I immediately think of the “big four”: Barthes, Sontag, Benjamin and Berger, of course. Roland Barthes Camera Lucida was ground-breaking at the time, but I tire of semiotics and structuralism. Sontag? Again hugely important in the genre. I read “On Photography” in 1978, but it didn’t speak to me at the time and still I find it dry and dull. A giant that Walter Benjamin is of photographic criticism, again it’s hard work isn’t it?
But Berger! What a delight it is to read him. His individual readings of photographs, like Kertesz’s Red Hussar [1. Understanding a Photograph, John Berger; edited by Geoff Dyer, Penguin books 2013], speak directly to me. His simple, direct manner (” I try to put into words what I see”, in conversation with Salgado) belies the great skill required in saying something simply and eloquently, but always new.
“…Many nature photographs are like fashion photos. This is not to dismiss them; they record and admit pleasure. Mountaintops, waterfalls, meadows, lakes, beech trees in autumn, are asked to stand there, wearing themselves and giving the camera a moody look. And why not? They are reminders of the pleasure of at last arriving after hours in airports.”
Nature as hostess.
In Jitka’s pictures there is no welcome. They have been taken from the inside. The deep inside of a forest, perceived like the inside of a glove by a hand within it….
So fresh and immediate.
Other writers that also are inspiring include Sarkowski, Ian Jeffrey, Gerry Badger, Leo Steinberg and Geoff Dyer himself. But it’s Berger that I turn to most often.