John Berger “Understanding a Photograph”

Sadly, and only recently the author has passed away, on 2nd January 2017 and I have therefore come to the Berger party, late. What a shame, but thankfully there is the internet, Waterstones and Amazon, where such tomes can be bought.

The above book is a collection of essays and musings by John Berger and this is the first of 2 books of his that I have recently read. The 2nd being, the ever popular with photography students, “Ways of Seeing”.

A bit of background to let you know where I am coming from with my writings. For over 30 years I had ploughed my way through a career in banking, one which I enjoyed at the time. Now looking back, I feel this career path was such a blinkered one and one that, despite what the banks say, does not add any real value to the people of our amazingly diverse society. The banks are only in it for the money, (share price, dividend and obscene bonuses) they do not care about the customer and they care even less about their staff, irrespective of how they dress this up. I have studied for many a banking related exam, giving me several “professional” qualifications. However I have never had to read books with my dictionary currently by my side and used in virtually every paragraph!!!

I have this book in paper back edition (Penguin books) and this misses the mark significantly with the printed images in the book. They become somewhat pointless and unreadable, so “understanding a photograph” has to be understood from the words, rather than as they were interned as words and prints. If you can, buy the hard backed version I would do so, rather than the paperback.

The essays  in the book cover such incredible people as Susan Sontag, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Kertesz et al. The essays date as far back as the 60s and are still relevant today.

Everything appears to be a politicised struggle at times for Berger and he certainly looks at life and art through different eyes to mine. However my eyes are adjusting to the bright lights of photography/art and are emerging from the dullness of banking. His eyes are enlightened with critical thinking and powerful politicised, emotive thoughts. His writings, in some parts of the book do not compute with my mind, so I read a chapter again (and again) and then, like a film being developed in a dark room, I begin to see the picture, come into focus before my eyes. The developing solution is the way Berger is so descriptive and the use of his experience.

Although I did enjoy reading this book I did not find it as interesting and useful as his “Ways of Seeing”.

Would I recommend it? Yes.

Would I re-read it ? Yes, I will have to, as I am sure I will have missed some amazing and amusing pearls of Berger wisdom.



One thought on “John Berger “Understanding a Photograph”

  1. brontespageturners February 7, 2017 / 21:05

    I really enjoyed reading this review, particularly the way you described Berger’s work coming into focus! I loved Ways of Seeing but have not read this one. Will keep my eyes out for it. Bronte


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