Looking at Pictures and Photographs

Drawing A Line, John Berger

“Everything in life, is a question of drawing a life, John, and you have to decide for yourself where to draw it. You cant draw it for others. You can try, of course, but it doesn’t work. People obeying rules laid down my somebody else is not the same thing as respecting life. And if you want to respect life, you have to draw a line.”
― John Berger, Here Is Where We Meet: A Fiction

“Whenever the intensity of looking reaches a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinizing.”
― John Berger

“I can’t tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten.
I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumour and a legend because it makes sense of what life’s brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour.”
― John Berger

“The impulse to paint comes neither from observation nor from the soul (which is probably blind) but from an encounter: the encounter between painter and model: even if the model is a mountain or a shelf of empty medicine bottles.”
― John Berger, The Shape of a Pocket


From My Land To The Planet, Sebastiao Salgado

“Each of my photos is a choice. Even in difficult situations, you have to want to be there and to assume responsibility for being there. Adhering or not to what is happening, but always knowing why you are in a certain place. Following the landless was my way of participating in their movement. Showing images of famine in Africa, a way of denouncing it. Everywhere, these images have provoked reaction. Photography is a language that is all the more powerful because it can be read anywhere in the world without the need for translation.”
(Images of a World in Distress)

“As I have already said, I saw so much suffering, hatred and violence in the course of my reportages for Migrations, that I emerged from it extremely shaken. But I have no regrets about doing them. I am sometimes asked: ‘When you are faced with such atrocities, what is a good photo?’ My reply is concise: photography is my language. The photographer is there to keep his mouth shut, whatever the situation. His task is to look and to photograph. It is through photography that I work, express myself and live.

I love Rwanda. I wanted to photograph its workers and its plantations, the beauty of its parks, as well as the atrocities that took place there, for this very reason – I love it. And at that horrific time, I photographed it with all my heart. I thought the whole world needed to know. No one has the right to protect himself from the tragedies of his time, because we are all responsible, in a certain way, for what happens in the society in which we have chosen to live.

We have to recognize that this consumer society, to which we all belong, exploits and impoverishes many of the planet’s inhabitants. We all have a duty to keep ourselves informed about the tragedies arising from the inequalities between North and South and the string of disasters this engenders, through radio, television, reading the papers and looking at photos. This is our world, we have to assume responsibility for it. Disasters are not created by photographers, but are the symptoms of the dysfunctions of this world of which we are all part. Photographers are there to act as mirrors, just like journalists. So don’t talk to me about voyeurism! The voyeurs are the politicians who stood idly by and the military who facilitated the repression in Rwanda. They are responsible, together with the United Nations Security Council, which, with all its failings, could not prevent millions of people from being murdered.

I have always tried to show people in all their dignity. In the majority of cases, they are the victims of cruelty, of events. They are photographed at a time in which they have lost their homes, seen their loved ones murdered, sometimes even their own children. For the most part, they are innocent people who do not deserve the misfortunes that have struck them. I took these photos because I thought that everyone needed to know. That is my opinion, but I don’t force anyone to look at them. I am not here to lecture or to set my conscience at rest by arousing feelings of compassion. I took these images because I had a moral, ethical obligation to do so. In such moments of suffering, you may ask, what are morals, what are ethics? It is when I am faced with someone who is dying and I have to decide whether or not to release the shutter of my camera.”
(Looking Death In The Face)