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From an essay by John Berger on Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti.

I’ve been thinking at BERG about other senses and empathies engaged by real and robotic dogs as companions, and found this just perfect and lovely.

30 December 2010 - 13.14.55-2

We live our daily lives in a constant exhange with the set of daily appearances surrounding us – often they are very familiar, sometimes they are unexpected and new, but always they confirm us in our lives. They do so even when they are threatening: the sight of a house burning, for example, or a man approaching us with a knife between his teeth, still reminds us (ungently) of our life and its importance. What we habitually see confirms us.

Yet it can happen, suddenly, unexpectedly, and most frequently in the half-light of glimpses, that we catch sight of another visible order which intersects with ours and has nothing to do with it.

The speed of a cinema film is 24 frames per second. God knows how many frames per second flicker past our daily perception. But it is as if at the brief moments I’m talking about, suddenly and disconcertingly we se between two frames. We come upon a part of the visible which wasn’t destined for us. Perhaps it was destined for — night-birds, reindeer, ferrets, eels, whales… Perhaps it was destined not only for animals but for lakes, slow-growing trees, ores, carbon…

Our customary visible order is not the only one: it co-exists with other orders. Stories of fairies, sprites, ogres were a human attempt to come to terms with this co-existence. Hunters are continually aware of it and so can read signs we do not see. Children feel it intuitively, because they have the habit of hiding behind things. There they discover the interstices between different sets of the visible.

Knock! Knock!
Who’s there?
Guess who!

Dogs, with their running legs, sharp noses and developed memory for sounds, are the natural frontier experts of these interstices. Their eyes, whose message often confuses us for it is urgent and mute, are attuned both to the human order and to other visible orders. Perhaps this is why, on so many occasions and for different reasons, we train dogs as guides.

Probably it was a dog who led Sammallahti to the moment and place for taking of each picture. In each one the human order, still in sight, is nevertheless no longer central and is slipping away. The interstices are open.

The result is unsettling for those who are not nomads. There is more solitude, more pain, more dereliction. At the same time, there is an expectancy which we have not experienced since childhood, since we talked to the dogs, listened their secret and kept it to ourselves.

If only more conference speakers felt this way…

I give very few talks about anything. I am terrible at knowing what I know. I assume that most people in the audience of any conference I attend will know more than me about anything I could talk about. For similar reasons, I’m no good at thinking of things I could write about for magazines. You all know what I know.

It turns out that I need to run a website on a very specialised topic for eight years before I’m in a position to feel confident talking about it. This may be a little extreme.

Probably something I should bear in mind.

“More hammering, less yammering” as Bleecker puts it.

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