what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

John Berger - someone to look up to....

I feel John Berger’s death (at age 90) very personally since he has accompanied me for most of my life….I vividly remember his (black and white) television documentary in the early 1970s - Ways of seeing - whose very title indeed continues to echo in my head and has influenced my writing inrecent years. The book can be read here in full…..

He was a writer who used words to craft sensitive stories about both artists and peasants (he lived in a village in the Haute Savoie from 1974) but was, for me, at his most powerful in two books he wrote with the Swiss photographer Jean Mohr –
- A Fortunate Man (1967) which followed the life and travails of an English country doctor and which can be read in its entirety here
- A Seventh Man (1975) which looked at the fate of immigrants in post-war Europe….

His writing, like the man we saw in later interviews, was extraordinarily thoughtful – not for him the slick phrases which pass for most interviews these days. Words were magic and needed to be weighed carefully….I was amazed to find, as I googled for the Berger resource I have put together below, a virtual conversation Noam Chomsky had with him in 2014

A John Berger resource


  1. Thank you for the link to the John Berger documentary and the e-book, both are a revelation. I was wondering whether you have come across a programme on the Programa Hristo Botev of the Bulgarian National Radio called Radioencyclopaedia. This particular programme on the history of the portrait discusses how, after the Liberation in Bulgaria, people were unfamiliar with and hostile to the idea of light and shade on the depicted faces for example.

  2. Quite fascinating Boryana - and no I'm not familiar with the radio programme (which I see has some English text). I have often wondered about this issue - since I appreciate that the Muslim domination of the country in the 19th century made it very difficult to show human images....I awlays assumed that this was one of the rasons for the vitality of Bulgarian painting (not least in the sheer number of artists you have had)
    Thanks for mentioning my book (which can be accessed by readers in the top right corner of the blog and) which has annotated notes on 300 painters of the early/mid 20th century....

    1. Yes, showing human images during the Ottoman dominion was very difficult indeed. In fact, human images existed only as icons in churches and at homes, and on church murals too. Church benefactors and tsars and their families were also depicted on church walls in the icon style - two-dimensional, no external source of light - even when they were laity and not saints. Examples of this can be seen at the 12-century Boyana Church in Sofia today. Thus, if I may use something I picked up from the John Berger book, the Bulgarian eye and mind, until the 19th century at least, were not trained in the painting conventions used to represent reality since the Renaissance, such as perspective and light and shade. The radioprogramme I referred to above says Bulgarians of the 19th century saw light and shade on depicted faces as superfluous and ugly blots. In the early 20th century, painter Vladimir Dimitrov - Maystora received academic training but then returned to painting maidens in the icon style, and some church benefactors of today end up, to the dismay of many, being portrayed like tsar Kaloyan and his wife Dessislava, inside the churches they have helped renovate...