Another Way of Saying Goodbye

Michael Hayward

Those who were close to the late John Berger have spoken of his generosity, praising Berger’s collaborative nature and his ability to establish and sustain creative friendships throughout a long and productive life. Photographer Jean Mohr worked with Berger on a number of books, including A Seventh Man, a prescient and influential examination of the lives of migrant workers in Europe, a subject that is even more relevant today than when the book was first published in 1975. Mohr pays tribute to his fifty years of friendship with Berger in John by Jean, a book of photographs published last year by Occasional Press. As you leaf through the book you see Berger at work and at play; you see a lifetime compressed into 168 pages, Berger’s hair colour changing from dark brown to snow white, his face gradually settling into its final landscape, the deep lines expressing (in Mohr’s words) “a balance between the intellectual and the farmer.” The artist John Christie first met Berger when he directed the BBC series Another Way of Telling (based on the 1982 book of the same name by Berger and Mohr), which attempted to lay the groundwork for a new theory of photography. Christie became a regular collaborator with Berger, their work together including I Send You This Cadmium Red (21), an illustrated volume of their correspondence (now out of print, with copies commanding exorbitant prices on the Internet). This fascinating and beautiful volume now has an equally beautiful sequel: Lapwing and Fox, published last year by Christie’s own imprint, Objectif Press ( The letters in Lapwing and Fox are presented in two forms, the original letters in facsimile, followed by transcriptions. There is a distinct pleasure in slowly deciphering Berger’s handwriting in the originals, puzzling out his annotations and corrections, single words inserted above a caret or elided with a stroke, the emendations offering evidence of his thought processes. The conversations recorded in these letters range widely, the connecting thread being the creative act, and the varied means by which artists attempt to communicate their understanding of the visible and invisible aspects of the world. A Jar of Wild Flowers (Zed Books), a collection of short “essays in celebration of John Berger,” was originally published to mark Berger’s 9th birthday in November of 216. Berger died in January of this year, and the essays now serve as eulogies from some of the many who were influenced by his life and work.

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