Today we are bombarded by the art of the shock - which does have its place - yet there’s the quiet contemplative type of art that is captivating, that slowly pulls you in, as we find in the photography of Frederick Edwin Bertin. Frederick, an award-winning Fine Art photographer and recipient of the Hasselblad Master Award, and his wife Marie graciously received me in their attractive and stylish New York apartment with sumptuously upholstered seating, antiques, candle-lit accent lighting and the walls aptly covered with photography.
I learned about Frederick’s life journey that began with a walk through Hyde Park, London, while recovering from a disease that temporarily blinded him and sparked his interest in pursuing a life as photographer. Though it was contrary to the initial wishes of a worried mother, Frederick’s father took him under his wing and Frederick followed his lead. When Frederick was a child, museum visits were a part of his education, as well as travel. Frederick’s father had an interesting spin on the museum visits perhaps because he considered the limitations of a child’s attention span, and kept the viewing to three works at a time. It had a profound effect, as it appears to me Frederick still relishes those visits and how it taught him to look at art and to be one’s own teacher. A few of his favorites were the tapestry of The Lady and the Unicorn at Musée de Cluny; The Owl and the Young Hare, by Albrecht Dürer at The Albertina Museum in Vienna; and Jean-Antoine Houdon, for his sculptures of the fathers of the American Revolution.
“It is hell to make a living as a true and dedicated artist, but it is also the most magnificent way to spend our life.” Frederick Edwin Bertin
Frederick learned his craft on the job and by continuing to train his eye through the study of photographs of prolific photographers to the point where he was able to distinguish them by their unique style. With his favorite photographers, he studied their framing, their composition, their use of light and shadows, and the direction they gave their sitters. To this day he continues this practice. Frederick remarked that Mozart did the same by studying his fellow composers and he practices every day very much like a musician or singer does.
Frederick went straight to work as an collaborator after passing his baccalauréate at the Collège Stanislas de Paris. The collaborator position wasn’t easy to achieve - or to hold, as the competition was fierce and there were more collaborators than jobs. There was literally someone waiting just to grab his job: On some mornings he had to walk over people camping out on the studio’s doorstep. Frederick said his work as a collaborator had to be done right the first time and quickly. No matter how he was treated, he had to keep at it. Early in his career, Frederick was fortunate to collaborate with a number of talented and prolific artists. He was employed by the silver gelatin printer, Pierre Gasman, who gained renown for his work with Man Ray. Frederick worked in collaboration with the prolific and then-highest paid French advertising photographer, Jérome Ducrot, and fashion photographers Harry Meerson, Guy Bourdin, Michel Momy, and Maurice Reynard - who studied with Picasso and Braque, and taught Frederick composition. Frederick’s passion and hard work yielded results as he went on to work with Condé Nast Paris, Vogue Hommes, Vogue Decoration, and Vogue Paris, where he was given regular and special assignments such as covering vineyards in the Bordelais. His photograph of a young vintner remains a favorite of his today.
On his own, he created numerous series that took him to Cambridge, Bruges, Stockholm, and Sintra. In his Cambridge Series One and Two, he spent six years photographing everyone from academics and students to gardeners, porters, maids, and butlers. In Bruges, he captured the nuns at Les Bénédictines du Béguinage de Bruges. In Stockholm, he dedicated himself to photographing the Ingmar Bergman team at The Royal Dramatic Theatre, including one portrait of Ingmar Bergman himself -one of only two photographs Bergman personally authorized. This portrait now graces the Swedish Two-Hundred Krona. In historic Sintra, Portugal, he photographed semi-tropical plants in a garden that was popular with Lord Byron. He dedicated this series, Plantes Atlantiques, to Brett Weston.
“When I am lucky, and "quand la magie opère," when I manage to make my camera disappear, I am able to produce a fine work.” Frederick Edwin Bertin
With more than thirty years of experience in photography, Frederick is at ease with his métier. When he is working on portraitures, he takes great care of his sitters to help them feel at ease as trepidation of modern life usually makes them nervous. He knows exactly what to do and what what to say so they can relax. He teaches them how to breath an and with his words - he comforts them and let’s them know he is taking care of them.
Frederick works exclusively with his Hasselblad cameras, which he has used for over thirty-five years. These exceptional cameras allow him to switch from working with superb silver gelatin films to his last Hasselblad acquisition, the high definition CFV 50c - the best of today’s digital technology. Above all, Frederick is devoted to his Carl Zeiss manual lenses that he cherishes for their remarkable rendition of tones. Frederick, with his master printer Jean-Luc Piété, now produces almost exclusively platinum/palladium/gold prints, for the ultimate quality in black and white photography. Nevertheless Frederick, is not escaping new technologies and is now working on his new series Luminère Atlantique for which he is using color and the quintessential tool, his Hasselblad digital back.
Fredrick’s formula for cultivating his talents and success are perseverance, determination, will, courage, a sense of humor, and perhaps a dash of alchemy. When he’s not taking photos, he might be attending the opera with Marie or visiting a favorite museum.