Do Berger and Mohr share a vision of photography, or do their visions of photography diverge? Explain your answer.
Berger and Mohr certainly both feel strongly about photography, but they each bring forward different ideas to the medium. They seem to diverge mostly in their approach to photographs: Mohr seems to think of it more from the personal subjective perspective while Berger seems to see photography through the realm of history and time. As a photographer himself, Mohr often speaks of the “taking” (11) aspect of taking pictures—he wonders about the role of the photographer and the personal reasons for capturing certain scenes [he says there is no better way “free yourself from an obsession” (73) than by photographing it]. Yet this is not the only relationship one can have to a photograph that he focuses on; he also speaks about how in “the face of any photo the spectator projects something of her or himself” (42) and the way in which a photograph acts as a “springboard” (42) for the ideas of the spectator. For him, the human connections that it brings about are integral to photography. He is careful to even note “the embarrassment, the worry, or even the panic, which often assails people when they know they are being photographed” (38).
Berger is not uninterested in these relationships, but he seems to be more concerned with how photography functions in relation to time. He notes how a photograph “arrests the flow of time” (86) and captures a moment out of a continuous history. This sets the moment or event apart, but also immortalizes it as it extends “the event beyond itself” (121). In a sense, Berger demonstrates the photography both makes the past timeless and the “particular universal” (122). These two separate approaches to photography allow Berger and Mohr to collaborate in the best way possible: to bring both of their ideas together into a more comprehensive understanding of photography.
Is it really time he is concerned with, or is “time” a catchphrase for him as he turns toward a discussion of society? I think he understands time in contrast to history as the difference between the individual and the collective experience.
Although not identical, Berger and Mohr share similar beliefs towards photography. In his essay, “Appearances”,Berger explains that a photograph can only acquire meaning if the spectator lends the photograph a past and future. Only once the spectator gives the subject of the photo life- a story- does the photo become meaningful. Berger continues by stating that the photographer’s job is to photograph an instant “which will persuade the public viewer to lend it an appropriate past and future” (89). He explains that photographs are truth because unlike a painting they “quote” rather than ‘translate” the moment. However, Berger admits that the truth photographs tell are only a limited one. In this sense, appearances are what Berger calls a “half language” because they “cease to be double-faced like a dialogue. They become dense and opaque, requiring dissection” (115). These photographs are ambiguous because they have been “taken out of continuity” (91). Words and captions give photographs their full meaning because they place the photo in proper context and thus hide the photo’s ambiguity.
Mohr expresses his opinion toward photography through his photos. Like Berger, he agrees that photographs are ambiguous and thus tells a story with each photograph he presents. For example, after retelling the incident with the woodcutter, he presents the photograph the man’s wife chose to display of him. (one without any trees, just of his face). Mohr says that “the expression of his face is easier to understand once one knows something about the forest” (70). Had we not been given the background information of the photo, we would not have understood its full meaning due to its ambiguity- we would not have understood the full depth of the man’s expression. Also, Mohr agrees that spectators do lend the photograph a past and future in order to better understand it. He did an experiment by showing 5 photos without captions to different people, He asked each person what came to mind. Each gave meaning to the photo only by giving the subject in the photo a past and future, some sort of story-line. Most of the time people were off, proving the ambiguity of the photo and the need for captions to disclose the full meaning of the photo in proper context.
Would you say that the two authors are at odds with one another in any significant way?
I think Mohr is more focused on the photograph’s connection to the photographer than Berger is. Berger says that the caption should just help give the photo context (i.e. “A Red Hussar Leaving, June 1919, Budapest”) (102). However, Mohr does not leave a simple caption with his photographs. He tells a story about the photograph in relation to himself. He does not separate the photographer from the photograph.
Berger and Mohr both share an obvious passion for photography. They seem to agree on the fatal flaw of ambiguity in the art; however, they diverge in opinions towards the role and importance of a photographer in relation to the final product and the spectator.
Berger and Mohr both express a concern for interpretation of photographs by unknowing spectators when a scene is taken out of context. Sometimes, a photograph cannot stand on its own. Mohr claims, “I often feel the need to explain my photos, to tell their story. Only occasionally is an image self-sufficient” (42). Mohr backs this feeling with his experiment of asking random people what they saw in different photos. I feel that Berger would agree with this assertion when he talks about how captions or textual support may be needed with photos because “Reportage photo-stories remain eye-witness accounts rather than stories, and this is why they have to depend on words in order to overcome the inevitable ambiguity of the images”( 279).
