Susanna - Methods/session 5 Synopsis
Understanding a photograph - John Berger (1972)
In this essay John Berger analyzes the photograph in its relation to the fine arts and in its representation of truth. He excludes “those absurd studio works in which the photographer arranges every detail of his subject before he takes the picture”.
Should photography be considered a fine art? Photographs have entered museums and therefore acquired mystery and sacredness, just like paintings and sculptures. However, because photographs can easily be reproduced, they are not rare and so they don’t have property value.
Photographs are proofs and records of what we have seen, they tell the choice we have made in a specific moment. The photographer decides that something they are observing is worth recording and they make the conscious choice of taking a photograph. The choice is about photographing one moment in time instead of another.
The content of a photograph is that moment in time that we choose to preserve. Part of the content is also what is not seen on the photograph, what was not chosen. That moment that we see in the photograph needs to contain some truth that the viewer can recognise and relate to.
Berger concludes that we do look at photographs as works of art but also as evidence and records of a truth. Photographs are tools that we use to construct our view of reality and therefore they have a crucial role in ideological struggle. To me this conclusion is not a clear consequence of the previous paragraphs. My interpretation is that photography, according to Berger, has a direct relationship to reality and it also holds the sacred status of work of art. Consequently we must understand it, practice it and consume it knowing that it shapes our view of the world.