Everything You Know is an Anomaly

Why is our society a historical exception.

Marjan Krebelj

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When I was a student, I adored lectures on art history. I was passionately studying everyone, from Imhotep to Rembrandt and Rothko. One of the books that brought them to life was Gombrich’s The Story of Art, which describes their life and work so vividly that I almost felt like being right there, in their studios. These were my heroes, and after spending so much time with them and their works at museums, I thought I knew art history pretty well.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)

So imagine my bewilderment when a couple of years later I stumbled upon another book: Ways of Seeing by John Berger. In this book, Berger asks a simple question: What about the others?

What about those painters who are not in books like Gombrich’s, all those thousands upon thousands of anonymous painters who produced so many nameless paintings that are, up till today, being sold on flea markets? Aren’t they part of history? And if so, where do they fit? What are their paintings telling us about Art, society, and its people?

In short, Berger focused on the negative space between the giants usually described in history books. By doing that, one quickly realizes that people like Rembrandt or Rothko are, in fact, not part of the general flow; they are exceptions. These are sporadic peaks, which is why we know about them.

And it is no different in the present moment. In photography, we admire contemporary masters like Annie Liebowitz, Steve McCurry, James Nachtwey, and Richard Avedon. But they are merely the ones that made it to the big stage.

What about humble little me? I am a photographer; I take pictures for a living; I shoot everything, from weddings to commercial shots, in the hope of reaching the level of success of those mentioned above. There are thousands of others like me who do aspire to the same. Almost none of us will go down to history books, yet here we are, just as alive and some times just as creative.

So what is history, really? Is it the succession of exceptions, from Imhotep to Rothko, from Nadar to Annie Liebowitz, or the flow of the nameless thousands?

You tell me.

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Marjan Krebelj

Once an architect, now a freelance photographer/filmmaker with passion for words.