Past this point is when the two start to differ in their relation to photography. Mohr puts a lot of emotion and personal effect into his photographs. He relates them to stories within his life while also allowing the photos to narrate the story of those around him throughout his life. His series of photos focus on one subject and one purpose at a time so that a spectator can immerse themselves into the story being showcased. Berger believes that a photographer’s job is documenting others and to break away events from time itself. He asserts that photographs are hardcore evidence that is always held true. Although he believes in the story and the photographic narrative, there is less of an emotional connection with him than with Mohr.
Berger is so wrapped up in the definitive side of photography while Mohr is obsessed in the emotion. Bringing these two together really well rounded the book.
A wonderfully astute reading of the differences between the two, although I am not sure that Mohr is as concerned with emotion as is he is with ownership. Who has the last word, according to him, in his presentation of the photographs to different viewers without any explanation. What do you think each theorist would say about the punctum?
Although I think that Jean Mohr and John Berger do share a very similar personal feeling and passion for photography, their understanding of it tends to be very different. When looking at their big picture views, John Berger tends to see it with a more systematic, rational point of view. But Jean Mohr defiantly sees more with his heart than his mind. Berger points out that “camera are boxes for transporting images,” a very theoretic and even dry way of looking at things (Berger, 92). He also compares photography to paintings and suggests that “photography has no language of its own” and that it “quotes rather than translates” (Berger, 96). Yet he goes on to say that this makes it hard for photography to lie, even though we all realize that it is now easier to create lies out of photography. This candid and honest idea of photography helps in part to put into words the passion and liking that John Berger has for photography regardless of the way he tends to express it. If you can get past the systematic approach Berger takes on photography, you can find the beauty in his passion.
Mohr, on the other hand, tends to be in a constant candid emotion, telling exactly how he feels and doing his best to capture than in his photos. It also tends to seem to me that the main point of his photographs are to give justice to the subject being captured. The best example that I can find is in the series of photographs that he takes of the man who cut trees in the woods. When asked to take pictures that showed “what the work was like,” he truly delivered and created a set of photos that gave much justice to the man in the woods (Gaston, 62). The photos depicted the many process that the lumberjack, Gaston, went through to finish a days work. The photos were honest, raw, and in Gaston’s words, “What I’ve dreamt of since I began cutting downs tress” (Gaston, 67). Throughout the sections of the book were Mohr is giving commentary on his photos, he speaks as if you were right next to him looking through his album and in ever photo and caption, you feel his energy.
I am not sure you are right that Berger’s readings are not emotional. His are certain more involved in the social and he pits time against history with time representing the individual experience and history representing the universal or collective experience. However, I think there is something much more important distinguishing the two and that is the question of the role of the photographer in deciding what story a picture tells.
It seems that John Berger and Jean Mohr share very similar visions of photography, however, they take different approaches to it. Within the essay, Mohr relies on photographs more heavily, individual examples that he himself has taken, to explain the significance and methods of photography. He seems to place a greater importance on the subject of the photograph and the viewer’s interpretation, having his role, that of the photographer, take a step back. This also brings into light the ambiguity of images, how a single image can hold different meanings depending on the audience. He includes a section in his essay featuring the different explanations for several photographs from people of various backgrounds, in order to illustrate how “in face of any photo the spectator projects something of her or himself” (Mohr 42). But, for him, this also proves that the talented photographer can frame a photograph so that it evokes a similar emotion from a diverse, universal audience. Both are of the opinion that a photograph ought to tell a story, and that story is a combined effort of the subject of the picture, the photographer, and the viewer. Berger takes a more philosophical, analytical view. He highlights the ambiguity of photographs as well, based on how it may be differently interpreted. Berger also focuses more on the aspect that each photograph is caught in time, representing both the past and the future. He argues that, particularly with photos of relatives, this makes them all the more poignant and emotional. From the single image, the viewer is able to guess, more or less accurately depending on the evidence the image gives, the past of its subjects and extrapolate to their near futures, which is similar to Barthes description of photographs as “that-has-been”. While Berger and Mohr have some differences, both agree on the essentials. They view photography as a method to tell a story, a medium through which to convey emotion and to share human experience, but their slight differences of opinion mirror the inherent subjectivity of photography.
