by how mysterious a picture becomes when one doesn't see the eyes.”

From the installment "Away."

Communication, or lack thereof, is essential to Dan-Bergman’s voice, and he plays with manipulation in the individual series within First Degree. His subjects in “S_PACE,” “Wall(k),” and “TRAench” are all photographed individually so that he can build their relationships and recreate their realities like a puzzle. He toys with the concept of personal space by inviting viewers into a moment that may or may not be “real,” keeping his characters isolated from each other and open to viewers all at once.

Dan-Bergman is preparing for his next First Degree shoot, and as always, he is not entirely sure what the end result will be. First Degree is an organic experience for both himself and the participants, a study of human reaction and interaction. The exploration of each concept is part of the production, and Dan-Bergman keeps his concepts fresh with constant observation and an open mind. “When I feel stuck and I don’t know why, I try to change something unrelated, such as taking a different route to the studio or buying my coffee at a different place,” he says. “Every little change can have a domino effect, and when you break habits you ignite your senses.”



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