Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Narrow Pass Across Despair: About Photos

"It is a commonplace that the significance of a work of art changes as it survives. Usually however, this knowledge is used to distinguish between 'them' (in the past) and 'us' (now). There is a tendency to picture them and their reactions to art as being embedded in history, and at the same time to credit ourselves with an over-view, looking across from what we treat as the summit of history. The surviving work of art then seems to confirm our superior position. The aim of its survival was us.

"This is illusion. There is no exemption from history. The first time I saw the Grünewald [ Isenheim Altarpiece ] I was anxious to place it historically. In terms of medieval religion, the plague, medicine, the Lazar house. Now I have been forced to place myself historically.

"In a period of revolutionary expectation [1968] I saw a work of art which had survived as evidence of the past's despair; in a period which has to be endured, I see the same work miraculously offering a narrow pass across despair."

-- John Berger, About Looking

Perhaps it doesn't go without saying that I'm applying this statement to the previous blog entries about the Left Bank images.


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