People began writing about photography almost as soon as people began taking photographs. They did so despite the fact that, as John Berger writes in his new collection, “Understanding a Photograph,” “the visual never allows itself to be translated intact into the verbal.” The slyly elegant loophole provided by “intact” is a reminder of what words can nonetheless do for the visual. It’s also a reminder of what a searching and astute writer Berger is.
Is such a reminder necessary? Berger (rhymes with “merger”) turns 88 in November. He is truly one of a kind: novelist and short story writer, painter, polemicist, screenwriter, essayist, art critic, man of the left, even television presenter. What’s likely his best-known work is the series he presented (on the BBC, in 1972) and the book derived from it, “Ways of Seeing.”