It's safe to assume that artists, no matter their medium, want their art to speak for itself. Still, more often than not, that's impossible. There will always be critics, tastemakers, advertisers and, more recently, digital codes and algorithms telling us what to like.
Charles Bergquist might be an exception to the rule. He works in video and photography and has built a solid résumé while working for the likes of Vice, Fuel TV, Pitchfork, Oakley and Bebe, as well as shooting music videos for acts like Matthew Dear and Tycho. You might not have heard of him, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a photo of him on his website or even his Facebook page that doesn't obscure his face.
In his studio in East Village, he's surrounded by video and photography equipment (plus his loyal German shepherd, Bear). He doesn't namedrop or brag about his accomplishments. Having grown up in Chicago and attended college in Iowa, he has a Midwestern humbleness that can't possibly be good for self-marketing. He doesn't talk about how great he thinks his work is; nor does he shrug it off when complimented. He just is. And that can be refreshing and disconcerting.
"That's definitely by choice," Bergquist says about the lack of photos of himself. "I like people to know my name and know my work, but I don't want them to know who I am, really. It's a strange thing, I realize, but, for me, when you find out who an artist is, it's cool, but the work kind of loses something."
This makes more sense when you consider that Bergquist grew up idolizing directors like Chris Cunningham, Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. All are known for their groundbreaking visual effects and distinct style, but you'd never recognize them if you ran into them on the street.
"There's just something special about not knowing who's doing it," Bergquist says. "It's just coming out at you. If you see what goes on behind the scenes, a lot of times the magic is gone."
That "magic" feeling is something he's sought since moving to San Diego in 2006. He worked on some action-sports segments for Fuel TV and started a video-production firm with some colleagues in 2008 called Fiction. He briefly moved to Los Angeles to garner more work for the company, but even before he left San Diego, he says the desire to do more creative, less-commercial work was gnawing at him.
"I work well with people one-on-one, and I liked the guys I worked with, but I just wanted to do my own thing," he says. Bergquist eventually left Fiction but remains close with his former colleagues and still does occasional work for them.
Thanks to a talk with a friend back home, Bergquist decided to follow his instincts and pursue his original dream of music-video production. He started working on more personal videos and experimenting with strange visuals using computer programs like Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D. Then, rather fortuitously and just as he was leaving L.A. to return to San Diego, some visuals he produced caught the attention of Scott Hansen, who blogs under the name "ISO50" and makes music as Tycho. Tycho's music label, Ghostly International, asked Bergquist to create a video for Matthew Dear's song "Slowdance." Shot in and around downtown San Diego, the video features stark black-andwhite images of buildings cascaded with liquid visuals as if the viewer were looking at microscopic organisms floating around a miniature city. This led to Bergquist doing visuals for Tycho's live show and the song "Ascension." Shot mostly in the desert, it features a woman walking around a vibrant and hyper-colored landscape set to Tycho's ambient electro.
"The best way to describe it from my technical point of view is simply colorful and layered,'" says Bergquist, who was inspired by everyone from Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) to Shane Carruth (the man behind the beloved 2004 indie film Primer). "When I come up with ideas for visuals, if it's a music video, it's what I see from the music when I close my eyes. I let the lyrics dictate it a little, but mainly it's the beat and sound that I try to match up with an image. Music is great because it has environment built into it somehow.
"For me, when I hear something, it just populates an image in my head and that's it: It's locked in for as long as I hear the song," he says.
While there's seemingly no direct narrative to the videos, it's the engrossing visuals that keep the viewer entranced. Think of a cross between Darren Aronofsy's The Fountain and the acid-test projections of the late '60s.
Recently, Bergquist says, Warner Bros. Records approached him about shooting some videos, and he also just finished a shoot for Vice's documentary-style HBO series (he couldn't discuss specifics because it hasn't aired yet). The culmination of all this work will pay off big in September, when he'll have his first local gallery show at Subtext called Anium. He plans to work throughout August to prepare for the show, which will feature what he calls an "experienced-based" mix of flat screens, creative visuals and photography adding up to something resembling "moving posters."
So, Bergquist might, indeed, be that rare artist whose work speaks for itself. He didn't get to where he is today by bootlicking or brownnosing the right people; nor did he get there by being some crazy shut-in whose art is only appreciated after his dead body is discovered in some grossly cluttered apartment. He just follows his gut and hopes for the best.
"I would just like to work on my own stuff and be able to experiment and get whatever work I can," he says. "It's a gamble for sure, but I have to try to do it."
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