Invisible light: Photographer Bergeman's 'Land Remembers' captures sites of war

Invisible light: Photographer Bergeman's 'Land Remembers' captures sites of war


Corvallis photographer Rich Bergeman doesn't like to be bored. 

And that, he said, just partially in jest, is the genesis of his latest exhibit, "The Land Remembers," a collection of black-and-white infrared photographs showing locations where, 160 years ago, the Rogue River wars took place in Southern Oregon. The exhibit is on view at the Benton County Museum, 1101 Main St. in Philomath, and Bergeman will speak about the show at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 1. Admission is free.

"I was looking for something to do," Bergeman said when asked how the latest project started. The photographer, the retired instructor of journalism and photography at Linn-Benton Community College, had spent time in recent years documenting sites in Oregon history that had been essentially forgotten, and was looking for a followup project that maybe wouldn't take him so far afield.

As he was casting about, he learned about the Rogue River wars between Native American tribes and the U.S. military in the early 1850s. The battles, among the bloodiest in the state's history, led to the forced removal of the Rogue Valley and South Coast tribes to reservations at Siletz and Grand Ronde.

Bergeman poured himself into researching the topic, in part to determine if there was enough material to justify a project: "Will this be a photo project that will keep me occupied for a while?"

The answer was "yes," but then Bergeman made a couple of other decisions that helped give shape to "The Land Remembers." First, he decided that the goal of the project would not be to necessarily take photos of the actual locations where incidents occurred during the wars, but rather to offer a reflective look at the landscape that played host to such a tragic history. The research helped him identify general locations, but then he set out, logging hundreds of miles on back roads and a few on the river, in search of good photographs.

And he decided to use shoot the locations using a black-and-white infrared format. It's a format that Bergeman said he's always liked, even though it has a reputation for being tricky. 

But the format, capturing light that is invisible to the human eye, gives the images "a little bit of an otherworldly look," he said. "You're capturing light that you can't see."

"Really, when it comes right down to it, I like the way it looks."

And remember how Bergeman said he doesn't like to be bored? He's working on other photographic projects with a link to history, including one on an old wagon road that ran from Coos Bay to Roseburg. 


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