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Ways of Seeing

August 13, 2010

Art by Madokan Suzuki

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30 minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger’s scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The series criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. It is considered to be a seminal work for current studies of visual culture and art history.

The first part of the television series drew on ideas from Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” arguing that through reproduction an old master painting’s modern context is severed from that which existed at the time of its making. The second film discusses the female nude. Berger asserts that only twenty or thirty old masters depict a woman as herself rather than as a subject of male idealization or desire.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Thanks to Ryan A and The Grand Narrative for reminding me about it (the latter also contains an interesting analysis of Gundam depiction in advertising).

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11 comments

  1. Very intriguing perspectives. Will be finishing the 2nd episode on the Grand Narrative article. :)

    The first episode is sensible, and I’ve thought about some forms of those questions though not with still art. I still think the context (time/place/mood/weather/season) of experience has a great effect on the overall impression.


    • Indeed, context does have a very strong impact. In fact, research in cognitive psychology also supports this.


  2. Again, food for thought! Thank you.


    • You are welcome :)


  3. Finished the first episode; thank you so much for sharing this. That was so enlightening for me — who, often feels rather inadequate in my practice of criticism of the visual aspect of narratives.

    I truly am thankful. I’ll return to watch the second episode soon.

    I find it interesting how the conclusion in the pilot ep acknowledges the lack of participation of the viewer — limitations of the technology of the time. It would be very interesting to work with a contemporary version of this series.

    I mean, I’m already interacting with it — or rather, interacting with your interaction with it (by your means of using your own means of production).

    I other matters, the stills that “become narrative” by means of camera movement is something I’m very interested in, as a person who makes a lot of slide shows, and in relation to my own observations of shows like Anno’s Kare Kano and Shinbo’s Bakemonogatari. Beyond the conversation of budget/means of production limitations, what is actually achieved by these techniques in anime where it violently breaks with the fluidity of the moving pictures?

    I’m interested in what you have to say on the matter.


    • Thank you! I am glad you found it useful :)

      Ah yes… This is one of my favorite subjects, and I can talk for hours about it, but I have limited time, so I’ll be brief.

      - The effect on affect of a spectator would depend on context, cues, and emphasized modality. The break re-focuses attention of the spectator on an object of interest of the creator. For example, you might see a picture that will prime your reaction to a dialog/sound/music in the background.
      - I highly recommend Scott McCloud’s books, especially Understanding Comics that discusses many aspects of visual narratives. One of my favorite chapters in this book is on artist evolution – a fascinating and inspiring reading.
      - There was a discussion on Ha Neul Seom about the discontinuity in Shinbo works in one of the posts
      - As shown in the first episode of Ways of Seeing, story-boarding and editing play key roles in film. Miyazaki has some excellent storyboards and here is a brief overview of montage theory.


      • Thank you for all those links. I’ll endeavor too read and reflect on them in my time :3


  4. very very interesting…if only it loaded faster :/


    • Yup, that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to put all parts for the second episode.


  5. Well that was an interesting watch. In AMVs, manipulating images and giving them new meaning under a different context is something I never gave much thought too, even when I have always noticed scenes been portrayed with completely different emotions from their original source. Certainly something I will keep in mind when watching random tube vids.



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