I disagree that Mohr thinks that the subject of the photograph and the viewer’s interpretation is more important than the photographer’s experience. Why does he always have the last word? Does he honor what the subject wants him to do?
While Berger and Mohr share many similar opinions on the interactions of meaning, text, and photography, there are certain areas in which their opinions differ. Interestingly, it seems that Berger places less of an effect on textual accompaniment to photography as a way to be more descriptive than Mohr, the actual photographer. Berger states “it is because photography has no language of its own, because it quotes rather than translates, that it is said that the camera cannot lie” (96). Berger is explaining that without an accompanying text, an accompanying language, photography still tells the truth. He goes on to explain that this is because “appearances may constitute a language” (112); in other words, photographs become there own language, so there is no need for textual accompaniment.
Mohr, on the other hand, seems to believe that photographs do need some outside form of clarification, some other form of text. Mohr states that he “often feels the need to explain [his] photos, to tell their story” (42). To prove this feeling of his, he shows the same photos to a group of nine people, asking each of them what they thought was happening in each photo, then writing what was actually going on. Each person had a widely different reaction to each photo than the other. Through this experiment, Mohr proves that without a textual accompaniment to each photo, explaining context, it is impossible for a photo to present the whole truth.
Who should be providing the text, according to each? In Berger’s case it is the viewer in conjunction with that one choice of the photographer to place the photograph within the context of a long quotation or short quotation, and in Mohr’s case it seems to be the photographer. For Mohr, I think, the photographer is all powerful because there is a right way and a wrong way to read a photograph and the only one who can really accurately arrive at the “real’ reading is the photographer.
Berger and Mohr share a vision of photography as a “meeting place” where the interests and views of the photographer, the photographed, the viewer, and those using the photo are often contradictory (7). Unlike Barthes, who meditated solely on personal interpretations of photography, Berger and Mohr consider all four of the main perspectives through which photography can be viewed. The divergence in these perspectives breeds ambiguity about the photograph’s meaning.
Throughout Another Way of Telling, Berger and Mohr contemplate this ambiguity, drawing on their own respective experiences as writer and photographer. As a photographer, Mohr speaks volumes through his photographs, offering minimal textual commentary text. He presents several examples of his own work that each have an implicit theme that is central to his vision of photography. Berger, however, prefers to communicate his theories through text.
Both Berger and Mohr believe that photographs alone can be ambiguous. Mohr believes that “only occasionally is an image self-sufficient” and prefers to explain his work to viewers. He illustrates this point through a section titled “What did I see?” Mohr presented 10 viewers with four photographs that he had taken and asked them to explain their interpretations. Mohr’s belief that in every picture, the spectator projects something of him or herself is supported in this experiment, for many times the viewers’ careers influenced their interpretations of the photographs (41-57).
Berger agrees that photography is ambiguous, asserting that the photograph alone offers only evidence of existence, not the significance of existence. A photograph only captures an instant in time and meaning is not instantaneous, but acquired over time. He believes that a strong knowledge of historical and cultural context, often supplied through a caption, is necessary to increase certainty and to supply an interpretation of the photo. However, unlike Mohr, he believes that ambiguity could be “another way of telling” (89-92). After all, photography has no universal “language,” and viewers should be able to project their own, valid interpretations on the photograph (95).
In the section titled “Stories,” Berger distinguishes between reportage photo stories, photo-romans and true photographic narratives. He comments that reportage photo stories depend on words to overcome ambiguity because they capture what the reporter saw, not necessarily how people live (279). It is inferred that, to Berger, effective photographic narratives require no words to communicate a group’s experiences. Mohr admits that it’s hard to truly document and capture the experience of a group, as he discovered after photographing post-operative patients and eventually being one himself (78-79). In those situations, words are necessary to create a past and a future for the photograph and thus to glean its true meaning.
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Really insightful reading. I like your organizing your comments around each writer’s engagement with the “necessity” of words.
