Episode One

Below you will find the first episode of Ways of Seeing

In the first episode of this ground-breaking 1972 series, John Berger considers the external factors that surround an image, contextualising them within the ‘modern day’.  He considers and questions how viewers of the modern age, view and recieive images, paying particular interest in the invention of the camera. The camera, to Berger, has had a radical influence on how we see art, and also has greatly impacted upon its accessability, – images that were once static, can now travel vast distances, around the world.

This episode also brings to question the role of reproductions; how famous works that once belonged solely in an esteemed gallery setting, could now be brought in to the confines of ones home, the choice of wallpaper, carpet, and curtains all impacting upon the pieces reception. To explain this point further, Berger provides the example of The Icon. Worshipers converge upon it, as to them, behind the image is God, the placement of The Icon a place of meaning, of spiritual significance. However, due to reproduction, the image now has no place. You can see The Icon in the comfort of your own home, the image can now travel to you instead of you to it. Because of the camera, there is now no need for pilgrimage, as the meaning of the painting no longer exists in its location, it has become a transmittable piece of data, – like news.

The reproduction stands as a distortion of the ‘real’ image, it can remove scale, texture,and even colour from the work. Because of this, Berger states, its meaning, or importance, has become replaced by monetary value – a substitute or compensation for what an artwork lost when reproduced by a camera. The camera strips the work of its original meaning, re-clothing it with meanings dependent of its setting, whether it a book, a living room, or postcard.

These meanings can be further changed, subverted, or even diluted, by the camera. It can zoom in and highlight specific areas of an image, shifting its meaning or adding a new perception of the work entirely.

In this episode John Berger also briefly considers the role of music in our understanding of a work, it can greatly impact on our perception of a piece, it can add grandeur to a work, or sorrow to another, Berger showed that different music can give a piece a different meaning, opera for example can give an element of aggression and urgency, where as choral sounds can sanctify an image.

Considered in the last section of the episode was how juxtaposition could impact upon a piece of art. changing its meaning, depending upon what it lays beside. In this way, reproduction should make it much easier for us as a view to connect to a work linking our experiences to them directly.

Though created in the seventies, this episode is a poignant reminder of the multitude of external features we take for granted upon viewing a work, and is possibly relevant more so today, than upon its first release, with communication ever more easy and open, art is more accessible than ever as are the varying platforms it can be viewed upon.

Berger, J. 2012. Ways of Seeing Episode 1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0pDE4VX_9Kk  [Accessed: 10/06/13].


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