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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

Critic’s Notebook

Photography seen from outside and in

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.”

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