The Uses of Photography: John Berger
"The contemporary public photograph usually presents an event, a seized set of appearances, which has nothing to do with us, its readers, or with the original meaning of the event. It offers information, but information severed from all lived experience. If the public photograph contributes to a memory, it is to the memory of an unobservable and total stranger. The violence is expressed in that strangeness. It records an instant sight about which this stranger has shouted: Look!
Who is the stranger? One might answer: the photographer. Yet if one considers the entire use-system of photographed images, the answer ‘the photographer’ is clearly inadequate. Nor can one reply: those who use the photographs. It is because the photographs carry no certain meaning in themselves, because they are like images in the memory of a total stranger, that they lend themselves to any use."
Public uses of photography, then, place before us the difficulty of how we locate images in a meaningful context. And here Berger suggests an approach that connects with the one I gestured toward in my last post. "The aim must be to construct a context for a photograph, to construct it with words, to construct it with other photographs, to construct it by its place in an ongoing text of photographs and images." This task, he observes is crucial insofar as the resulting "context replaces the photograph in time - not its own original time for that is impossible - but in narrated time." And only this will give us the opportunity to "put a [public] photograph back into the context of experience, social experience." If I understand Berger properly what he recommends requires that we explore the interaction of photography and a variety of written texts. I agree.