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Photogs / Photo Exhibits This is the place to discuss a particular Photographer (work, style, life, whatever), as well as to post Gallery and Museum Photo Exhibitions and your own impressions of them. As we march on in this new digital world, it is often too easy to forget about the visual importance of the photographic print, as well as their financial importance to the photographer. It is also interesting to remember that some guy named Gene Smith shot with lenses that many lens test reading "never had a picture published in their life" amateurs would turn up their their noses at, as being "unacceptable."

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John Berger, RIP
Old 01-03-2017   #1
telenous
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John Berger, RIP

I was very sorry to read that the very influential art/photography critic and essayist John Berger died yesterday. RIP.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...erger-obituary

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Berger



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Old 01-03-2017   #2
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Well this is terrible news, and it comes to me just as I was reading a collection of his essays edited by Geoff Dyer.
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Old 01-03-2017   #3
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Sad to hear. I rediscovered him a few month ago and currently finished one of his books. He's voice and the way to explain even complex topics is unreached. For anybody who don't know him, check YT, especially the Ways of Seeing.

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Old 01-03-2017   #4
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BTW the Guardian obit I posted above reads a bit harsh. I have not read all the obituary criticizes him for but I found Ways of Seeing an insightful piece of work and Berger's voice an extremely compassionate one.

A little digging brought up for the following small essay by Berger on a sometime forgotten painting by Gericault (you can see the painting here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portra...a_Kleptomaniac ). In it, the warmth, compassion, intuitiveness, as well as that particular "way of seeing" championed by Berger, is in plain view.

Quote:
John Berger - A man with tousled hair

During that winter walking around the centre of Paris I couldn't stop thinking about a portrait. It's of an unknown man and was painted some time in the early 20s of the nineteenth century. The portrait was the image on the posters, at every street corner, announcing a large Gericault exhibition at the Grand Palais.

The painting in question was discovered in an attic in Germany, along with four other similar canvases, forty years after Gericault's early death. Soon afterwards it was offered to the Louvre who refused it. Imagined in the context of the denunciation and drama of the Raft of the Medusa, which had alreaady been hanging in the museum for forty years, the offered portrait would at that time have had a nondescript air. Yet now it has been chosen to represent the same painter's entire oeuvre. What changed? Why has this portrait become today so eloquent, or, more precisely, so haunting?

Behind everything that Gericault imagined and painted - from his wild horses to the beggars he recorded in London - one senses the same vow: Let me face the affliction, let me discover respect and, if possible, find a beauty! Naturally the beauty he hoped to find meant turning his back on most official pieties.

He had much in common with Pasolini:
I force myself to understand everything,
ignorant as I am of any life that isn't
mine, till, desperate in my nostalgia,


I realise the full experience

of another life; I'm all compassion,
but I wish the road of my love for


this reality would be different, that I

then would love individuals, one by one.


The portrait on the poster was once entitled The Mad Murderer, later, The Kleptomaniac. Today it is catalogued as The Monomaniac of Stealing. Nobody any longer knows the man's proper name.


The sitter was an inmate of the asylum of La Salpetriere in the centre of Paris. Gericault painted there ten portraits of people certified as insane. Five of these canvases survived. Among them is another unforgettable one of a woman. In the museum of Lyon, it was originally entitled The Hyena of Salpetriere. Today she is known as The Monomaniac of Envy.


Exactly why Gericault painted these patients we can only guess. Yet the way he painted them makes it clear that the last thing he was concerned with was the clinical label. His very brush marks indicate he knew and thought of them by their names. The names of their souls. The names which are no longer known.


A day or two earlier, Goya had painted scenes of incarcerated mad people, chained and naked. For Goya, however, it was their acts that counted, not their interiority. Before Gericault painted his sitters in LaSalpetriere perhaps nobody, neither painter, nor doctor, nor kith, nor kin, had ever looked for so long and so hard into the face of someone categorized and condemned as mad.

In 1942 Simone Weil wrote: 'Love for our neighbour, being made of creative attention, is analogous to genius.' When she wrote this she was certainly not thinking about art.

The love of our neighbour in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: 'What are you going through? It is a recognition that the sufferers exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labelled 'unfortunate', but as a man, exactly like we are, who was one day stamped with a special mark of affliction. For this reason it is enough, but it is indispensable to know how to look at him in a certain way.


