“Ways of Seeing” First Blawg

February 1, 2010

John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” was an eye-opener, no pun intended.  Despite having read only the first two chapters, I can already sense that this man knows what he is talking about.  He mainly focuses on art and images, describing the various perspectives and ways of seeing we experience.  My particular focus on this post is perspective itself, in the artistic technique sense.

Berger talks about how for most of history, paintings and man-made images had a particular viewpoint into which the viewer is thrust by the image creator.  When perspective is used to present the image, the creator is, without the viewer realizing it, making the viewer see things in a constructed manner.  The viewer, looking at things from the perspective desired by the creator, then understands the image and all its connotations the way the creator intended.  For example, if someone looks at a worm’s-eye perspective photograph of two men arguing, the photographer has made that person look at the subjects in a very psychologically-altering way.  The men may appear to tower over the viewer, and, ipso facto, appear more powerful and convey more energy than a simple, medium shot pose.  That is the intended effect.

Yet, not all images are intended for any particular person.  Take this image, for example.  Picture of Space and a NebulaIt depicts a vast, mysterious expanse of space, with a swirling nebula in the center.  But there is no camera effect, no sense that a particular person is looking at this, no perspective.  This contrasts with this astronaut image, which obviously channels the viewer’s eye in a certain way.  Astronaut Perpective PictureOpposite from the nebula picture, this places the viewer firmly right in front of the astronaut.  The idea that it is the viewer, and only the viewer, who is seeing this pervades.

As we can see, this singular viewpoint exhibited by the astronaut image is the most common type, found in most photographs and most paintings.  But the nebula-type image of ambivalent perspective is becoming more common.  One photographer, Katie Paterson, has decided to do some work to illustrate this concept of moving beyond a single viewer.  She has taken some images and sound clips of a glacier area, one example of which is to the right.  (For more, see http://www.katiepaterson.org/vatnajokull/index.html)Glacier Picture

When viewing Katie’s work and listening to the sound clips, it becomes apparent that she understands the idea of a broader-appealing experience, perspective-wise.  The stark, serene glacier images she presents, combined with the tranquil sound clips, make the viewer/listener feel as if they are there, quietly observing nature.  From this, we can gather that a multimedia presentation of something can add much more dimension to it, thus detracting from the single-viewer idea even more.  One does not feel like she crafted her compositions for him, but, rather, for no one in particular.

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