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Bruce Berman shares about 'Small Village New Mexico' project displayed at Branigan Cultural Center

Professional photographer and NMSU Associated Professor Bruce Berman
Bruce Berman
Professional photographer and NMSU Associated Professor Bruce Berman

Through June 24th, the Branigan Cultural Center in Las Cruces features the "Small Village New Mexico" exhibit with a reception scheduled at the center on Friday, May 5th at 5 pm. This photo documentary project features the work of photography students of NMSU Associate Professor and professional photographer Bruce Berman. The project documents rural communities along New Mexico Highway 28. Anthony Moreno talked with Berman about this ongoing project.

Anthony Moreno: Bruce, thanks for joining us.

Bruce Berman: Thank you.

Anthony Moreno: What was it that inspired you to create and work on this project with your students?

Bruce Berman: I have a documentary class every spring and I really do believe that to do photography, there's only one way to learn it is by doing it. So, the idea was to get out of the classroom and go do it.So, what would be logical? Well, I've been going up and down that highway ever since I've come many decades ago. So, I said, well, maybe they'd like that. So, you know, that's what we did. We got out of the classroom and then the next week, we would look at what they did. Then we hit the next challenge and pretty soon the semester is over. I really thought that learning by doing would be good. I also have a little sidebar, you know, like getting involved with the community by actually having to interact over photography is important to them, especially this generation like not just be in the university but kind of interact with you know, your community that’s not the university. So, I think it's all worked out and there was another thing in the back of my mind and that, you know, these are threatened villages not in a horrible way, but just urbanization is inevitable. So maybe there would be some relevance to this and I think as it turned out, maybe that that is true.

Anthony Moreno: How long has this project been going on?

Bruce Berman: Approximately 12 years. It's hard to remember the beginning because we weren't even formalizing it at all, but I'd say solid 12 years every spring for 12 years, we've been plowing up and down the highway off from hatch all the way down to La Union.

Anthony Moreno: What do you think our community or those interested in our region can take away from this exhibition?

Bruce Berman: I think people looking at this will understand they're living in a really beautiful place, an incredibly special place. Small villages are to be treasured because they are threatened and we're all urbanizing, everywhere and I think people will be reassured they’re living in a pretty special place indeed. The Land of enchantment.

Anthony Moreno: Is there something about this style of photography that keeps you engaged after so many years of practicing it?

Bruce Berman: Well, it's just a constant turnover of brand-new eyes looking at the villages and they're amazing. You we get out of the car we like let’s take La Mesa. We meet in the parking lot of Chope’s. Now I give them the little instructions for the day. Here's what I want you to do, concentrate on agriculture or concentrate on farmers or, you know, whatever the theme of the day is and I go, yeah, you know, I'm sitting here in the parking lot, you know. And they go out into this village and consume it. It's not like me, I'm alone. I've been a photographer and I work with people. They go out and just consume it and they're back in 20 minutes. I go. No, wait a minute, you didn't do your work. And then I see what they did, and they did do their work. They did it really well. They're just young and energetic. And maybe for many of them, it's the first time they've ever done a project as opposed to just shooting. They love photography, but this is a project aimed at something. Documentary photography in my mind, is very important. It not only is important to make creative things, but it's important to make history, to recognize this as a sociological and historical and important thing. I hate to say this because it's a little bit like Professor talk or something, but I used to put on my syllabus I want you to use photography as an instrument of education, not self-expression so you'll have a chance to matter in our society. And I think that's kind of the basis of this project.

Anthony Moreno serves as the Director of Content at KRWG Public Media. He also is host and executive producer for "Fronteras-A Changing America" and "Your Legislators" on KRWG-TV.