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Photographer funds Gila forest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Michael Berman has always been drawn to the Gila wilderness.

He’s spent the past 35-plus years photographing the area and has a book out on it now – “Gila: Radical Visions/The Enduring Silence.” Berman says his work is a wordless exploration of this complex and subtle landscape.

For more than 30 years, he has explored the vast Gila, fascinated by the land and how people use and value it. He has wandered deep into the forest with his large-format camera, searching for the untrammeled and solitary ecosystems, allowing the Gila to reveal itself.

If you go
WHAT: “Gila: A fundraising event with Michael Berman”
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2; noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
WHERE: 516 ARTS, 516 W. Central
HOW MUCH: Exhibit is free; $5-$20 suggested donation for fundraising event

The photographer is teaming up with 516 ARTS and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance for the “Gila: A Fundraising Event with Michael Berman.” The event begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2 at 516 ARTS. The exhibition will be up through Feb. 16.

“I’ve been working on this project since I arrived in New Mexico in 1974,” Berman says. “It’s been an important project for me and I can’t wait to have people see it.”

Suzanne Sbarge, executive director of 516 ARTS, says there will be more than 80 of Berman’s photographs on display. He also will host a question-and-answer session with writers Dave Foreman, Jorge Garica and Patrick Toomay.

“I have been a fan of Michael’s work for many years and have teamed up with him several times in the past to raise awareness about environmental issues in the context of the arts,” Sbarge says. “The first time was in the mid-1990s when I worked at The Harwood Art Center where he created an incredible floor-to-ceiling installation of his photographs. Michael is an intensely creative, thoughtful artist who gives back so much to his community and the causes he believes in. His generosity and dedication are really remarkable.”

Berman says he wanted to participate in this show because it benefits the New Mexico Wilderness and 516 ARTS.

“I really think 516 continually shows the best work and has the ability to reach a broad spectrum,” he says. “And helping the alliance is great because it helps bring awareness to their cause.”

Sbarge says in 2009 516 ARTS presented a Berman solo show from his “Grasslands” series and offered the prints as a fundraiser for the organization.

“Gila I” by Michael Berman.

“So, we knew from that experience that there is a great deal of enthusiasm for his work from audiences,” she explains. “His work appeals to many different kinds of people, spanning the contemporary art world, environmentalists, naturalists and nature enthusiasts. The acute observations revealed in his work offer beauty and hope, while also focusing attention on dire environmental issues.”

The Gila was one of the first places Berman visited in New Mexico and he eventually lived in the area.

“I’m able to recognize that the Gila is one of the most primal areas that I’ve seen,” he says. “It’s important to get a different view of the area. I’m showing a healthy ecosystems that you don’t really see that often.”

Berman says when taking the photos, he would use trails to get certain places, but he often found himself leaving those trails behind.

“My goal was to get a different perspective,” he explains. “Adding in that they are black and white, helps tell a different story.”

Berman is a former Guggenheim fellow and 2012 recipient of the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. His works have been exhibited throughout the country and are in numerous public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum.


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