I believe that Berger and Mohr shared a vision of photography. In the first part of the book, Mohr illustrated what Berger articulates in the second half of the book. Mohr’s “Beyond my camera” section gives examples to Berger’s theory of discontinuity articulated in Berger’s “Appearances.” When given a picture, people create a story. Many people created a different story. However, each story had a main idea of the emotion or one characteristic of the picture. The differences manifested in the viewer’s knowledge of the past and future of the photograph. The closer the viewer was to the photograph, the more accurate the story they told was. In this way, Mohr’s chapter gives examples to illustrate Berger’s articulated discontinuity principle, that a photograph is an instant separated from its past and future, like only reading a chapter out of the middle of a book. This also illustrates how easily a photo can lie. One can give the photo a false past and future to create a new meaning of the photograph. Appearances “instead of narrating, instigates ideas,” creating a “half language” that is completed by the camera articulating an “unmistakable meaning.” Similarly, in Mohr’s section, he shows a picture and many people’s ideas about the picture which all contained a rough idea, but were not refined until we got the perspective of the photographer or the camera’s perspective. I did not find their opinions diverge while reading the book. I personally found them complementary.
How does each relate to the question of the role of the photographer vs. the role of the spectator in investing meaning into the photograph?
I understood that the meaning of the photograph comes from it’s position in time, separated from its past and future. In Mohr’s section, he showed that sometimes, the photographer knew more than the spectators about the past and future of the moment. And therefore invested more meaning and understanding of the photograph. However, this was not always the case. For example: the farmer knew more about the animals Mohr took a picture of and thus attached more meaning and understanding of the moment being captured. Although these two instances show how a person can invest more meaning into a photo, when the photo stands alone, the details of the photo are easily fabricated and interpreted differently but anybody, regardless of how close they were or how knowledgeable they were about the actual moment. So the meaning invested differs. It is not necessary for the photographer to explain the shot for a spectator to interpret it. I believe that both Mohr and Berger would agree with this, and touched on these subjects in each of their sections.
Berger and Mohr bring similarities and differences in their different views on photography. Although Berger spells out his ideas much more clearly, Mohr’s opinion can still be garnered by examining the way through which he chooses to present his photographs. This difference of presentation should be examined to begin with. Berger seeks to break down his analysis of photographs in a more empirical and scientific manner. His essays, “Appearances” and “Stories”, reflect this. Mohr on the other hand, prefers to convey his ideas through examples, showing the reader different stories and corresponding photographs to express them. The distinction between the two styles is important, if only because they complement each other so well. From here though, the line between the ideas of the two blurs. Both Berger and Mohr make cases for the subjectivity of the photograph. Mohr takes his pictures to various individuals and records their widely differing interpretations. Berger talks about how the history and context of the viewer gives the photographs a future and past, where otherwise it is a disconnected instance in time. He stresses the point that the importance of the photograph comes from the fusion of the subject, spectator, and operator into one entity. This interaction, he argues, displaces the idea of the sequence when regarding photos. Although Mohr doesn’t spell out his ideas on this, his section “If Each Time..” reflects a consensus on the matter. The two photographers diverge in their preferred method of explanation (perhaps Berger is simply more articulate), but they agree on these central ideas when it comes to the analysis of the photograph.
I think that Berger also uses photographs for examples (mostly Kertesz photos) but the main difference between the two of them can be found in their respective opinions about the role of the photographer in the “meaning” of photographs.
Although Berger and Mohr’s visions of photography are not antagonistic, their ideas concerning the nature of photography are quite varied. Mohr, being a professional photographer, examines photography in terms of the relationship of the photographer, the photographed and the observer. Mohr expresses this in the way his photographic essay implicitly demands, for example, the subject being photograph to point out a good photograph (26). Berger instead examines the effect time and seeing has on photography as a means of discerning how photography attempts to express.
The chief differences in these approaches seem to deride from each author’s background, Berger being more of a ‘writer’ and Mohr being more of a ‘photographer’ (perhaps their dual presence in “Another Way of Telling” a comment on the relationship of text and photograph). From this, we see Mohr envisioning photography in respect to how it is acquired. His essay is like a series of demonstrations of how photographs take special meanings when the three previously mentioned parties interact, like when he shows the girl’s expressions without telling the reader what animal sounds he was making (14,15). Berger looks at photography’s conceptual impact more, exploring the ways a seemingly fixed but ambiguous image can expand through personal experience (89), the information it gives on itself (121) or how the expectations to draw something from a photograph affect its perceptions (118).
