With wisdom beyond his years and vision that far exceeds the natural human eye, David [pronounced DAH-VEED) Berg steps out from behind the camera to become the focus of our next feature.
WBM: Who is David Berg?
DAVID: Who is David Berg? Um…David Berg is a photographer that shows no insecurities.
WBM: Where are you from?
DAVID: I was born in Port San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in the Virgin Islands. Right after Puerto Rico I moved right here [St. Croix, Virgin Islands], so this is where I grew up.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
DAVID: Always having a love for the arts, but never truly finding a medium that I could express myself through; something like painting or drawing I was never able to do. I just fell in love with the arts, respected the arts, but just didn’t do it myself; I was an admirer of it. I went to college up in the [United] States, for a couple of years and got into psychology; studied that for a while. Then someone got me into martial arts, and I got really into that, and training for a tournament, I broke my knee and tore my ACL. And while I was in a depressed state for six weeks in a row and a month, someone gave me a camera, and told me to take photography lessons, and I’ve never put the camera down since; it became my escape from the pain and everything. So, I dropped the school that I was at and went to Boston University and got a certificate in professional photography, and now, continue to do that.
How has living in/being from the Virgin Islands influenced your craft?
DAVID: Well, I grew up being around beauty…being around paradise. I mean if you just stopped and looked, there’s a lot of gorgeous things around here; and it influenced me a lot in the sense that even when I went to school…the idea of just walking and enjoying what’s around you, and the scenery, and how you could just walk the beach and just…for hours at a time, looking for shells. When I went to the States and learned photography…that’s what photography is, it’s pausing, looking around and taking in what surrounds you, and capturing that subject matter. So growing up here gave me that patience and idea that beauty is all around us, and we just have to stop and look. It’s definitely something I think about all the time…growing up here has definitely helped my photography, because it’s opened my eyes to beauty that most people don’t see sometimes, I think.
How has being behind the camera lens changed the way you see the things around you?
DAVID: It definitely makes you stop and look, and enjoy what’s around you; then once you see it again on screen, it’s like wow. I mean, just the fact that I’m able to show this beauty to other people…to take what I see from behind the lens and show it to other people so they can also experience it, is an amazing feeling. I could not imagine not looking through the lens anymore…it has become my life. Looking through the lens has opened so many doors for me to see things I never thought I’d be able to see, to go to locations I’ve always wanted to go; it’s given me the opportunity to work with people that I’ve always wanted to work with…just so many things. It’s a roller coaster ride that’s been very good!
Who in the industry do you look up to as a model of how you want your career to pan out?
DAVID: I got into photography to make art. That’s always been my thing. I’m not in it for the money, or for fame, or anything like that. Actually, the least thing I want is fame; so I don’t know who in particular to aim after in photography because a lot of what you hear in photography is, ‘yeah they make the art, but how much money are they making,’ but that’s definitely not me.
So who I strive to become is someone who, through my photography, is able to help people. Even if it’s showing them the world of photography, teaching them the world of photography, or allowing them the access to my art shows to show their own work and stuff like that. I’m trying to think to someone like that in particular…but I just want to stick to the plan I’ve always had of making art, showing it and then opening that world for other people also.
What does it mean to be a photographer in 2012?
DAVID: That’s an interesting one, because when I moved back there was this big burst of professional photography here…a big burst of people buying expensive cameras and calling themselves professionals…and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just, I mean you could be self-taught…it is a form that could be self-taught, but it takes time.
You know, I shot for five or six years before I ever called myself a professional or started selling my work, and some of these people have been shooting for less than a month, and at this time they are calling them professionals, so in 2012, whereas back in the days of film…film is a lot harder to use and to work with than digital. It was a very particular craft, whereas digital, one could pick it up and luck out at taking some really artsy photo, so you really, really, really have to push yourself in 2012 to stand out.
You have to be, like me, shooting every single day…shooting photos, shooting this; and be able to shoot a variety of work, because that’s what’s been able to make me stand out from other photographers here, because everyone was just focused on portraits and events; whereas I’m shooting everything: portraits, events, landscape, animals, birds, wildlife. You name it, I’ve been hired for it…even to shoot fire dancers. So you really just have to hustle and work in 2012 to stand out, and to make sure you get seen.
You have taken some impressive shots that have been featured in several calendars and art galleries across the Virgin Islands. How does it feel to be garnering recognition, and how has your work been received?
