A young man and woman embrace, seemingly oblivious to everyone around them. They are intimate and gentle, locked into a private world – a love affair, a love scene even. A very private act in a public space. But although the lovers hold centre-stage, the photograph is not principally “about” them.
We see the other trippers looking out of the frame, presumably at Beachy Head’s chalk cliffs. Their faces betray unease. Everyone is quiet, pensive and above all avoiding the love scene that is playing out, as though there is an unspoken agreement at work – an act of collusion. Very English! “No sex here please, we are British”!
So the photograph is about the relationship between the lovers and the other trippers. The lovers with life-unlived, care-free; the trippers with life-lived, care-worn.
But that’s not all. A parallel scene is being played out:
“Photography is the process of rendering observation self-conscious” Berger explains, “What it shows invokes what is not shown”. 1. What is shown is clear: the lovers and the travellers, (the “also-rans”). But what is not shown? The lovers have a different destiny to the travellers. The two groups are bound to different fates. From premises, consequences flow. The lovers look forward in time, entwined within a common fate. The travellers look back, remembering their own past experiences which are now unfolding before them in the guise of the lovers, momentarily halting the remorseless succession of moments. The former with Future; the latter with Past. We see ourselves as simultaneous members of both groups. With a foot in each camp we are caught between them, between past and future: outside of time and place.
- Understanding a Photograph by John Berger; Penguin 1967; ISBN 978-0-141-39202-8