Ways of Seeing essay


is a BBC four-part film created by John Berger andproduced by Mike Dibb in 1972. The film’s script was adapted into abook that goes by the same title. The film raises pertinent questionsabout the Western cultural aesthetics as depicted in images andpaintings.

In the first part of the film, Berger discusses how one must seethings before they can describe what they have seen using words.Berger argues that a child has to look before they can speak. WhatBerger means by this is that unless one recognizes the visual world,they cannot describe it in words. As such, Berger refutes theargument that photography is a mechanical process. Instead, he positsthat the audience sees the image presented in the form of aphotograph from the photographer’s perspective which is in turninfluenced by an individual’s knowledge and beliefs. However,sometimes the audience ends up taking a different view of an imagecompared to what the painter intended (McCormack&amp Dorin, 2002). For example, Berger argues thatlooking at the painting, Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Gogh, theaudience sees the sun as well as the farm’s harvest(Berger, 1972). To Berger, this point of view is wrongconsidering that the painting was the last work of Van Gogh prior tohis suicide.

In the second part of the film, Berger discusses the depiction of thefemale nude. He incorporates images of women both still and painted.Besides, he classifies paintings in which women are the subjects intotwo groups naked and nude. At this juncture, Berger draws the linebetween being naked and nude. Naked women are natural or in controlof themselves while nude women are without clothes for other peopleto recognize(Berger, 2008). This is the point where the concept of objectifyingwomen comes in.&nbspThe third part of the film portrays how only a small proportion ofthe old master’s paintings depicted a woman as in control of herlife and body. Berger argues that in most of the painting he refersto as the old master’s paintings, the female gender is portrayedfrom the male’s perspective or idealization. Berger argues that theEuropean oil paintings were mainly nude as there existed a spectatorin the painter’s mind and according to him “the spectator waspresumed to be a man” (Berger, 1972). As such, the paintingsdepicted a woman with a calculated charm geared toward pleasing a manshe thinks is looking at her. Berger(2003) argues that a woman’s presence is manifestedin her opinions, chosen surroundings, voice, clothes, andexpressions.

In the fourth part of the film, Berger discusses the replacement ofthe oil painting by the color photography and the reversing of thecontext over time. In the era of advertising and publicity, theidealized viewer’s potential is more important than the actualreality as was the case of the old master’s portraits. As such,Berger (1972) says that instead of offering pleasure,publicity promises happiness. Consequently, the publicity image hasnegatively influenced the spectator`s self-esteem as the personseeking to be envied fails to share their experiences which are realin the hope of motivating their audience.

In conclusion, John Berger in the film, , explores themanner in which women and men are culturally represented. Berger’sargument is that cultural representations of women and men affect howindividuals conduct themselves and their mutual perception as well.For instance, the depiction of women as nude justifies the men’sexamining them.


Berger, J.(1972). Ways of seeing. Web.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk

Berger, J.(2003). Ways of seeing.&nbspThefeminism and visual culture reader,37-39.

Berger, J.(2008).&nbspWaysof seeing&nbsp(Vol.1). Penguin UK.

McCormack,J., &amp Dorin A. (2002). : Visualization ofArtificial Life Environments.http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jonmc/research/Papers/ways_of_seeing.pdf