For me, Gericault portrait of the man with tousled hair and disarranged collar and with eyes which no guardian angel protects, demonstrates the 'creative attention' and contains the 'genius' to which Simone Weil refers.

Yet why was this painting so haunting in the streets of Paris? It pinched us between two fingers. I will try to explain the first finger.

There are many forms of madness which start as theatre. ( As Shakespeare, Pirandello and Artaud knew so well.) Folly tests its strength in rehearsals. Anyone who has been beside a friend beginning to fall into madness will recognise this sense of being forced to become an audience. What one sees at first on the stage is a man or a woman, alone, and beside them - like a phantom - the inadequacy of all given explanation to explain the everyday pain being suffered. Then he or she approaches the phantom and confronts the terrible space existing between spoken words and what they are meant to mean. In fact this space, this vaccum, is the pain. And finally, because like nature it abhors a vacuum, madness rushes in the fills the space and there is no longer any distinction between stage and world, playing and suffering.

Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narrative being offered to give a sense to that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous. The desolation lies there, no in the facts. This is why a third of the French population are ready to listen to Le Pen. The story he tells - evil as it is - seems closer to what is happening in the streets. Differently, this is also why people dream of 'virtual reality'. Anything - from demagogy to manufactured onanistic dreams - anything, anything, to close the gap! In such gaps people get lost, and in such gaps people go mad.

In all five of the portraits Gericault painted in La Salpetriere sitters' eyes are looking elsewhere, askance. Not because they are focused on something distant or imagined, but because, by now, they habitually avoid looking at what is near. What is near provokes a vertigo because it is inexplicable according to the explanations offered.

How often today can one encounter a not dissimilar glance refusing to focus on the near - in trains, parking lots, bus queues, shopping precincts...

There are historical periods when madness appears to be what it is: a rare and abnormal affliction. There are other periods - like the one we have just entered - when madness appears to be typical.

All this describes the first of the two fingers with which the image of the man with tousled hair pinched us. The second finger comes from the compassion of the image.

-

Postmodernism is not usually applied to compassion. It might be both useful and humbling to apply it.

Most revolts in history were made to restore a justice which had been long abused or forgotten. The French Revolution, however, proclaimed the world principle of a Better Future. From that moment onwards all political parties of both left and right were obliged to make a promise which maintained that the amount of suffering in the world was being and would be reduced. Thus all afflictions became, to some degree, a reminder of a hope. Any pain witnessed, shared or suffered remained of course pain, but could be partly transcended by being felt as a spur towards making greater efforts for a future where that pain would not exist. Affliction had an historical outlet! And, during these two tragic centuries, even tragedy was thought of as carrying a promise.

Today the promises have become barren. To connect this barrenness solely with the defeat of communism is short-sighted. More far-reaching are the ongoing processes by which commodities have replaced the future as a vehicle of hope. A hope which inevitably proves barren for its clients, and which, by an inexorable economic logic, excludes the global majority. To buy a ticket for this years's Paris-Dakar Rally to give to the man with tousled hair makes us madder than he.

So we face him today without an historical or a modern hope. Rather we see him as a consequence. And this, by the natural order of things, means we see him with indifference. We don't know him. He's mad. He's been dead for more than a hundred and fifty years. Each day in Brazil a thousand children die of malnutrition or illnesses which in Europe are curable. They're thousands of miles away. You can do nothing.

The image pinched. In it there is a compassion that refutes indifference and is irreconcilable with any easy hope.

To what an extraordinary moment this painting belongs in the history of human representation and awareness! Before it, no stranger would have looked so hard and with such pity at a lunatic. A little later and no painter would have painted such a portrait without exhorting a glimmer of a modern or romantic hope. Like Antigone's, the lucid compassion of this portrait coexists with its powerlessness. And those two qualities, far from being contradictory, affirm one another in a way that victims can acknowledge but only the heart can recognise.

This, however, should not prevent us from being clear. Compassion has no place in the natural order of the world, which operates on the basis of necessity. The laws of necessity are as unexceptional as the laws of gravitation. The human faculty of compassion opposes this order and is therefore best thought of as being in some way supernatural. To forget oneself, however briefly, to identify with a stranger to the paint of fully recognising her or him, is to defy necessity, and in this defiance, even if small and quiet and even if measuring only 60cm. x 50cm., there is a power which cannot be measured by the limits of the natural order. It is not a means and it has no end. The Ancients knew this.

