“I got into photography in high school because I thought it would help me get laid,” says Kyle Berger. Growing up in Canada, in what he refers to as “an ageing cookie-cutter suburbia-derivative that sustained itself with local Taco Bells and Walmarts,” Kyle developed a “sarcastic viewpoint on the modern North American’s relationship to big business.” His Photoshopped photographic compositions offer a sardonic exposition of the absurdity of this brand of commercial capitalism.
Kyle describes his style as “a mix between Tim Davis’ documentary narrative photography and Michael Bay’s overuse of special effects and blatant brand placement.” In the oversaturated, over-exposed images that make up his new series, titled If There Was Money On The Ground Someone Would Have Already Found It, the fast food insignia of his childhood comes into jarring contact with industrial sites, shopping malls, religious iconography, news media, nationalist symbols and strip clubs, punctuated by crows and pigeons carrying – somewhat cannibalistically – fried chicken remnants in their beaks.
Speaking of his signature curated photographic collages, Kyle says: “Initially I wanted to trick people into believing the image they were seeing was in fact reality. But now everyone is in on the joke, so now I’m trying to convey a post-truth timeline. There is a collective narrative in that some people believe there was a hiccup or glitch in the matrix and that we are all spiralling into an alternate timeline. This timeline is one where the news is fake and the reality is as unbelievable as ever. I want my work to be a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek assessment of the reality of scepticism, or the personal bias of ‘seeing is believing’ while existing in a universe marked by capitalism and absurdity.”
Kyle’s images actively deconstruct the trust we place in photographic documentation – and indeed in the reality it purports to represent – by undermining the camera’s alleged capacity to render things as they are, as they actually appear, as “real”. Describing his process of transforming photographs into manufactured, heavily edited versions of real life, Kyle tells us: “I usually just wander around taking photos, then wait a certain period of time until I completely forget what I’ve shot, then I will meticulously flick through the images at least once a day until a narrative pops out, then get to editing. The editing process entails scrounging through free-use commercial image databases until I find the best sample images to cut out and add to mine. I believe it’s a subtle way of creating work that exists in a post-truth timeline. People are always asking me ‘is it real?’, but is a painting real? Is a McDonald’s Chicken nugget real? Who cares – we like it.”
If There Was Money On The Ground Someone Would Have Already Found It comes out of Kyle’s travels through the southwestern states of America. The hilarious incongruity of his images is often paralleled by the bizarre altercations he finds himself in when documenting. He reveals: “I use a big digital camera with a big digital flash, which seems to get me in a lot of trouble? While I was on this road trip, especially in Vegas, I was having a lot of difficulty taking photos inside the casinos. Apparently, the security guards thought I was trying to rob them, when really I was trying to take photos of half-naked men dressed as Australian cowboys eating hot dogs under the Statue of Liberty replica.” Of course.
With reference to his visual influences, which reside principally in internet culture, Kyle states: “The people I most relate to creatively are the cursed image curators. A cursed image is loosely defined as being unsettling to the viewer. An image void of specific context, but one which really makes the viewer question the ‘five Ws’ (Who? Why? Where? When? What? – especially the What?) I believe that a photographer like Thomas Mailaender walked so a photographer like Chris Maggio could run. I pull a large amount of inspiration from these photographers for their strange representation of modern capitalism and our relationship with it.”
In this sense, the photographic constructions that comprise If There Was Money On The Ground Someone Would Have Already Found It flag up our tendency not to question, not to look too closely. Kyle’s series plays, to comedic effect, on the notion that if we start to ask questions about the authenticity of things, if we look too closely or start to pull them apart to see how they work – if, metaphorically speaking, we separate the pigeon from the chicken nugget – then the illusion that sustains them is destroyed. This speaks with particular pertinence to society’s relationship with capitalism. As Kyle says, “we like it”, so we turn a blind eye to its discrepancies. His images emphasise these discrepancies and make them hard to ignore. Kyle ultimately points out and exploits the fact that pictures, like advertisements, like presidents, can lie.