The death of the photographer Jean Mohr….
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Jean Mohr late last month, I suppose, like many others, I first became aware of him and his work via the books of the late writer John Berger. His vital collaborations with Berger from the late sixties onwards helped a generation to make sense of the migration and displacement of peoples and their lack of basic human rights as politics and religion combined to drive them from their homes into places and lands they had no choice but to enter.
It was a fine partnership, Mohr’s imagery captured the hardship of the Turkish migrant workers sent into Germany in A Seventh Man (1975) whilst Berger’s words offered a sensible, considered take which demands a period of reflection from the reader. Throughout his career Mohr demonstrated a rounded view of world affairs, his images captured life in all its guises, children smiling in the foreground yet the monochrome backdrop offers little comfort and reminds us of the stoic nature of the peasant communities who, regardless of age, make a home in the bleakest of places.
I often draw on Berger, he was a wonderful man who, unwittingly, in life and death makes one strive to be a better human being, he was fascinated by people of all types and backgrounds but particularly those at the lowest rung of the ladder. I would dearly have loved to have listened to his conversations with Mohr, their shared works have stood the test of time and qualified for reprinting decades later. Enforced migration is nothing new, their books prove that we mustn’t treat the issue en masse, the tragedy is in the abuse of genuine suffering and seeing those most desperate pay for it as the pressures of populist division drives them back.
Mohr was the son of German immigrants, his father brought him to Switzerland in protest of Hitler’s rise to power and he received his citizenship in 1939, he was relatively late coming to photography but made up for lost time with some twenty six books, six of which with Berger. He studied and photographed the plight of the Palestinians for over fifty years and produced the seminal work on the situation in 2003 with Side by Side or Face to Face.
Their collaboration highlighted genuine post-war suffering, so many lessons could be learnt from what they recorded and whilst Mohr’s passing went largely unnoticed we must hope Berger’s work continues to inspire and in turn remind newcomers to the wonderful legacy they both left us with.