John Berger

At the start of this project I thought that I would be spending most of my time taking pictures. What I have found is that I have been spending a lot of my time reading, like these three books by John Berger.


Having a deeper understanding of what I want to say in the images I am taking and why I am taking them is very much what this project is all about. And the only way to get that knowledge is by reading.

It is a shame I’m a fairly slow reader, so if you are looking for a review on these books you may have to wait a while.

[If you have access to the BBC iPlayer John Berger: The Art of Looking is still available for a few more days]

18 November 2016 Ways of Seeing is the first book for me to complete. I’m going to sum it up with the following cliché – if you only buy one book about art this year then this is the one to buy.

Most books about art or photography are either how to guides or a collection of works. This book is different in that it makes you question your relationship with what you are looking at. How your role plays a part in how you view the work in front of you.

Even though the book was written in the 1970s it is still relevant today. It is not often you put a book down and say, “wow, I would never have thought of that.”

3 January 2017 Sad to learn that John Berger has died at the age of 90. From the obituaries and social media tributes, his work touched both those he met and those who admired it in print. I’m sure his influence will live on.

John Berger 1926 – 2017

March 2017 I wasn’t wrong about being a slow reader as I have just finished reading Understanding a Photograph. The reason why I’m a slow reader is that I’m easily distracted. I blame all those cat videos on the Interweb.

In my earlier review of Ways of Seeing I started with a cliché, so I may as well continue with that tradition. Understanding a Photograph is a study of why a picture is worth a thousand words. The book is a collection of essays and interviews of photographers by John Berger. There are very few images in this book so it is very text heavy. Don’t get this book if you are hoping to find an album of cracking well composed creative images.

So what is the point of this book if it isn’t a picture book? The point is that good photography has something to say. Communicating a message through photography has to tell the viewer why the picture they are looking at is important or relevant to their life.

The book is quite political. The argument made in the book being that the world we live in and any changes to it has to be made on a political level. I don’t feel comfortable discussing some of the specific points raised in the book on this platform, so for the time being I will keep those opinions to myself. But if you do get to read this book and want to share your views in the comments section below by all means do.

It does make me realise how difficult it is to create a photograph that has such a strong message that you remember that image for the rest of your life. Only a few select photographers have ever managed to achieve that goal. Does that mean that you should give up trying? The answer has to be no, as the next press of the button could be that picture.

Now on to the first page of Portraits: John Berger on Artists. But what is that I can see out of the corner of my eye? Oh yes, it is that cat punching a stuffed toy tiger.

March 2021 I’m still slowly going through Portraits: John Berger on Artists and I have to say it is a very surprising read. From the title you would think that it is just the writer’s thoughts on the various artists. There is a bit of that but it is more like a diary of what Berger was doing and feeling on the day he discovered the artist in question. It is a very personal journey that Berger shares and it does make you think about the memories each of us has when we see a new piece of artwork for the first time.

Feminist Avant–Garde of the 1970s

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that I went to a talk by some of the artists on show in Feminist Avant-garde of the 1970s at The Photographers’ Gallery a few weeks ago. I took another trip to the exhibition this week now that I have had the chance for the talk to sink in.

Walking round the exhibition a second time did give me a new perspective on what was on display. The first time round I was pretty confused about what the artists were trying to say with their work.

I’m not going to pretend that this time round I was any the wiser with some of the pieces. But that is part of the challenge. If you put the effort to try to work out what is being said, you do get the reward when you finally get it.

Feminism is a complex subject. So it should come as no surprise that the works are also complex too.

It would be arrogant to say that after reading a few books on the subject and doing some research that I know what it was like to be a woman in the 20th Century. I can only speak from the perspective I hold and this exhibition did question my “male gaze” on what was on show. It wasn’t comfortable but then maybe it wasn’t supposed to be.

A question that I raised in my head after the talk was why The Photographers’ Gallery weren’t showing more recent work created by the artists who gave the talk a few weeks back.

What was even more surprising was to be confronted by the large fashion images of beauty pageant winner Joanne Salley on the floor above in the exhibit Simon Fujiwara: Joanne.

My initial reaction was – What. The. Hell. You have an exhibition about feminism on the floors below and then the curators decide to have a “fashion model” on show.

How wrong I was. The film is a personal story of a very modern woman. It is a very clever juxtaposition that shows the issues a woman in the 21st Century now faces.

On my way home I was questioning how much has changed for women since the 1970s and really how much there is still to be done.