‘Here, put these on.”
Photographer Marten Berkman is holding what appear to be a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses.
But one lens is red and the other is blue.
The glasses are a bit snug and make the world look a little wonky.
“Now look at that photo,” says Berkman pointing.
On one of his studio walls, a big 75-by-100-centimetre print springs to life.
In it, a huge three-dimensional arrowhead hovers before a gravel path.
A sign beside the path says, “Natural area. Please stay out.”
“This nomenclature reflects a persistent theme in our culture — that we’re not natural,” says Berkman, who is continually exploring humanity’s connection with nature.
“I am looking at the disparity between humans and nature by comparing transformations of matter,” he says walking over to a corner of his studio.
Here, a series of long, rectangular prints hangs over a worktable.
One is a close-up of pebbles, reminiscent of a dry river bottom.
Beside it hangs another close-up, this one depicting a tangled mess of wires.
“I am comparing two forms of the transformation of matter, a fluvial, geomorphic transformation and an industrial transformation,” says Berkman.
There’s a synergy when these prints are placed together, he says.
The wires were originally created from natural matter. They may even contain matter found in these pebbles.
“I think these wires are very beautiful,” he says.
“And things become more beautiful with an awareness and appreciation of the context of where they come from.”
Although Berkman’s photos trace objects back to their natural context, some of his works also pull objects out of context and place them in sharp isolation.
One enormous photo of a black rock segmented by veins of quartz stands alone against a white background.
The pic, which is lying on the studio floor, has been divided into four equal prints.
Berkman plans to hang the prints together with tiny strings, to recreate the rock in a photo tapestry.
“I want to bring elements of the natural world and let them simply stand on their own for people to appreciate,” he says.
“Taking things out of context, they become icons unto themselves — little details of a place.”
In any photo things are taken out of context, he adds.
Photos frame things.
But contemporary culture has become so saturated with two-dimensional images, photos don’t really capture people like they used to, says Berkman.
And landscape photography now acts mainly as a backdrop for product marketing.
“Wilderness is appropriated and other images are projected onto it, like ads for cars,” he says.
“But I want to offer the viewer a unique experience — I’m paying attention to the details, the little simple things in landscape.”
Berkman walks across his studio to a small coffee table where, under several floodlights and a squat tripod, there’s a pile of sand.
“I brought this sand back from the red dunes in Namibia,” he says.
The sand has been brushed into a spiral pattern, reminiscent of a Japanese rock garden.
Above the sand is a plate of glass, perched on empty slide containers. On the glass there’s a rock and several fossils ferried from the Peel River watershed.
Berkman pulls out a series of smaller prints, all muted, blurry reds and blues depicting various placements of the rock or fossils over the sand.
He holds out the glasses again. And the red and blue prints spring to life.
The rock hovers stationary over the swirl of sand, as if defying gravity.
Moving from side to side, the sand shifts dizzily. But the rocks and fossils hang immobilized, waiting to be plucked out of the prints.
“I want to instill a sense of wonder about the Earth,” says Berkman.
“It is often so taken for granted.”
Berkman has been interested in landscape for as long as he can remember.
“I know what makes me happy,” he says smiling. “It’s walking far off into a landscape on my own.
“And photos are my attempt to take the joy and wonder and amazement, brought on by landscapes and nature, and share it with others.”
Berkman spent several years of university studying visual arts and also earned a degree in geography, to complement his love of landscape.
Although he has embraced visual art and photography as a profession for the last few decades, Berkman still finds it tough.
“There are many things I have to do to survive as a filmmaker, visual artist and photographer,” he says.
“I have to keep the irons in the fire all the time.”
Hoping to change the world, one picture at a time, Berkman also uses his art as a means to raise awareness.
“In my work, in something so simple as portraying stones, I hope that people get a sense of excitement and wonder about the places where these stones come from — how is something so beautiful created in nature?” says Berkman.
“I want to give meaning to landscapes we may never see, but still have a relation to.”
Here, he brought up the example of oil.
Someone driving a car in Vancouver may never see the Alaskan oil well that is fueling her vehicle, he says.
“But the flux of materials and energy actually ties our whole planet together.”
And this is what Berkman hopes to reveal through his photos.
There is often a debate between conservationists and developers, he adds.
“And I want to transcend this duality in my work.
“We’re an industrious species — but how we’re industrious is our choice.”
Berkman’s current photo exhibit opens tonight at the Chocolate Claim at 7:30 p.m.
“Compared with southern viewers, the Yukon audience will already be quite connected to nature,” he says.
But they might not have looked at Yukon rocks through 3-D glasses.