Among my pile of books yet to read as part of my studies I had ‘About Looking’ by John Berger. I have only recently been introduced to this author through my Context and Narrative Course, I read his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ and watched the accompanying BBC TV program on You-Tube which I found very interesting. I then went onto read ‘Understanding a Photograph’, in preparation for my fourth assignment. The recent sad news of John Berger’s death prompted me to read this book, ‘About Looking’.
This book is made up of a selection of essays, Berger wrote from the mid 1960’s up to the late 1970’s.
His first essay examines how man looks and sees himself; how he regards animals and his world around him and compares this to how other animals regards themselves, man and the world through their eyes.
His next essay looks at pictures by August Sander the famous farm hands going to a dance photo and another image of a local musical band posing for their photograph and he discusses how their suits give away their status in society despite their smart attire.
Also included is an essay on the works of Paul Strand. The rest of the book moves away from photography and looks at works by other artists from the 17th century such as Hals through to Artist’s such as Francis Bacon and Giacometti of the 20th.
An interesting read, Berger had his own style of writing and if you have heard him speak you can almost hear his voice coming through the pages of the book.
He was clearly very passionate about art and I am sure a nice guy to have met. I am sure all who were fortunate enough to have met him will miss him.
Two very different essays , the first was made with the photographer W. Eugene Smith’s chronicling the life of a Country Doctor in the State of Colorado in the late 1940 over a period of three weeks for Life magazine. The images and accompanying text paints a portrait of a general practitioner dedicated to his work and his community with some dramatic images and some apparent good candid portraits. Smith claims that he began by taking pictures without film in order to relax his subjects and as they got used to his company he then started taking picture for real. However, he is also had no qualms about staging photographs in order to provide life magazine with the images required. Smith was also an outsider and although he spent several weeks with Dr. Ceriani the documentary element lacks a personal – emotional involvement type feeling to the pictures.
Bryony Campbell’s work on the other-hand seems to be electrically charged with raw emotional involvement. Campbell’s images clearly have not been staged and this honesty to her work produces such strong emotional feelings that they are almost palpable. Whilst Smith’s work make an interesting documentary, Campbell’s work touches her audience on a much more personal level. The sensitive subject matter she has chosen to document touches us all as it is a subject that we all have to face but all either don’t want to talk about or know how to talk about, Campbell’s essay gives people that opportunity. As it is about her and her family it is clearly a documentary from the inside and so instead of appearing to be intrusive or insensitive the work appears to be candid and honest.
Campbell describes her work of The Dad Project as an end without an end, this could refer to her spiritual belief but I suspect that it has more to do with that this project has become a part of her life and a part of her. She writes in her website blog that at the end of an interview at the BBC for the World Service the interviewer asked her, “Is it hard to talk about the experience and then just get on with a normal day? Do you feel that the project is stopping you from moving on?” Campbell reflects that the project has become part of her normal day and that it has helped her in her grieving process and as such does not feel the need to ‘move on’. One does not get over the loss of a loved one, one simply learns how to live with that loss and therefore in a sense we all experience at some-point an end without an end.
Meyerowitz specializes in Street and Landscape photography and began photographing in colour in 1962 during a time when there was still a resistance against colour photography in the art world. in the early 1970s he taught the first colour classes at the Cooper Union in New York City. Inspired by Robert Frank, Meyerowitz quite his job at an advertising agency to take photographs on the streets of New York with a 35mm camera and black and white film. Joining the ranks of Tony Ray-Jones, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge. Meyerowitz has also taken inspiration from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Atget.
Meyerowitz switched to large format cameras and in 2001 was became the official photographer to record the aftermath and wreckage at ‘Ground Zero’ New York City with exclusive access whilst the clean up operation was underway. Meyerowitz involvement was documented by Channel-Four and his work has been critiqued by the writer David Campany in his 2003 essay, ‘Safety-in-numbness’ (http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness/). He is also featured in a 2009 BBC documentary ‘The Genius of Photography’ and in 2013 the documentary film, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’.