Author(s): Stephen Berkman
WithZohar Studios, Stephen Berkman has perfected the rare and extremely difficult antique photographic process known as "wet collodion." Made with a very large camera and glass negatives, the resulting albumen prints are rich with an unmistakable archaic quality: beautiful, detailed, and strangely unsettling. Berkman says that the works are "a tribute to the enigmatic 19th century New York City photographic establishment known as Zohar Studios, located in the predominantly Jewish Lower East Side." This body of work falls into the tradition of the artist-made museum, such as the famous Museum of Jurassic Technology by the artist David Wilson in Los Angeles. Like Wilson, Berkman's art moves beyond binary questions of fact and fiction. The name Zohar refers to the writings that form the basis of Kabbalistic study. This historic text is full of subtexts, obscurities, and tangents. Berkman mirrors the complexity and density of the mystical texts as he builds upon the story of Shimmel Zohar, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who came to New York in the middle of the 19th century. Berkman's photographs and ephemera create a vision of Victorian life in the United States with all of its idiosyncrasies intact. Expanding upon thetheme of the early years of photography, Berkman's camera obscura installations converge at the crossroads of art, science, and magic.