DAVID: The reception has been amazing! All positive stuff; people love the work. Last year around this time [February 2011], I was walking around with a portfolio of my work, and being shut down, or having doors closed. I literally was being told no. I remember the place that I had my first show in, originally telling me “no.” They told me “no;” they didn’t even think about it, and I went back to show them again, and he told me he would like to see more moko jumbies (stilt walkers).
So I went and took a whole series of pictures on moko jumbies, and came back and showed him. So it’s been a positive thing in terms of the reception now, but it’s taken a lot of work, and also a lot of criticism, because there have been multiple places that have told me no, so now to have my work being received is such a positive feeling because it took a lot of work to get here. Like the other day, my project for an upcoming art show experienced a serious setback, and someone said to me that I didn’t seem to be stressed out about it, and I said, ‘well, my photography career basically started out with a broken leg,’ so it’s always been this rough thing to get going, but once it’s done and you have this beautiful photo to show, everyone loves it, and that’s what really got me into photography. I remember the first show I was in. It was a student show, and basically you could come and drop in work. People were coming up to my work, they didn’t know that I was the one who had taken the photo, and they would come and discuss it and talk about it as if I was an artiste.
And I didn’t consider myself an artiste at the time, but they were talking about it and breaking it down, saying things like ‘I love the way the artiste put this here or set this there,’ and that really makes you think. So it’s an amazing feeling capturing something, and creating emotions in someone else very similar to yours when you took that photo. So, I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I’m in bliss right now with everything going on.
How did you get to the point where you took the criticism as motivation, rather than as something to discourage you?
DAVID: It’s a drive that I can’t even explain, because someone else asked me that. I have this friend from the states who’s been there every step of my photography journey, since the broken leg and they’ve seen me fail, and just stood back and watched me get back up and asked me ‘what is this drive that just keeps you getting back up? It’s like you don’t know how to give up.’ But when you find something that, at least for me, it was like, I love doing this. I love it. I can’t see myself doing anything else. You can’t care what anyone else thinks. Once you find something that you truly love, and you truly know that you could do really good at it, criticism is just steps in the right direction. Just the fact that people can give criticism, just means that you’re doing something; so I don’t think of it as it being negative, or whatever, it’s just steps and directions that you should be taking, or not taking.
And I don’t want to do anything else other than photography, so even if I get negative criticism; you just take it, learn from it, and apply it, and keep going with it. That’s how it has to be. There is just no other option for me. I don’t even allow myself to think about ‘well, if I was to give up on photography, I could just go off and do something else.’ Every other part-time job I’ve had, I’ve been a janitor, a veterinary assistant, maintenance guy, you name it, have been to support the photography, and that’s all they’ve been; jobs to support the photography, because in the long run it’s always going to be about that. This is what I’m meant to do, so any criticism, anything about that it constructive for me; no matter what. Even if I’m being told, ‘no, you shouldn’t be a photographer,’ I just take it as, okay…that means I should be a photographer. If you find something you truly love, you can’t allow anyone to take it away from you.
WBM: Define Success?
DAVID: This is something I’ve been thinking about myself because with all that’s happening now. When I got the job to do the exhibit for the National Park Service and I asked them what kind of photos they wanted and they said to me ‘do what you do,’ that was success for me. I didn’t even care about the pay check or anything. I was being told as an artiste to go create my art, in my way, for a subject matter that they wanted, and I thought that was amazing. To me, that was success.
The pay checks, for me, are just ways to support the photography, to keep going with it; they are not the ends for me, they are just a way to keep going, to make more art. For me success is being able to make art, and also in the past couple of weeks, because of my own success in the past projects I have done, I have been able to include other people, other artistes that otherwise, normally wouldn’t be able to do that, or to help someone else start up a non-profit organisation; and because of my small success, I have been able to help her. To me, that’s success; being able to spread what you are doing…positivity leads to more positivity. Give positivity and you will continue to get positivity.
WBM: Why does what you do matter?
