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INTERIOR MONOLOGUE

A filmmaker's pictures

February 22, 2007|Kathy Bryant | Special to The Times

AS an executive producer for the "Matrix" trilogy, "Mystic River" and "Happy Feet," which is up for an Academy Award on Sunday for best animated feature, Bruce Berman may live in the world of motion pictures, but it's photography that has been his passion since he was a teenager.

Berman pursued it until his third year in college, taking road trips and photographing scenes of 20th century Americana.

"I didn't think I could make a living at photography," Berman says. "And when I got into film school, I didn't think I could do both." So his camera sat idly by.

While his career in movies flourished, his love of photography lay dormant until awakened by a spark: a photograph by Edward S. Curtis of a thatched American Indian shelter -- a piece he received as a gift.

"I hadn't thought about collecting photography until then," he says.

That was 15 years ago. Now his photography collection, one that Artnews magazine calls one of the best in America, includes hundreds of works spread between his Hollywood Hills home and the Burbank offices of Village Roadshow Pictures Entertainment, where Berman is chairman and chief executive.

He and his wife, Nancy, also have donated nearly 500 works to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which has been showcasing about one-third of them in the exhibition "Where We Live: Photographs of America From the Berman Collection," closing Sunday. Many of Berman's favorites, however, have been saved for his home, where he rotates pieces every 18 months for preservation reasons.

"I like contemporary photographers," he says. "Many of the pictures remind me of the ones I took when I was young. The road trips I took, the small towns I visited and the people I saw influence a lot of what I collect."

He doesn't see himself as an archivist, though many of the pictures depict buildings and ways of life that are forever gone.

Black-and-white Danny Lyon photographs in the house's entry are 1960s pictures of buildings slated for demolition. The structures still exist today, but in much altered forms.

The Stephen Shore photograph of a drive-in serves as a reminder of a once-ubiquitous type of landmark that's all but gone.

Berman says his collection is about America, past and present. Newly taken pictures are merely the memories of tomorrow.

His collection includes classic images by Diane Arbus, Richard Misrach and Dorothea Lange, but Berman says he may make room in the collection for one more photographer: himself. The producer is seriously thinking of picking up his camera and shooting once again.

Here, in his own words, he explains pieces displayed in his home -- why he chose them and where they are placed for maximum effect.

"I like changing pictures from the house to the office because they speak to you differently," he says. "It's a totally different context."

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At the Getty

"Where We Live: Photographs of America From the Berman Collection" runs through Sunday at the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles; (310) 440-7330; www.getty.edu/museum.

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