Berger's photographs feel like instant punctum but there’s layers upon layers to absorb.
If you’re active on Instagram, you’ve likely been struck by Kyle Berger, aka @kyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyle’s instant-woah photos of owls, raccoons, eagles, fast food signs and other animals, people, and objects thrown jarringly into suburban landscapes. Golden arches loom ominously behind flash-blasted foliage. Flames smoke and engulf a lone black sedan on a thruway. A bear sneaks up on a smiling baby from behind a tree. In all of Berger’s photos, there’s something humorously off. They’re intentionally unreal – at once creepy and funny, throwing light jabs at the absurdity of contemporary suburbia and declining strip mall culture.
Most of Berger's photos are digitally altered, but, like KangHee Kim aka @TinyCactus, Laura Hendricks aka @hav_house, and countless others, representing “truth” or having a photo “look real” is irrelevant. I spoke with Kyle to learn more.
Jon Feinstein in conversation with Kyle Berger
Jon Feinstein: I hate asking this question as much as I hate seeing troll-y comments about it when we’ve shared your photos on Humble’s Instagram, but – for our readers – how much of your work is digitally manipulated?
Kyle Berger: Everything is digitally manipulated, to some extent. Definitely not a bogus question as some photo ‘purists’ would love to sharpen their pitchforks over it. To me, it is important for my work to have a seamless sense of trickery through manipulation in order to hyper-focus on the image’s core narrative.
Feinstein: Can you tell me a bit about your process?
Berger: I like to stockpile hundreds of pictures, captured by a means of aimless wandering. I spend a couple of hours everyday reconsidering the images, the narratives taking place, and more importantly the narratives that can be added to or subtracted from the pictures. The narratives are wholly dependent on my mood, the media I’m ingesting, things I’m physically interacting with; there are a ton of factors. Sometimes I’ll make a picture from images that I shot 4 years ago - it just clicks when it clicks!
Jon Feinstein: Who are you looking at these days photo or otherwise? Who's inspiring you?
Kyle Berger: In terms of photography I have been diving back into Tim Davis’ pictures, Tomas Demand, following the amazing work of Chris Maggio, loving Sheida Soleimani’s work. But I find painting has inspired me more lately; Devin Troy, Matt McCormick, Jesse Harris, Jamian Juliano-Villani. Artists that are making playful commentaries on contemporary society through reforming our relationships with consumerism.
Jon Feinstein: Fast Food and Raccoons seem to be one of your biggest fascinations, and probably what got me most drawn to your work. What’s up with that?
Berger: I think both fast food and raccoons are manifestations of the growth of the westernized social consumer structure. We eat fast food due to convenience, we waste food due to convenience through a lack of responsibility, and the raccoons get to conveniently feed off of our waste. I am living in Toronto at the moment, and this city seems to have a very unique and weird obsession with raccoons. We as a population can create nothing more peacefully and collectively than trash. Trash is something that kind of uncannily connects all of us.
I get a sense that a lot of your work/ the ideas you're tackling are about the big box, suburban encroachment, gentrification, etc. Can you tell me about this?
A large portion of my formative years was spent in newly developed cookie-cutter suburb communities that only had these big box stores to facilitate the community that surrounded it. My high school shared a parking lot with a Walmart, I worked in fast food as a teenager; these were societal models that I came to normalize unknowingly until I discovered more about the world. So it is always interesting to me how a strip mall or glowing fast food signs can change the ways of seeing a community and how the community itself interacts with these entities.
Feinstein: Your work shares a sense of urgent humor + angst with photographers like KangHee Kim/ TinyCactus, Chris Maggio, and a few others. It seems to be less about representing a specific or photographic truth and also goes beyond the staged fictions of Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, etc. It's almost like the post-millennial/ post- digital, more "punk" response to all that. What do you make of this?
Berger: I think perhaps we are at a point in media ingestion where someone is a lot more easily swayed into believing something is real, or at least people care a lot less about the validity of work through its originality of concept or its capture. I mean, we live in the era of memes. I am definitely trying to blend the pillars of the Vancouver School with a more contemporary lens of media ingestion to create a sort of bizarro representation of reality through a specific conceptual vision.
Feinstein: The work on your website is arranged into a few different projects that, with the exception of your still life stuff, feel like it could all be one body of work/ project. I could see it all being one large body of work. How do you distinguish between projects?
Berger: I will always be making content in this same vein. That being said, I think the work is essentially broken into different moments of the same narrative, like chapters of a book. Only through time, growth, and learning my voice in this grand spectrum of photography will I be able to comfortably navigate between different narrative lanes and make the work I need to make.
Feinstein: You've been making these wild pictures for a few years now . Do you see your process and ways of seeing the world changing?
Berger: I think in terms of the comedic narrative content; that will always be poking through in the work somehow. The process of collection and reproduction to build a specific narrative is something that has helped me define my voice in an already over-saturated world of contemporary photography. I feel so new at this that I haven’t over-worked it for myself. Once I’m ready to move past it I definitely will – I have a hard time sitting still.