An amazing soul passed away recently.
John Berger changed the direction of my photography career. This is why I now refer to myself as a Artist rather than a photographer.
I first came across John Berger in an online interview with Susan Sontag, another brilliant mind. I was doing research for a essay titled ‘Gender through the Lens’. Sontag had much to say. However Berger’s fascinating questions and approach were so interesting I had to find out more.To tell a Story
What I took from the research that followed was this. Berger’s view was that more needs to be considered other than the art itself when making and viewing art. He refers to the placing of it, the environment of it, the mindset of the person viewing it, surrounding images, context of it (if in an article etc). He also summarised the idea that art can and does have a life of its own and it can go on to have many different meanings. The creator is it’s humble servant, giving birth to it and then releasing it into the world . ‘Ways of seeing’ was broadcast in 1972 but it is still relevant today.
Another great mind John Ruskin, argued in his essay ‘on art and life’; that art which is created following rules is actually manufacture. Artists creating work to rules were but tools of the production process not true artists per se. He uses the example of a sculpture working to a plan or a map working in stone. If we take one of the largest European buildings to have stone sculptures – the Sacra familia in Barcelona, we can see this point is proven. Each and every sculpted element on this great cathedral is created by a craftsman, not an artist. The artist is Antonio Gaudi the architect. Artists manifest an internal thought, dialogue or idea regardless of rules, conformity.
Agree or not, both these ways of thinking could apply equally well to photography. On Ruskin’s point a painter still needs to know how to apply paint, (s)he still needs to know about posture, light/dark, and (s)he still needs to be able to make the image appear on the canvas – how is this not different than with a photographer? We need to understand the tools that get us to the image in our minds and do this free from as many rules as possible – in this case the tool is the camera, but using it is not the end goal, the image is. Understanding the technical equipment alone does not make the result any more artistic than giving an elephant a paint brush.
And so with Berger’s views. To create an image is to give birth to something, to evolve it from within your own imagination first and then use the tool of the camera to assist in bringing it to life. After this it will have a life of it’s own. It will be interpreted and read in many ways, the same as a painting. Where it is shown, how it is shown, with what it is shown will all bring different meaning to it. This can be a wonderful thing? Like Mark Rothko though as the artist you may want to think carefully about the environment work gets shown in, where and how it is shown to minimise mis interpretation.