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 to digest.
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 of eternity.

Jan Nyberg - Cultural Editor, Bergens Tidende