Tag Archives: through

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.

Exercise-Project-1-The Language of Photography

Photo by Elliott Erwitt, 1974.  Titled, ‘Dog legs’ This linked image is from: http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk

At first glance the joke in this picture can be easily missed, simply a small ‘cute’ dog on a lead with it’s owners in a park.  The image has been taken at a very low angle from the level of the small dog cutting off the rest of the owners bodies from the frame.  But a second look and something is wrong with the two pairs of legs.  The nearest (probably) the dog’s mistress in her high length boots and now we notice the second pair of legs belong to another dog that appears to be only standing on it’s hind legs like a man.  (In fact with very close scrutiny you can work out that these are a tall dog’s front legs and the dog is standing diagonally to the photographer with it’s belly and hind legs cropped from the frame.) The subjects are positioned approximately one-quarter of the way up the frame with the cute dog to the right looking in to the lens; so drawing the viewer’s eye away from the left side of the picture.  The small dog is what Roland Barthes would call the ‘punctum’ in the image. The mistress stands in the middle and our eyes naturally glance at the boots which we expect to see the second pair of legs take third place in our visual priority and so don’t stand out until we take a closer look at the picture.  The image is also in black-and-white this also helps with the deception.  If it had been in colour I am sure the tan fur legs would have appeared more obviously in the image and the joke would have been weaker.  Erwitt had used a structure of vertical lines in this image which has an element of design. The image is backlit which makes his subjects stand out from the background.  The composition draws the eyes from the bottom of the picture through these vertical lines to the top.  The placement of the tall dog’s legs next to the lady’s boots looks natural, as if two people were standing posing before the photographer with their dog.  The depth-of-field is kept fairly shallow to keep the eyes from looking deeper in to the background that is unimportant.