John Berger and art, new book

This video says about itself:

John Berger / Ways of Seeing, Episode 1 (1972)

A BAFTA award-winning BBC series with John Berger, which rapidly became regarded as one of the most influential art programmes ever made. In the first programme, Berger examines the impact of photography on our appreciation of art from the past.

Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30-minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger‘s scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. The series is partially a response to Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon.

By Rose Thompson in Britain:

New ways of seeing John Berger

Monday 24th october 2016

A Jar of Wild Flowers: Essays in Celebration of John Berger
Edited by Yasmin Gunaratnam with Amarjit Chandan
(Zed Books, £10.99)

THIS book is not limited to essays purely “in celebration of” John Berger — nothing would be less fitting to his personality than a straight tributary offering.

In their evaluations of Berger’s career and the global scale of his impact on artists and intellectuals, the personal insight many of the authors provide in their thanks for his friendship are all in some sense written “with” him.

Their debt of gratitude illustrates the new purpose his thoughtful work has inspired in others and the energy Berger brings to each collaboration and relationship.

Yet rather than command the centre of attention in this network of writers, film makers, activists and artists, Berger is a background presence. The result is a collection which is a joy to read, regardless of one’s prior knowledge of his work and life.

The contributions cover topics as diverse as Berger’s support for the people of Palestine, his output as a novelist and poet and his interest in prehistoric cave paintings.

But the book is at its best when the authors wander away from Berger as a direct subject and allow his influence to permeate their own work.

In such moments, we are instructed in the history of Chilean leftist groups, the difficulties of indirect translation from Punjabi to Brazilian Portuguese via English or how personal photos become public memorials to the “disappeared,” from Sri Lanka to Mexico.

The anecdotal essay The Danger of Ways of Seeing in Pakistan by Salima Hashmi is a phenomenal piece of social history, as well as an ironic demonstration of the way Western canons are set as global benchmarks for “correct” forms of pedagogy — charges of indecency brought against a university teacher for showing Berger’s 1972 TV series were dropped when she explained that the tapes were endorsed by the British Council.

Berger’s comments on the uses and development of photography, engaging in dialogue with the writings of Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, are touched on by several contributors.

But it’s the account of his collaborations with photographer Jean Mohr which really sparkles. The two share a friendship bound by storytelling, Berger often providing the words that speak to Mohr’s intimate photographs.

Even if a book of recollections feels a little morbid while Berger is thankfully still with us — as many contributors point out, Berger is now 90 — death is never an ending in his work.

It is in keeping with his thought that the living and dead should commune and, in his witty and moving chronicle of discovering Berger via a small Coventry public library, Nirmal Purwar points out that “Berger’s work often brings the dead into imaginative, playful meetings.”

That’s a phrase that well describes the joie de vivre Berger seems to inspire in the volume’s many authors.

It is a testament to the remarkable feelings of comradeship and love Berger can inspire in others that, even at its most laudatory, the volume never feels hagiographic.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Berger is that a book commissioned to fete him has become a collection of essays about so many vital, politically charged and empathetic topics.

1 thought on “John Berger and art, new book

  1. Pingback: British art critic John Berger, RIP | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.