Jennifer Bermon photographed dozens of women and invited them to describe what they saw
By Michael Aushenker
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but for Jennifer Bermon an image alone is not enough.
To tell her story of collective female creativity, strength and independence, Bermon lets her subjects also have a voice.
“I take black-and-white photos of women and then ask them to write, in their own words, how they feel about the way they look in the photo,” Bermon said. “The woman’s photo and her words become one piece that stands on its own, with no editing or filtering.”
She captured her portraits on 35-millimeter film — no digital, no Photoshop.
For the exhibit “Her│Self: Women In Their Own Words,” continuing through Saturday at dnj gallery in the Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica, Bermon has selected 28 silver gelatin prints of women ages 15 to 74, each accompanied by the subject’s handwritten notes.
Many of the women are local to Marina del Rey, Venice or Santa Monica and were photographed there.
“I try to take each woman in a place that she’s comfortable to be, which would represent her,” Bermon said. “There’s something about a photograph that freezes things and gives us time to really see something.”
A television news and documentary producer who now lives in Venice, Bermon began “Her | Self” while a student at Mills College in Oakland. She came up with the idea two decades ago while overhearing fellow students discuss what they would change about themselves — in particular, their bodies.
“They looked perfect to me, but I realized this was a part of their normal, day-to-day conversations. These were intelligent, strong, beautiful women attending a women’s college, yet they still felt the need to be thin and attractive in order to be accepted. So I wanted to reveal their inner thoughts,” Bermon said. “Did they really hear what they were saying about themselves? Do we, as women, hear what we say about ourselves?”
Bermon has taken about 50 images over about two decades, many as recent as this year. She’s drawn subjects from many walks of life, including NASA scientist Rosalie Lopez, actress Lauren Tom (Lena in “The Joy Luck Club and Julie on “Friends”), screenwriter Diana Ossana (co-writer of “Brokeback Mountain”),
a New York rabbi and a manager at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
She photographed Jodie Evans, co-founder of the women-centric social justice activism group Code Pink, on the front porch of her Venice home.
“Her words are real and vulnerable. You can tell she has been on a journey. She has connected with women all over the world and has learned from them,” Bermon said of Evans. “She is powerful and you can feel it. She looks content and strong.”
There was also high school rower Amber Carrington, photographed in Marina del Rey harbor, who writes: “Some may view this as a blonde girl smiling, but I see a girl who will stop at nothing until her goals are achieved.”
Bermon also photographed Charlene Bronsal Long, a manager at Whole Foods Venice, on a Marina del Rey walk street. She talks about seeing her life in better focus during her 30s than her 20s.
“I love the way she is standing in this photo. Proud. This is who she is. She is a woman who knows herself. You can see it in her photo and her words say it, too,” Bermon said.
Bermon met Long and a few other subjects while she was grocery shopping or otherwise out and about. Others were people she already knew, and some she sought out.
In 2003, Bermon went out of her way to photograph Susan Black, a female firefighter who conquered all the physical tests required of male firefighters.
“I am always inspired by the firefighter’s photo. It was taken not too long after 9/11. I like what she writes about how she looks satisfied and content,” Bermon said. “It wasn’t easy for her to get to her position. She was a trailblazer, but like many heroes she doesn’t take a lot of credit or say a lot of negative things. She wants to inspire women.”
When asked what these images represent collectively, Bermon returns to Long.
“She is a good example of an L.A. woman who is being herself. She doesn’t need anyone’s approval or to ‘fit it’ in any way, to a standard of anything. She writes she wants to be an example to others to do what makes them happy and to be themselves.”
Bermon is far from done with the “Her|Self” project. In addition to an art book, she sees potential for groups of women and girls to accomplish similar projects on their own as an activity to facilitate bonding and positive self-image. She hopes to conduct workshops for a Girl Scout troop and an eating disorder clinic later this year.
“I will keep doing it. I want it to be even more diverse,” Bermon said.
She wants these images and thoughts to ultimately empower others.
“I look at the photos and I am inspired,” she said. “I hope it inspires all of us as women to stand as the same way — proud.”
“Her│Self: Women In Their Own Words,” continues from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at dnj gallery in the Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 315-3551 or visit dnjgallery.net.