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About Looking by John Berger

about-looking

John Berger, About Looking (1980) London: Bloomsbury. ISBN: 978-0-7475-9957-9

Among my pile of books yet to read as part of my studies I had ‘About Looking’ by John Berger.  I have only recently been introduced to this author through my Context and Narrative Course, I read his book ‘Ways of Seeing’ and watched the accompanying BBC TV program on YouTube which I found very interesting. I then went onto read ‘Understanding a Photograph’, in preparation for my fourth assignment.  The recent sad news of John Berger’s death prompted me to read this book, ‘About Looking’.

This book is made up of a selection of essays, Berger wrote from the mid 1960’s up to the late 1970’s.

His first essay examines how man looks and sees himself; how he regards animals and his world around him and compares this to how other animals regards themselves, man and the world through their eyes.

His next essay looks at pictures by August Sander the famous farm hands going to a dance photo, Young Farmers (1914) and another image of a local musical band posing for their photograph and he discusses how their suits give away their status in society despite their smart attire.

Also included is an essay on the works of Paul Strand.  The rest of the book moves away from photography and looks at works by other artists from the 17th century such as Hals through to Artist’s such as Francis Bacon and Giacometti of the 20th century.

An interesting read, Berger had his own style of writing and if you have heard him speak you can almost hear his voice coming through the pages of the book.

He was clearly very passionate about art and I am sure a nice guy to have met.  I am sure all who were fortunate enough to have met him will miss him.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

I have just read a good book by John Berger called Ways of Seeing (1972) London: Penguin. ISBN: 978-0-141-03579-6.

The book complemented a BBC four part TV series of the same name first broadcasted in 1974 and is available to watch on YouTube.  The T.V. series and book was ground breaking work for demystifying the Art of oil paintings and demonstrating how the reading of pictures has changed and been adapted for modern life.  John Berger begins by explaining how photography has had a dramatic effect on art particularly for the oil painting by both making it more democratically available to be seen by many but by producing facsimile copies it has also changed the way pictures are and can be seen.  For example a facsimile of Adam and God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome will not be identical (a perfect double) as there will only be one original and can only be seen in situ above your head.  Therefor any facsimile will be seen out on context of it’s location and out of context from the rest of the fresco.  By removing the original context will potentially change the meaning and interpretation of the picture.

Publicity – John Berger has used examples of advertising (he refers to it as publicity) to demonstrate how the meanings of pictures can be changed and manipulated.  He also discussed how the Nude has been used in art and how the pictorial language for the female Nude has changed over the centuries from medieval Adam and Eve frescos to the 19th century realists illustrating the symbols of vanity, desire, purity, and ownership, etc. that have been associated with the Nude in the language of the picture.  Again John Berger has illustrated how modern photographers have used oil painting of nudes to construct their own nude images by copying poses and themes and how advertising has also used the nude to convey a message for commerce.

Ways of Seeing is made up of seven chapters, three of these chapters are picture essays with no text.

A good book but perhaps a little hard to understand without watching the BBC series as well.  However, it is easy to find on YouTube and I am sure the BBC still broadcast it for Schools and Colleges.