A moment of eternity
A photo can never tell the whole truth – but
when it is good it can capture a fragment of the
truth and make it a moment of eternity.
Paul Bernhard’s portraits have elements of both
the contemporary and the eternal. He succeeds in combining
these two essentially different dimensions perhaps because
he has always been fascinated by renaissance portraiture,
while his raw material comes from the world around him.
When a subject is set in a monumental, classical
framework, it is easy to step over the line into
pretentiousness. Bernhard maintains this delicate
balance because, I believe, he places the subject
– man – in the centre, and relies on
himself alone to achieve both the contact and the
credibility that are essential to the creation of
an honest portrait.
In my view, honesty is one of the strongest characteristics
and an essential quality of Bernhard’s portraits.
There is nothing of the showman in his approach
to capturing the moment, - his interest in his subject
is too genuine and his devotion to his art too serious
for that. As a result, he is able to establish the
closest rapport with his subject and they, in turn,
reveal more of themselves than is commonly found
within the genre. But because of this his portraits
are often labelled as serious, almost verging on
the sacred, which may be a bit difficult for some
While Paul Bernhard is mainly a portrait photographer,
his work also reflects a keen eye for ”ordinary
people”. In Norway, he is perhaps best known
for his portraits of celebrities from the performing
arts. The fact that many of them are musicians reflects
the photographers own passion for music.
Bernhard himself says that he is less concerned about
the fame or otherwise of his subjects. His primary task,
regardless, is to communicate as much of the subject
as possible, on the subject’s own terms. A good
illustration of the success he has achieved is his portrait
of the young cellist Eline Sundal – who will be
unknown to most people, also in her home town of Bergen.
He achieves a degree of intimacy, of almost artistic
insistency, just as he does in his portrait of the far
more well-known dramatist Jon Fosse, whose plays are
now performed just as often as the works of Henrik Ibsen
in theatres throughout the world.
The portrait of «singer and songwriter»
Claudia Scott also reveals something of the immediacy
the photographer succeeds in establishing at the photo
session , and which in this case results in an unpretentious
expression, but composed with monumental weight and
thanks to which it becomes far more than merely a «snapshot».
The same may also be said of a portrait of one of Bernhard’s
own «household gods» and a source of inspiration
to him for many years, the Dutch photographer Anton
Corbijn, whose work over the years has included portraits
of musicians all over the world. Although this is a
photo that is more graphic in form than most of Bernhard’s
work, it reveals the same unerring flare for line, composition
and immediacy. The portrait of Corbijn is proof that
once in a while it is possible to talk about photographers
capturing a fragment of the truth and making it a moment
Jan Nyberg - Cultural Editor, Bergens Tidende