DAVID: For multiple reasons. For my home, and not just for the people, for the physical St. Croix, so people can see the beauty of it, because all of the time I get asked by people who are from here, ‘where’d you take that picture?’ And when I tell them that I haven’t left island in two years, it’s St. Croix, and the sheer fact that they don’t believe me, or they can’t see it, and because the first thought is that it’s not St. Croix, shows me that people need to recheck here, take the time to stop and look around and see that there is still a lot of beauty here. That even from the alley ways in Frederiksted to the beaches there is still beauty on this island. So I think it’s very important to keep capturing that; and just the fact that I’m from here. I’m not an artiste that’s moved here and started painting or taking photos like a tourist. I’m from here, taking photos of local places, and focusing on giving it to the people that are from here; not just the tourists, which is what quite a few people do. The local people here are seeing my work and are beginning to gain an understanding that this is here, this is St. Croix…that’s their home, and there’s still a lot of positive here. It is important to help the people who live here see that there is still a lot of positive on the island, and to remind them that in this time in particular, we need to stay positive.
Not everything is bad right now; and people tell me that my photos, they show that, they show pretty beaches, they show hope and inspiration.
WBM: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment thus far?
DAVID: Helping other people become photographers. To tell you the honest truth, that to me is the greatest thing. I’ve been helpless, I’ve had a local newspaper approach me and ask me to work with them, I didn’t apply, and ask me to take photos for them, so I’ve had many successes here, I’ve done multiple art shows, but it’s the feeling of being able to help other people express other
art forms….to teach photography is success for me. I’m in it to make my own art too, but being able to help other people has been success for me, and my photography has opened the door for me to do that; and that is an amazing feeling.
WBM: What’s one thing that many don’t know about you?
DAVID: A lot [laughing]…because I tend to stay on the quiet, shy side, but I have a very high sense of humour when you get to know me. Well, I used to be a moko jumbie, and I did that for eight, nine years, and I guess people don’t realise that that’s why my moko jumbie series came out so well, because having been one, you know the movements and what it’s like to be in carnival, so you know what shots will work. I guess another thing would be that I’m extremely critical of myself…yeah, that would be one thing.
WBM: What’s next?
DAVID: Continue to make art. That’s what I tell the people I work with, when things are going down in their lives; just keep shooting, so that what I plan to continue doing. And to start really focusing on using my photography to bring positives to St. Croix, I mean I’ve already started to do so by shooting the pictures and everything, but I want to start doing a lot more projects and photo documentary stuff focused on people doing positive in the island. Not just pretty sceneries and the carnival, but people who are volunteering on the beach and doing clean-ups, the people who are going to at the soup kitchen, feeding the homeless, or people who are going around and giving the homeless clothes and things like that, or going to the animal shelter and picking up strays and saving dogs’ lives. I’m focusing on those kinds of things right now. I’ve done the pretty sceneries and things like that, but it’s time to start using the photography for more good.
WBM: Any advice for those looking to pursue their goals and dreams?
DAVID: Stay extremely determined. I practice every day. I shoot pictures every day. I Photoshop or edit photos every day. Even if it’s not paid, I just do it for the love of it, and also because that’s how you get good. People here, and this is not just on St. Croix, this is all over, this phenomenon I’ve noticed that they pick something up, photography or whatever, and call themselves a master or expert. They Google the subject, read the Wikipedia, and they say they are an expert now. No, if you truly, truly want to be good, you have to practice. Whatever the subject matter is; if it’s singing, if it’s rapping, if it’s painting, if it’s writing, you have to. If you read anything about the masters of any subject, true masters, what they say is that they did it, because they loved it, over and over again before they ever got paid for it. So, my advice is, allow yourself to be a student. People call me a master, but I am far from being a master of photography…far from it.
I don’t want to be, because that means I stop learning. You have to be willing to be a student and accept that; and to listen to other people, to take criticism and apply it. Don’t…people just want to be quick, quick, quick – instant, and it doesn’t work like that. When we were kids we were told practice makes perfect, and that statement is true. You just have to be very determined; but being determined alone is not going to guarantee you make it. You have to practice that skill. You cannot just be determined; you also have to do it. I was teaching this one lady Photoshop the other day, and she told me she would never use Photoshop unless she’s being paid; it doesn’t work like that, you have to practice. You have to earn that rank before you can start saying that you’re a master. That would be my advice; to just stay focused and practice the skill that you want to become good at, because that’s the only way.
WBM: Where can people go to see your work?
DAVID: Well I have a site www.blackwoodimaging.com, but Facebook is also very popular, so you can also check it out at www.facebook.com/blackwoodimaging. If you Google Blackwood Imaging, my website is the first and my Facebook is the second.