Matthew Bernucca thinks of photography as evidence of his life. He marks ordinary moments with photographs, shot exclusively on film, “like a notch on a timeline,” he says.
He’s aware this isn’t a new concept—social media sites are built upon diaristic sharing—but his approach to photographing intimate relationships with friends and family for his series, “We Make Each Other Real,” feels like an authentic appeal to connect deeply with his subjects and craft images in response to this felt intimacy.
Winner of the portrait category in PDN’s The Curator contest, the series is also arresting for Bernucca’s attention to technique—every photo is shot on film, scanned with an Imacon scanner, converted to 3F and neutralized before he takes it into Photoshop—and the tension he achieves within the compositions.
A self-described extrovert, Bernucca says he becomes energized by being around people, and the conversations that ensue make for a “fertile place for creative ideas and photos to take shape.”
“The photo is almost this bi-product of connection,” he says. “Maybe this idea feels too quaint, but I have this hunch that when we approach death, we’ll be thinking about the people who were in our lives, not the things that happened to us.”
Bernucca began seriously experimenting with photography in 2016, during a one-year certificate program at the International Center of Photography. Transitioning from running a music production company where “every day was a bad day,” he says, he began capturing street scenes and then shifted toward concept-driven still lifes. (Think: pig hearts on ice, miniature plastic men heaving cigarettes and matches, a boxed corsage suspended in mid-air.)
But he quickly found out that still life wasn’t his genre. “I’d be in the studio with only one or two other people and these objects on a table and it was just so lonely,” he says.
“We Make Each Other Real” began at the end of his certificate program in 2017, after he said these words to his therapist during a session. For the first image of the series, he wrote these words on a door and captured it to haunting effect.
The title, Bernucca says, “speaks to the idea that we need people in our lives. They can hurt us but they can heal us too. We need a witness; we need to see ourselves in other people and do the same for others.”
Portraiture and still life merge most obviously in his collaborations with his parents during visits to his hometown of Tampa, Florida, a process that’s been a great bonding experience for his family, he says.
“I get them to do silly things. Once we sewed backpack straps onto a turkey carcass and my mom wore it for an image. Another time I wanted to recreate a photograph I took at a picnic of a friend with raspberry juice on her hands. In the middle of the summer, we covered my dad’s hands in raspberries in a park and he was sweating and there were flies everywhere and my mom was holding a speedlight and he was yelling—it was such a funny scene.”
Having lived in New York City for close to a decade, Bernucca’s feeling a strong pull back to his roots. He’s considering taking a break from NYC to challenge himself to connect with strangers in Florida—a nod to his first love of street photography—and “bring whatever it is I’m bringing to the image when I’m with someone I know to strangers in the outside world,” he says.
He says Florida feels like an untapped place for artists. “There’s something really wild: it’s so overgrown, swamps everywhere.” In addition, he says, “being from there, I feel like I can represent people in an honest way.”