'I did not think,' said Antigone, 'your edicts strong enough
To overrule the unwritten unalterable laws
of God and heaven, you being only a man.
They are not of yesterday, or today, but everlasting.
Though where they came from, none of us can tell.'

The poster looked down on the streets of Paris as might a ghost. Not the ghost of the man with tousled hair, nor Gericault's. But the ghost of a special form of attention, which for two centuries had been marginalised but which every day now was becoming less obsolete. This is the second finger.

Pinched, what do we do? Wake up perhaps.
.

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Old 01-03-2017   #5
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Ways of Seeing helped me quite a bit during the first of my art school years. RIP John.
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Old 01-03-2017   #6
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No one influenced my own writing, that is my ways of looking and seeing and feeling, than Berger, starting around the time I stumbled onto And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photographs in an Amherst bookshop in 1987.

I was mid 30s, my first book of poems just published, my well-worn measuring stick for over a decade had been modern English and American poets--an atmosphere where I seesawed between arrogant selfcertainty and vain insecurity, where everything was about the Next Great Poem (and whose name would be attached it). Reading And Our Faces..., a book as slim as volume of verse but continually crossing genre boundaries between creative and critical, lines and paragraphs, space and time, personality and history, image and analysis, I had to develop a new understanding of what a writing life entailed and permitted. With what a book could contain, what it could leave out. What was worth a sentence of thought, what was best left to the white space where readers think for themselves, what constituted a poem or story or essay or letter.

When I took that book home, the horizon changed. Like having left at morning a tidy cottage among other cottages in an art colony, with eccentric touches and owners' quirks and neighbors' squabbles, enveloped in a cozy cult of art/personality, and coming back at evening to a plain washed by wind. No one else is there, and though others have been there and others will arrive later, now it is only the thoughts and images and feelings that blow through you, and you have no contours, no fixed being, no past or future but the presence of a voice that is not yours and all yours. Liberating, terrifying, exhilarating, tragic, the rest of your life in its service.

Something like this is how John Berger helped me to my next stage of a life in art. A father I claimed without receiving his blessing, a mentor I revisit each year without ever having sat with him. The encounter made my second book more difficult to write (and to publish) because I could no longer let myself depend on narcissism plus talent and technique. But it helped me begin to distinguish the merely impressive from the deeply important, mannerism from truth, ornament from architecture. This made my work harder to begin and harder to finish over the middle decades, but less prone to lies, self-regard, self-defense, however persuasive they sound in the echo chamber of my skull.

This obituary is entirely personal, unsolicited, representative of no one else's experience. But it is important to write it in a way I know he can hear and understand in the room I keep for him and no one else, where I leave my poems and photographs.
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Old 01-03-2017   #7
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rhl-oregon

That was beautiful, deeply moving, and something I needed to read at precisely this moment. Thank you.

Best wishes,
Daniel
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Old 01-03-2017   #8
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+1. Thanks Robert.

I have the Berger Essays edited by Geoff Dyer on a shelf 3ft away. Next to Dyer's "Ongoing Moment. A little sticky in the Berger shows where I have left off, not finishing the book. Maybe it's time to make a new attempt. To read something of substance. Thoughts of meaning from a time before "social media" and before Tweets meant world politics.
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Old 01-05-2017   #9
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rhl-oregon: as beautiful a eulogy as I've ever read. Thank you.

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Old 01-05-2017   #10
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This has been a year of many losses for me--most especially my longterm companion and wife in late September, which has kept me away from RFF for months, but also two other regular dinner/concert-companion friends, one of my favorite writing students, the photographer and friend to whom I entrusted my M4 (I just bought it back from his widow as much as a memento mori as a purist instrument, after spending two hours with her to ask how she has managed to survive his death from cancer without doing something crazy or suicidal or completely narcotic). Each one of these stopped my heart. Each one added a new zone or perimeter of silence to what ordinarily surrounds me in these unreturnable years. Like rings of icy debris surrounding a dim planetary object drifting away from the sun. Like a pond where ripples have been flash-frozen moments after the stone fell there from the sky.

