I’m tempted to write, as many would, about Zohar Studios without irony or wink — but I can’t. What at first seems like a strange-but-true glimpse of a forgotten 19th-century photography studio is, in fact, the work of one clever contemporary man: Stephen Berkman. Berkman photographs his elaborate sets, props, and backdrops, using early photo processes — mainly wet-plate glass negatives and Albumen prints (a process very much like the Salt Prints we’ve been making.) His attention to period detail is so good that the fiction is almost unshakeable. It should be no surprise that Berkman is the guy people call when they need authentic tintype portraits made for period films, like Cold Mountain and The Assassination of Jesses James by the Coward Robert Ford. Take a look:
I often say that using these old processes puts one in some dialog with the past, no matter what. Stephen Berkman takes it to a perfectly absurd extreme… His show Predicting the Past: Zohar Studios, The Lost Years is up at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until February, 2021.