Thus the main divisions in Mohr and Berger’s vision constitute what gives a photograph meaning and its ability to narrate. To Berger, it is the conflict appearances and a photograph’s natural ambiguity has with people’s ways of constructing meanings. To Mohr, it is the perspectives of the photograph and its influences on it that derive what different people might make of them. Although difficult to explain, the text-less photographic essay of the peasant woman seems consolidates these two visions through its experimental design.
Beautiful. Where does the photographer fit into each respective presentation?
It is clear that Mohr and Berger both share a love for photography; however I think they have slightly different views on it. Throughout the book, Mohr and Berger discuss the ambiguity of photographs. They talk about how there is a lack of understanding when someone looks at a photograph because they do not know the context or they have no connection to the objects of the photograph.
In the first section of the book, Mohr counters this ambiguity by adding the context. Instead of just leaving the pictures without any explanation, he writes about the people in the photographs and the story of how he decided to take those pictures, or in some cases, not to take the picture. It seems as if Mohr really focuses on the photography to tell a story, and he wants to prevent the ambiguity that naturally comes with it.
On the other hand, I feel as if Berger took a more technical approach to photography. The second section of the book, an essay written by Berger, includes only thirteen pictures within forty-one pages of text. He talks about photography as if it is a language that is not fully understood by the spectator. He looks at this as an opportunity for the spectator to create a story based off of the photograph. Instead of adding the context , he allows the spectator to come up with their own.
While Mohr and Berger share a passion for photography, they have differing opinions on the essence of photographs. I feel that this can be contributed to their differences in profession–Mohr being a photographer and Berger being a writer, but in this case, simply his non-photographer point of view forms his outlook.
Mohr goes into intense detail about his subjects; he feels the need to know them and their stories, and to share those with the public. It is very difficult for him to allow the photograph to speak for itself, as he believes a photograph is “only occasionally self-sufficient” (Mohr 42). Mohr is unable to separate the essence of photography from the very personal connection he has with them. In fact, the section itself is entitled, “Beyond My Camera,” indicating an intensely personal side to photographs. By the end of this section, Mohr insists that he would rather be in the “life” side of photographs rather than as the viewer.
Conversely, Berger takes a much more objective and philosophical approach to the question of photographs. Rather than insisting the viewer know the meaning behind the photographs, Berger explains that photos are entirely ambiguous and cannot explain an entire story, unlike Mohr’s opinion. Berger insists that photos communicate in a “half-language” that consists only of appearances, not a true knowing of this “that has been” moment in a photograph. Berger asserts that photographs connect with a desire within human beings to know a whole story through mere appearances. Photography appeals to this sense, and grounds the viewer in a world, assuring that this moment has been and thus the world and its connections are real. While Mohr feels a photo may explain a whole story (with his own explanation), Berger asserts that photographs can only speak about a part of a story, and even a caption rests upon an assumption of historical and human knowledge. Photographs are thus, according to Berger, limited in their narrative abilities.
It really is fascinating that Mohr can’t seem to let the photographs speak for themselves, especially considering the fact that he is the photographer.
John Berger and Jean Mohr, although they both write about photography, write about their subject from very different viewpoints. Mohr is a photographer and so writes about photography in a more pragmatic, mundane manner. For him, the question is not so much “what is a photograph?” as “is it ethical to take a picture now?” and “can people derive meaning from an uncaptioned photograph?”. He mostly writes about his experiences as a photographer and his mini social experiment, in which he showed uncaptioned pictures to people and asked them what they thought was going on. He kept his discussion about photography to its real world applications. On the other hand, Berger approached the topic from the viewpoint of a viewer and an art critic. He was interested in what a picture shows and what that means about the medium and its use in advertising and propaganda. He describes a photograph as being a quotation. A photo is similar to a fact, in that facts in themselves without explanations and deeper understanding cannot provide meaning, just as photos by themselves cannot explain what is going on and how the subjects really feel. Berger and Mohr did not have substantially different visions of photography. They agreed that a single photo needs an explanation to reveal its meaning. The series of photos in the middle of the book do not come with captions, but they are supposed to be viewed together, to allow the viewer a glimpse of what an Alpine peasant woman’s life looks like. The two also collaborated on this book. Since it is not set up as an argument between the two, it would seem to be a safe assumption that they hold similar views. The differences in their writing mainly stems from their opposite perspectives – one as photographer, one as viewer and critic. Comparing them is thus like comparing apples and oranges – they start from different places and write about different aspects of the same subject.
