263 of 267 people found the following review helpful
Berger's book is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s.,
This review is from: Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series (Paperback)
How can a paperback book that was first published in 1972 by the British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books still be held in such high esteem by its readers. Could this inexpensive book really have survived the ravages of time? The answer to this later question is evidently yes. Despite its age this book remains on most Cultural and Media studies courses lists of recommended reading and is even compulsory on some.
The book itself is comprised of six independent, and yet linked, essays. The first textual essay opens with the words 'Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak'. This essay sets the scene for all of the following essays. It identifies that we live in a world of visual imagery. Three of the essays are collections of images. Many of these have been stripped of their titles or any explanation as to who or what they represent therefore allowing the spectator to interpret them themselves. Essay number 3 looks at the nude but more importantly how the social presence of a woman is different from that of a man. Essay number 5 looks at art though mainly explores the differences between looking at or seeing a painting and the desire to possess it. It draws on the work of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss to illustrate this point. It then slowly teaches the reader how to deconstruct an image and goes into great depth to explain how every small detail is an integral part of the final overall reading. The final essay is about publicity. Which is as relevant now as it has ever been. Even in this technologically changing world publicity still uses the past to sell the future.
The essays do not need to be read in any particular order, which makes it a very useful dip-in book and its size makes it easy to carry it around either in a bag or perhaps a large pocket. It is well written and is therefore a delight to read.
As strange as this may seem, a quote published in the book from an article written by Dziga Vertov, a soviet film director, makes a timely eulogy for the book itself.
'My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you'.
Although Vertov was talking about a film camera this quote could so easily describe the intention of the book itself. So the answer to why this book continues to be held in such high esteem is simple. As long as we have eyes to see, visual imagery will remain an important signifier of our culture.
In order to understand our culture we need to be able to read these images. This book helps the reader achieve this. So this little timeless paperback book will remain in pride of place amongst the multitude of hard cover books on my office shelf and no doubt the shelves of many homes and University libraries for many years to come. I would recommend it to anyone.