What Time Is It? by John Berger and Selcuk Demirel

John Berger needs no introduction on the Ramblings; I’ve written often about this wonderful polymath thinker, and most recently on his thought-provoking book Confabulations. I’ve also regularly sung the praises of Notting Hill Editions and their beautful hardback editions. So the fact that the two come together in a new book has got to be a bonus! In fact, NHE have previously published two books by Berger and Demirel (I really must get hold of these…) and this final collection is something of a tribute to Berger. As the introduction by editor Maria Nadotti makes clear, the two men had discussed producing a book on the theme of time; Berger’s death came before this could be done. However, Nadotti has selected quotes from Berger’s work which Demirel has illustrated and result is just marvellous.

Nadotti, having worked on Berger’s texts over the years, is convinced that “Time” is the recurring theme of his art. Certainly, the quotes she’s selected are varied, thought-provoking and really intriguing; as someone who’s not read that many of his works, I would have been interested in knowing from which work each piece was chosen. But that’s by the by. Each quote is accompanied by one of Demirel’s illustrations, and they really are excellent. The blurb tells me that he’s a Turkish artist now based in Paris, and I can well believe that he’s much in demand. His images are quirky, colourful, thought-provoking and really quite beautiful. Nadotti describes the concept as being of the text and illustration walking together hand in hand, and they really do seem to do that.

Narrative is another way of making a moment indelible, for stories, when heard, stop the unilinear flow of time.

You can see example on the cover of the book; and here’s another – so clever and memorable, and yet they’re all so different.

As for Berger’s words, well they reflect many of the concerns I’ve picked up in his other books. The telling of stories; the passing of life; and of course politics and the inequalities of the world.

Migrant workers, already living in the metropolis, have the habit of visiting the main railway station. To talking groups there, to watch the trains come in, to receive first-hand news of the country, to anticipate the day when they will begin the return journey.

As always, Berger’s words resonate…

“What Time Is It?” is a thoughtful little volume, which I’ve found myself dipping into and going back to; not only to revisit Berger’s words of wisdom but also to study Demirel’s illustrations. Berger’s meditations on time are fascinating, reminding us that it often seems a fluid concept – five minutes until the end of a hated school lesson always seemed so much longer than the five minutes left until you were having to stop a pleasant occupation! The blurb describes the book as an “essay in pictures” which I think is a wonderful way of putting it. The works of Berger and Demirel illustrate and complement each other, and in 106 pages say a lot more than many weightier volumes! Another lovely volume from Notting Hill Editions, which I highly recommend!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks! “What Time is It?” is published today.)