“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods
‘What does it mean to be savage?’ asks Berlin based photographer, Valentina Di Beradino, in her latest project, Savage.
While visiting a Bothanical Garden in the Azores Islands while on holiday, Di Beradino asked her friend to take his T-shirt off and have his portrait taken while popping up from a flower bush. While the photo was initially overlooked, as it was lost in the blend of photos from the holiday, the image became the cornerstone of an exciting portrait project. At once a striking image, after finding a contact card of the image a month after the holiday, Di Beradino was struck by what she saw. No longer did she see a portrait of her friend, there was instead in front of her a wild creature. What was once a garden in the background was now an uncharted forest. What was it that made this so? Why had she now seen a portrayal of an Inhabitant of the Woods?
These questions formed the concept behind the following portraits, to ask what it was that turns man into beast; what is it that detaches someone from civility, for them to become savage? The project is an exploration into reality and plausibility, to ultimately ask the observer whether we believe the stories of these wild men in strange and wonderful forested lands.
Two conditions were set for the project. Much like the original photo from the holiday on the Azores Islands, the portraits would place bearded men in green spaces. The project would also be shot entirely on a Holga camera, giving the images a more natural quality. It is this untrained eye of the Holga that is an important part as any in bestowing the collection its raw and untamed quality, making more rational the story of the wilderness, augmenting its reality.
One key difference of the ensuing photos from the original was that the Azorean Botanical Garden had made way for Berlin’s parks. As part of our Berlin Mafia, Di Beradino’s relationship with the city is a rich on and reciprocity with Berlin was crucial in any exploration of the wild. Although using the familiar setting of the city, each portrait offers a different background, a different offering of ‘the wild’. In each case we are asked anew to assess this agitation between the real and imagined, assessing the plausibility of each character.
Why does this creature inhabit this space and how did he get there? And if the illusion is at any time broken, we may later ask where did these bearded men come from and what are they doing in the park?