Bergere, John. ‘Appearances’ Another Way of Telling (New York: Vintage Books, 1982) 81-


A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed. All photographs are off the past, yet in them an instant of the past is arrested so that, unlike a lived past, it can never lead to the present. Every photograph presents us with two messages: a message concerning the event photographed and another concerning the shock of discontinuity.


Our response to appearances is a very deep one, and it includes elements which are instinctive and atavistic.

More widely, the look of the world is the widest possibleconfirmation of the thereness of the world, and thus the look of the world continually proposes and confirms our relation to that thereness, which nourishes our sense of Being.


The ambiguity of a photograph does not reside within the instant of the event photographed: there the photographic evidence is less ambiguous than any eye-witness account. […] The ambiguity arises out of that discontinuity which gives rise to the second of the photograph’s twin messages. (The abyss between the moment recorded and the moment of looking.)


A photograph preserves a moment of time and prevents it being effaced by the supersession of further moments. In this respect photographs might be compared to images stored in the memory. Yet there is a fundamental difference: whereas remembered images are the residue of continuous experience, a photograph isolates the appearances of a disconnected instant.

Without a story, without an unfolding, there is no meaning.

Certainty may be instantaneous; doubt requires duration; meaning is born of the two. An instant photographed can only aquire meaning insofar as the viewer can read into it a duration extending beyond itself. When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it a past and a future.

All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity. If the event is a public event, this continuity is history; if it is personal, the continuity, which has been broken, is a life story. Even a pure landscape breaks a continuity: that of the light and of the weather.

Discontinuity always produces ambiguity.


Yet the positivist utopia was not achieved. And the world today is less controllable by experts, who have mastered what they believe is its mechanisms, than it was in the nineteenth century.

What was achieved was unprecedented scientific and technical progress and, eventually, the subbordination of all other values to those of a world market which treats everything, including people and their labour and their lives and their deaths, as a commodity.


In such a system there is no space for experience. Each person’s experience remains an individual problem. Personal psychology replaces philosophy as an explanation of the world.

Nor is there space for the social function of subjectivity.

[Berger discusses]

If no theoretical distinction has been made between the photograph as scientific evidence and the photograph as means of communication, this has not been so much an oversight as a proposal.

The proposal was (and is) that when something is visble, it is a fact, and that facts contain the only truth.

It seems likely that the denial of the innate ambiguity of the photograph is closely connected with the denial of the social function of subjectivity.


[…] The significance of the instant photographed is already claiming minutes, weeks, years.


The human imagination which grasps and unifies time (before imagination existed, each time scale – cosmic, geological, biological – was disparate) had always had the capacity of undoing time. This capacity is closely connected with the faculty of memory. Yet time is undone not only by being remembered but also by the living of certain moments which defy the passing of time, not so much by being unforgettable but because, within the experience of such moments there is an imperviousness to time.


When in the eighteenth century the rate of historical change began to accelerate, causing the principle of historical progress to be born, the timeless or unchanging was claimed by and gradually incorporated into historical time.

The principle of historical progress insisted that the elimination of all other views of history save its own was part of that progress.

[…] a deep violence was done to subjective experience. And to argue that this is unimportant in comparison with the objective historical

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