Watching both the BBC Series & reading the chapter on John Berger’s Ways of Seeing in the book Basic Critical theory for Photographers Ashley la Grange 2005.

Basic Critical theory for Photographers Ashley la Grange 2005 | Chapter 1 – John Berger, Ways of Seeing

“A privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling class”

A man’s presence suggests what he may or may not be able to do to or for you.  In contrast a woman’s presence indicates what can or cannot be done to her. Everything she does contributes to her presence. She is born into the keeping of men, and from childhood is taught to survey herself, with the result that her being is split in two, the surveyed and the surveyor. Her own sense of being is replaced by a sense of being appreciated by others – ultimately men. He acts, she appears, and she watches herself being looked at. “The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” 

In European oil painting, nudes reveal how women have been seen and judged as sights. The first nudes in this tradition illustrate the story of Adam & Eve. Having eaten the apple they see each other in a different way, so nakedness was in the eye of the beholder. Secondly, the woman is blamed and made subservience to the man by way of punishment.

During the renaissance the story of Adam & Eve disappeared and instead a single moment was shown, usually the moment of shame. However, the shame is directed more at the viewer than towards each other. Gradually, the shame became a kind of display. The implication that the woman was aware of being seen by the spectator, as a result she was not naked in her own right but naked as the (male) viewer saw her. [cross referenced and discussed here]
Nudes – looking at the viewer looking at them; of women looking in mirrors joining the spectacle of themselves. Common is the sense of woman being watched; by men in the painting; by herself; by the spectator towards whom her body is often turned.

In most oil painted nudes, the main character is never painted; this is the male spectator for whom everything has been done.

Allegory of Time and Love – Venus kissing Cupid but the bodies are arranged so as not to reflect the story  but instead contorted for the male viewer. The picture appeals to his sexuality not hers.

Body hair suggests power and passion and the male spectator feels these are his characteristics not the nudes. 
The unequalness of the relationship exploited by oil painting is still deeply embedded in our culture and shapes the thinking of many women. 

“The essential way of seeing women and the essential use to which their images are put has not changed. The ideal spectator is still male and the image is designed to flatter him. 


Being enviable makes the person glamorous and publicity manufactures glamour.  Publicity remixes happiness gained by being envied by others, and this is glamour.
[is this still true today? – the keeping up with the Jones’ mentality doesn’t seem as relevant today but then influencers and social media have taken the place of the traditional form of advertising. We’re no longer keeping up with the lives offered in adverts but with the ones portrayed on social media by the influences sharing carefully curated content].

Capitalism – where the individual is trapped between what he is and what he wants to be.  Response 1 envy + daydreaming = glamour/consumerism or Response 2 political activism against capitalism. Publicity is a substitute for true democracy, instead of making significantly political choices the individual asserts their individuality by choosing what to buy.

Cross reference to Betty Friedan – The Feminine Mystique

women the suicide of self by betraying own needs and self. Vicariously living through others. Women can not imagine themselves past the age of 21, once their degree is gained, it becomes impossible to image who she will be passed that. Only reference is generations of women before them who became defined by their roles/relationships to others, of mother and wife.  

Cross referenced to the BBC TV Series

Once paintings belonged to one specific place with it’s own surroundings. Now paintings however priceless and unique can be reproduced and viewed by multiple people in multiple locations.

 Renaissance chapels – art is part of the building, everything around it gives it meaning and confirms and consolidates that meaning. Now images come to you, you don’t go to them. 

Multiple possible meanings by reproducing, with the multiple locations and surroundings it’s fitnesses in. Lack of silence and different atmosphere. The impact of what we see by the sounds and images that surround it (different moods created by music and the juxtaposition of the image when placed alongside a different image/article in a magazine).

Men dream of women, women dream of being dreamt of.Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at.How she appears to others/men is how she evaluates the success of her life.Nude – naked as seen by others but not recognised as oneself.

