Reflection on John Berger · Another way of telling

Berger writes clearly and persuasively about the topic of the reality of the photo. Of all of the different explanations that I have studied about the ontology of the photographic image and the reality of what is photographed I have found this Berger does the best job of explaining the theme.

Berger’s discussion in relation to the photographic image is interesting from several perspectives. First of all we have to accept the premise that the photo does not have its own language and that the photographic image is inherently ambiguous. The viewer can only ascribe meaning to an image in time, not instantaneously and there has to be a connection through time, preceding and contextualising the image (Berger, & Mohr, 1982) [1]

The theme of truth and reality via the photo are becoming increasingly important questions for me. This is partly because of the personal value that I hold for truth in communication. Without truth, perhaps it is difficult to maintain or develop a society. A lack of truth undermines confidence. Therefore in society to day it seems that we have this awful situation of a lack of confidence in the establishment. People are revolting because they feel lied to.

Later on Berger enters the discussion about a photo being a ‘half language’. Photos quote appearances and such do not fully explain a situation unless there is a strong legibility of appearances. The photo, according to Berger, is like a slice through a continuum in time diagrammatically explained as:

————-/———-> (1)                                                  —————o————-> (2)

The line through the arrow indicated a slice through a sequence that shows an instantaneous image with low grade or range of narrative. These images can confuse. If there is no recognisable content, the image will potentially leave the viewer without a clue. The next image (2) shows that the circle in the middle of the arrow offers a wider narrative. If we imagine the circle to be bigger still, the narration can be seen to be broader and more expressive. (Berger & Mohr, 1982) [2]

So what I take from this is that the range of narrative depends upon the skill of the photographer choosing a subject that has a broad reach capacity to an audience whereby different individuals can make sense of an image even if they do not understand much about the subject. The context supports the process. In addition, the broader topic has universal elements that can be connected to. An image that is abstract and dissociated in time and context has less chance perhaps of being interesting to the viewer.


  1. Berger, J. & Mohr, J. Another way of telling (1982) Granta Books
  2. Berger, J. & Mohr, J. Another way of telling (1982:117-128) Granta Books.

Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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