Another Way of Telling and Art Photography

  By John Veldhoen

Lookit, a couple years ago I wrote a dumb essay, basically on the subject of photography for a philosophy journal. There was one interesting part, where I drew a line between Stendhal’s crystallization and to the development of silver halide in analog printing, and then paralleled Christian Bök’s utterly masterful book Crystallography. The journal returned by submission with encouragement to keep writing, and submitting, but felt the essay was too declamatory, and too dense to be clear-minded. At the time, I thought that was a total bummer. I felt that my métier, the citation grammar I used, the code I employed, was declamatory, and not empirical by nature, so I didn’t agree with the rejection, because I felt like hey, I was playing by the rules of the game. But in retrospect… In retrospect I am happy it wasn’t published. I have learned that I was wrong about the text I wrote, and for writing it, the part on crystallization notwithstanding, and I have learned that philosophy, and poetry, are not “critical theory”. Actually, I am not sure if I think that the last thing is really a thing at all… Philosophy, and to a greater degree poetry, and even photography, all have to do with expressing an inner experience of the outer world. The danger is letting the outer world determine that inner expression to a degree where one ends up echoing a code regardless of feeling.

I waited for a re-print Another Way of Telling the last few months, and when it came in last week I bought it, and read it enthusiastically. Jean Mohr’s photography is great, especially the last section of the book, taken mostly of peasants in the Haute-Savoie region of Eastern France. The photos reminded me that the best of what occurs in art, and in life, is like what Guido de Bres wrote, “For it is before our eyes as a most beautiful Book”.

In an incomparable survey from the Tate Modern in London, called Art Photography, that decodes art photographs, and goes far to help the lay-person understand how photography relates to the other visual arts, I noticed how Berger’s name came up on page one, and later so did Roland Barthes’ (the ostensible subject of my last writing), and his idea that photos communicate without a code. There is so much I want to write about this idea, and how I so fundamentally disagree with his grounds for de-coding photography, but I haven’t the space. The arguments in the book at hand are subtle and wide-ranging in implication, I have to admit, but even so, I recommend “Another Way of Telling”, because it rousted me to thinking, and I am glad I own it, especially for Mohr’s photos. Not to mention for a story Mohr tells of taking a photograph of a blind Indian girl, which is as stunning as the photos. Mohr’s transcription of reactions to his photographs by viewers, illuminating for any photographer, or anyone interested in photography, commends “Another Way of Telling”, also. In the end, I am given to a felt disagreement with Berger, even if the disagreement is a very nuanced form of agreement, in the final analysis. When Berger writes, “Renan historicized Christianity”, he reminds me of a video I saw of Chris Killip, telling a story about a response he got to using the word history, “I don’t know nothing about no f-ing history, I’m just telling you what happened”.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.