European tradition – awareness of being seen naked. Subject knows were looking. Mirror symbol of vanity, women look at themselves to see how others see them.

Irony – man painted the woman naked for his pleasure, placed a mirror in her hand to shame her for her vanity that he has chosen to paint, thus condemning her for his own pleasure. [Pandora]

Women painted hairless and inactive. Availability/passivity – lack of action.Men painted to show something in them that’s important to them other than what other people think of them.A woman’s value is derived by what others think of them.

Naked – is without disguise and is different to nude, nudity is a disguise of the self.

Male gaze – male pleasurePrize is to be owned.
The second most important person in a nude is the viewer.
We buy objects – most valuable is the oil painting. Objects within the painting are as tangible as it is. Art galleries are like banks. Where does the value of paintings come from? Art like religion. It’s sacred. Art – object – bought and owned – property.

European history and art. – slave trade and taking of wealth and objects.Paintings showed wealth & ownership. Ownership of foreign objects from conquered lands. Display of wealth – livestock & food. Houses – property. Portraits of the owners, records of ownership, showing their power and worthiness.
A portrait – I once lived and looked like this. I was once a subject of respect and envy.
Clothing exaggerates social status.
Classical mythology – elitist knowledge.
Oil painting – medium of expressing personal possession. Now it’s publicity/advertising.

Advertising – memory/anticipation
Where do these people and objects belong? – everywhere in our minds/dreams.
We are given the idea that we an change ourselves by buying something more. We are shown people transformed – envied/glamour. Models take the places of Goddesses. Without social envy glamour can not exist.
Oil paintings v modern day adverts.

  • Boys posed to match The Boyhood of Raleigh
  • People posed like the figures in Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe
  • Paintings themselves included as objects in the advert to give it prestige
  • Settings, pleasures, objects, poses, symbols of prestige, gestures replicated. Same references.
  • Colour photography performs a similar role to the oil painting. Tangibility. Share ideals – you are what you have.
  • Oil – what they already had – factual.
  • Publicity – aspired to – not achieved. Offers a different life. Works on our anxieties about money, competitive to get more.
  • A man’s ability to consume directly related to his sexual virility
  • Those without power and money – non existent, undesirable, inadequate as you are.
  • The passivity of a monotonous present replaced bu the imagined future.

What surrounds the publicity image? Us as we are? not guilt frames.

Assignment/discussion points.

Explore the notion of uniqueness, value and meaning in photography.

It’s seem bizarre that collectors would pay more for a photograph printed closer to the time of taking than the same photograph being printed at a later date. I can however see how destroying the negatives after printing a limited edition of prints would increase the value as the quality of any future copies would be eroded. Limited editions in general do offer a collector a work that is rare, especially I guess at sizes that could not be reproduced from low resolution copies. Does the commercialisation of a photograph corrupt its meaning? Or does it make it a democratic medium? One for all rather than simply the elite?

How about photography as a form of political activism, as a piece of political activism the ability to mass produce and share a message in a form accessible to all has it’s advantages. I also wonder about the role of social media and photography. Imagery is consumed on such a mass scale now, more so than when John Berger wrote his book. Imagery is consumed whilst simultaneously scrolling and walking, it is consumed whilst multitasking. I guess much in the way that an advertisement on a billboard might be consumed by a person passing by on a bus, though image after image comes much more readily and thus there is perhaps a numbing to what we see.

Does allowing for photographic prints to be displayed as images on social media reduce their value regardless of how many copies are available in a limited edition? Does the photographer loose their ability to curate the experience and meaning of their images when they are part of a social media feed, in the midst of and alongside other imagery that may set or alter the tone to how the artists imagery is perceived. Does the social media platform itself impact on how the image is perceived? The format/size, the way content is loaded and scrolled. The interruption of other media in the scroll. Can photography be unique in the digital age? It can also be stolen and dispersed by thieves or used in places which have not been consented by the artist. Used to advertise or illustrate other peoples ideas that might be much different to the artists original intention.