Does he really discuss advertising and propaganda in this book, or are you referring to some of his other writings?
Although I might be the minority position in this discussion, I feel that their vision and understanding of photography are quite similar. Both Berger and Mohr hint at the inherent limitations of photography as a means of knowledge, stemming from ambiguities in the photograph’s meanings.
Mohr, looking to fulfill the “desire to know how the images made are seen, read, interpreted, leaves the “task of explanation to others.” In doing so, Mohr resists “the need to explain (his photos), to tell their story” in order to have an understanding of the narrative limitations of the photographs. The most poignant example is the description of the Vietnam War protester, surrounded by cherry blossoms and youthful, vigorous, healthy face, mind, and body. There are many interpretations: amongst them all allude to a bright future and peace. However, behind the picture, is a war- with the imminent threat that this young man will face conscriptions and eventually have to go fight a war. The photograph, independent any caption or personal ties to it, doesn’t tell the proper story it demands- that this young man isn’t in fact peaceful and optimistic; rather, he is incited with fear and disgust about a war that threatens his youth and future.
Berger takes a very similar epistemological approach. He draws multiple diagrams illustrating the disconnect between the photograph itself, its meaning, and the observer. The bigger the circle between the photograph and the observer, the larger the personal connection and understanding of the historical implications from the photograph to the observer. As a result, Berger concludes that the “taking-out of the quotation produces a discontinuity, which is reflected in the ambiguity of a photograph’s meaning. All photographed events are ambiguous, except to those whose personal relation to the event is such that their own lives supply the missing continuity.” As such, we can never fully have an understanding of a photograph independent of a personal interaction.
Therefore, the elucidated motif of both Mohr and Berger’s vision of photography is that for its brilliance of capturing a particular moment in time, with the hindsight of death or a historical path, there are inherent limitations in photography that stem from the personal disconnect from the observer to the actual photograph.
Do they have different definitions of “ambiguity?”
Within “Another Way of Telling,” there is an interesting relationship between the two photographers/writers. Mohr and Berger both have a sense of documentation within the artform, yet Mohr seems to want to capture the essence of the subject as a whole. This is seen through his various pictures of the yeoman Marcel and the various photographs of the blind Indian girl who visits him as he sleeps (12-30). There is a sense of context within Mohr’s views on photography that allows for the spectator to share within the experiences of not only the photographer but also the subject. That is not to say that Mohr does not challenge the processes of context with his experiment with the various different people whom he shows different pictures to (50-57). It is an argument that it is ultimately up to the viewer to distinguish the context that they see within that photograph.
This is also similar to Berger’s views on photography, with the exception of ambiguity. Berger’s theory on the movement of photography and the meaning behind it. As there is more context and emotional support–such as a recognition of the subject–the photograph takes on a whole different meaning than previously thought (121). In this way, Berger and Mohr are congruous with their theory on the relativity of the spectator. There simply seems to be more ambiguity within Berger’s theory than Mohrs’.
Yes — I agree that “ambiguity” is not the same for both.
Berger and Mohr share similar visions in regards to the ambiguity of photography. They both comment on how easily a caption can alter the spectator’s perception of an image.
However, Mohr’s writing focuses more on the spectator while Berger’s is about the operator. Mohr’s view of taking photographs is illustrated when he describes “taking in my own way what was before my eyes, without paying and without asking permission” (11). His mission was to experience and understand peoples’ lives, which is why he spent so much time talking to and getting to know the lives and works of the subjects of his photographs.
Berger described his desire to “learn how to use a camera, in order to be able to take these photographs” (83). To him, the mechanics and apparatus of a camera was superior to the subject of the picture. The photographer was the ultimate authority on what was photographed, and that process was more important than viewing the final product. In a way, Berger excludes the human element by elevating the machine and declaring “The camera is my tool. Through it I give reason to everything around me” (128).
Contrarily, Mohr let his subjects choose which images were best and allowed them to guide his photographic decisions. In the farmer’s portrait, he was allowed to choose his own pose, framing, and lighting. Similarly, Mohr later conducted an experiment where viewers explained what they saw in a photograph because, as he says, “in face of any photo the spectator projects something of her or himself” (42).