Then there are the icons like Leonard Cohen and John Berger whose public passing causes me, and many others, to play the sad game, Where were you when you first heard Suzanne, or What changed in your life when you first read A Fortunate Man, or G, or Photocopies...? Maybe others in this thread will feel inspired or driven (to tears, to stories) to respond to this ache or bewilderment we have in common after a death like this. I would like to read these for my own distraction from heartbreak. -->I can't keep buying guitars and cameras and lenses to fill the void, it's not working ;-(

As for me: Every day since this summer I must daily, nightly come to terms with some variant on the theme, 'S/he should be alive, not me. S/he was more in love with life, more loving, wiser, braver, more talented, greater-hearted.' Most nights I am nothing now but a student struggling in the coursework of grief, and all I seem to be able to do is repeat the questions grief keeps asking me, without providing it any answer that will ease its grip on my chest.

I live just three blocks from the hilly forested cemetery where my wife lies now, under a fresh snow. There are several Berger books in the shelf closest to where I sit to drink coffee in the morning, tea in the evening. In the car Leonard Cohen keeps singing, Going home without my sorrow/going home sometime tomorrow/going home without the costume that I wore.... And this morning I finished the roll left in the M4 by my friend Nate. He joined RFF at my urging, and posted some of his street portrait work in the gallery before he had to restrict his creative activity in his last year. If I didn't completely fog the roll from unwittingly opening the camera (it never occurred to me he might have left a roll unfinished) then what will I find later, other than my own post-Nate images? --two crows in a snowy catalpa tree. Oxygen bubbles in a frozen puddle. A snow man at dusk, two walnut eyes and a stocking cap, smoking a pipe carved from a carrot end, with grass stuffed in where the tobacco would go.
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Old 01-05-2017   #11
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I came across a copy of The Ways of Seeing recently in a thrift shop. Ironically it was pretty unreadable because of the type choice and layout. I'll have to see about getting another edition.
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Old 01-05-2017   #12
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rhl-oregon: a stunning eulogy. Thank you for sharing.

I awoke this morning to discover that a friend, and once fellow photography peer, had tragically taken her own life over the new year, in a suicide pact with her new husband. Discovering this news by reading about it in The Guardian as a suggested article alongside Berger's obituary hit me hard. Really hard. Today has been a bad day. Your words have helped, thank you.

I'll leave you with some words/image I once found helpful in the past. I lost a family member and my mum was given a card from her close friend. On the front, a simple black and white photograph of a young child stood in the rain, her head tilted upwards to gaze at the falling water drops, her hands stretched out open to catch and touch them. Underneath, the words:

"And then, when we least expect it. Life comes back."
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Old 01-05-2017   #13
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As your words help me, Luke.

My own are no help to me at all, except like clearing dead leaves from the storm gutter when the street is flooded.

We can help one another though. That was part of Berger's ministry-without-portfolio, I believe.
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Old 01-05-2017   #14
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Robert,

I've teared up and felt the pain that you have opened and shared with us. I feel it and hope that sharing it eases some of your grief. I don't know how else to help, but your writing connects to something I started working on while my students were hiking and writing their environmental ethics final essays. During that rainy December afternoon, I hiked to the ridge of the knobs here in Central Kentucky to visit a fossilized clam that was emerging from the limestone that grounds our karst landscape. The clam reminded me that everything matters because of the role it plays in its environment, with other living and non-living things--through its relationships. Those relationships ground the history of their place and make possible everything that follows. Nothing is more important than anything else; everything plays its part. Everything matters.

Best wishes to you,
Daniel
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Old 01-05-2017   #15
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Dear Daniel,

I would like to walk that country with you. I know it a little from Bloomington, INdiana, where I wrote some of my first adult poems. It does help to write out the grief and bewilderment. I think it's going to hurt me into writing and singing again after years of silent images.
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Old 01-05-2017   #16
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It would be my pleasure entirely. I spent a few years in Bloomington as well, and have to admit that I do like the landscape here in KY, although it cannot fill the place left over from growing up in the Rocky Mountains.

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Old 01-06-2017   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by telenous View Post
BTW the Guardian obit I posted above reads a bit harsh.
It is a bit harsh for an obit, but it made me reflect deeply on his work.
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