Thursday, March 24, 2005

John Berger And Sebastião Salgado

The celebration of John Berger's work – called "Here Is Where We Meet" – opens in London in a couple of weeks. As a way of acknowledging that celebration, and as a way of reflecting on some of my recent posts on the Victims Of The Metropolis or The Agony Of Toil, I am posting, daily, excerpts from John Berger's recent essay "That Have Not Been Asked" from openDemocracy. Its themes are
poverty, desire, storytelling, and the future’s gift to the present. It comes in "ten dispatches".

I will be illustrating the essay with photographs by Sebastião Salgado who has a long association with Berger. In lieu of a preface to the new essay, here is Berger writing on Salgado and his collection, Migrations:

In a strange way, in all these pictures, one feels in Salgado's vision the word "yes" - not that he approves of what he sees, but that he says "yes" because it exists. Of course he hopes that this "yes" will provoke in people who look at the pictures a "no", but this "no" can only come after one has said, "I have to live with this." And to live with this world is first of all to take it in. The opposite is indifference.

The point about hope is that it is something that occurs in very dark moments. It is like a flame in the darkness; it isn't like a confidence and a promise.

In the 1940s the French philosopher Simone Weil wrote this – a kind of summing up, I think, of what Salgado was saying: "There are only two services that images can offer the afflicted. One is to find the story that expresses the truth of their affliction. The second is to find the words that can give resonance, through the crust of external circumstances, to the cry that is always inaudible: "Why am I being hurt?"

There's an excellent website on Sebastião Salgado's work here. John Berger's own work is like that same "flame in the darkness". We should cherish him as our own.


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