Although Berger and Mohr diverged on their views of photography, it was this opposition that made them a complementary team. The balance of their two perspectives gave attention to the process of taking photographs, as well as the spectator and experience of viewing.
I think you are reading isolated bits of the text and generalizing them incorrectly. Mohr may say that he lets his subject decide what is best, but does he really? Also, does Berger really prioritize the operation of photography as much as you say he does?
John Berger and Jean Mohr have similarities when it comes to their passion and curiosity of photography. They have both collaborated together to find relationship between image and text and other elements of art and society (83). They also share the opinion that photography can only be viewed and understood on one side of the fence or existence. However, they do diverge on their vision of photography.
Jean Mohr has a much more emotional and sympathetic approach when examining a photograph. “…a photographer’s quest, the desire to know how the images he makes are seen, read, interpreted, perhaps rejected by others (42).” Mohr has a lot of focus on how the spectator sees the images and how they feel about them. He feels that he needs to explain the stories of the photographs to the viewers and asks the spectator what came to their minds when observing certain photographs. In a way, Mohr has a more photojournalistic point of view from photography because he seeks to tell the stories of past events through his pictures. Something that really reflected the action of a photojournalist is when he explains how in his travels to Djakara, Bandung, he captured images of starving children running along the train tracks, “I had a camera ready; how do you free yourself from an obsession, when you are a photographer, if not by photographing the object of obsession (73)?”
John Berger vision of photographer is much more intrinsic pertaining to the actual status and existence of the subjects in the photograph and the photograph as a whole. His focus is primarily on non-tangible elements of an image, “A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed one existed (86).” Some of the primary elements are time and memory. Berger believes that photographs can only evoke a feeling of nostalgia or the formation of memories if there is a personal connection, otherwise the photograph evokes no realization that it is a moment of time captured within an image. However, at the same time he does believe that certain photosgraphs can “give birth” to certain ideas that can lead to some recognition of past experiences (122).
All in all, Jean Mohr and John Berger are both curious about the connections between the facades and substances of photography but they have a different approach and vision to go about understanding these connections.
Berger’s is a much more social approach, and Mohr’s is much more aesthetic, it seems to me.
Berger and Mohr constantly complement each other in the same way photos complement text–and vice versa. Although their point of views, occupations, and ideas are arguably independent of one another, they ultimately support the same vision of photography: that photographs hold truth, but gain meaning through words, and that photographs create an ambiguity by their inherent possession of two facets. These facets are the photo’s ability to capture and end a moment and it’s illumination of the “abyss” that is present between the moment the photo was taken and the present of the spectator.
Mohr supports the idea that photographs, while proving existence and truth, cannot gain meaning without words. In his experiment of showing five photographs to ten people, Mohr demonstrates that the spectator assigns meaning to a photo through the words of their own imagined narrative (Mohr 42). Much like Mitchell’s idea of the imagetext, these people viewed the photograph as both an image and a textual narrative. Berger notes this phenomenon when he holds that a photograph is “irrefutable as evidence but weak in meaning” until it is “given a meaning by the words” (Berger 92).
This ambiguity of a photography’s narrative that Mohr demonstrates is tightly connected to the photograph’s inherent ambiguity in existence. Berger highlights this further in his discussion of hos a photograph contains a dichotomy of being. A photograph contains both the arresting of “the flow of time” and this discontinuity of the moment captured and the moment of seeing (Berger 86,87). Mohr highlights this same “abyss” in his experience in photographing the emaciated children following the train. Mohr realizes that that moment has disappeared–it no longer exists. But the faces of those children and the inaction of himself and others around him will haunt him continuously. Both the moment itself, and the haunting Mohr felt are immortalized in the photographs.
Berger and Mohr, while assenting in their vision of photography, attack the issue of its definition and meaning from worlds both decidedly separate and inherently connected. Berger, an art critic and a writer, comes upon the issue from an existential, questioning viewpoint. Mohr as a photographer, is wholly immersed in the experience of photography itself and the viewing of it. However, both Mohr and Berger collaborate on the vision of photography’s ambiguity and it’s simultaneous textual and visual meanings.
Do they share a definition of ambiguity?
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