Ways of seeing – John Berger

This set of episodes originally aired by the BBC in 1972 and accompanied the book by John Berger of the same name.  This book is recommended reading in the photography 1 EYV module.   I thought I’d give the video a try despite it being as old as I am.  Once you’ve stepped through the obvious fashion and production historical elements I was pleasantly surprised as to how valid the content is today, even the references in episode 4 are as true today.

John Berger – Ways of seeing Episode 1 on You Tube

Episode 1

Paintings in isolation, to be viewed where hung and only available to people who went to see them, usually in peace and quiet.  Since advent of the camera these images can be seen by millions of people everywhere and at the same time.  The images can be used to manipulate peoples experience by using music and portraying aspects of the painting at different times to portray a potentially different story to that of which the painter originally intended.  Paintings on walls in buildings to decorate buildings can only be viewed in situ to show their full story, the order in which each image is shown as you progress down a corridor can create a different chapter of a story and progress in a liner timeline if an artist intended it this way.  Now with a photographic image any one of those paintings can be reproduced and then shown out of sequence to literally paint a different story to you the viewer.

This episode also presents the fact that paintings will always be interpreted by people in a different way, the children in this episode looked at a painting by Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus ( http://www.artway.eu/content.php?id=1154&lang=en&action=show accessed 06/09/2016) and each had a different opinion on the painting, drawn as John mentions from their own experiences.  It was interesting to identify that the central figure was identified as female by the girls and male buy the boys, one even likened them to Jesus by one of the boys although this was then discussed and put aside when they explore the details such as hair and lack of stubble.

viewed 5th September 2016

Episode 2

This episode starts off with a monologue of women and how they see themselves, dress  and act.  Views expressed then are not necessarily those now, although some of the views could be considered current they are now also considered very sexist and entrapping of women.  The programme then goes onto explore the subject of female nudity and nakedness.  This relates to european views and culture in the artwork how man has perceived and also owned the female art form and indeed persecuted and blamed women  from as far back as Adam and Eve through to modern works and photography including glamour imagery. Don’t forget this programme was made in 1972

viewed 6th September 2016

Episode 3

This episode processes through the machinery of the oil painting and how it’s purpose was to emphasise wealth and to show the spectator that the subject of the paintings, normally land/property owners,  had a vast wealth and were putting it and themselves on display.  It makes reference to only the wealthy being able to do this and not the poor.  That paintings in the renaissance period often had gold leaf within the painting itself whereas later the gold leaf was on the frame and the subject of the painting was now the gold.  There was a painting shown of a dutch man sitting in a room which then contained contemporary paintings of the time but at the same time showed him sitting within that wealth and prosperity.  The spectators are shown to be acting, acting a part of their own paintings and becoming as one with the art.  Again, women are shown historically as beside/supporting the man in their lives.  The wealth exhibited was also highlighting where it came from, an African slave presenting a white owner with a painting exhibiting the very port from which this power, control and wealth emanated.

viewed 6th September 2016

Episode 4

Advertising, dreams of another place to be.  To buy something to make you richer and to be a better person.  Publicity is manufacturing glamour.  Paintings in advertising either included to add culture/prestige or the poses replicated.  Publicity and paintings share the same references however the paintings represent the owner, their current wealth and standings on society.  Advertising presents the reverse of this, it portrays an image or a lifestyle that the end user needs to buy and to become what’s portrayed in the advert, sexy, rich, happy and the environments associated with those feelings.

It was interesting to see the contrasting imagery/advertising in the Sunday Times magazine.  I’m writing this blog post 44 years after the show aired and yet, as then, we have the a migrant crisis in a foreign country,  we have advertising bombardment to buy products to aspire to another plane.  The messages are that by obtaining credit you can buy a better phone to then watch adverts in better quality of the people that are dying and fleeing conflict in Syria and other harsh realities of conflicts and conditions in Africa.  Truly reflecting that man has not changed in the last half a century and that our window on this has shifted and may be different but is always influenced by history.

viewed on 6th September 2016


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