The Multiple Ways of Seeing

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This week I have read John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’. Why the plural? How many ‘ways’ of seeing are there? Surely what we see is what is in front of us? Berger questions how  we look at the world around us; ‘the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled’.[1] This rang true when I was looking through the entries to Nikon’s Small World photography contest.[2] The competition aimed to highlight the magnificence of our natural world by showcasing photography through the eye of a microscope. The photograph, taken by Mr Frederic Labaune, was one of the ‘Honourable Mentions’. At a glance, I thought it was sea coral however, it is in fact an image of crystallisation of tartazine – a dye primarily used as a food colouring. As described by Berger, we only see what we look at. We see what is brought within our reach – though not necessarily within arm’s reach.[3] It is not possible to view this reality within arm’s reach, that is, with our own eyes. It is therefore open to interpretation; we rely on the mechanical eye of the camera to show us things we will never see for ourselves: “I am an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it… This I explain in a new way the world unknown to you.”[4]  

 

[1] John Berger. (1972) Ways of Seeing, London, Penguin Books. p.7.

[2] http://www.microscopyu.com/smallworld/gallery/contests/2013/index.html

[3] John Berger. (1972) p.8.

[4] Dziga Vertov (1923) in John Berger. (1972). p.17.

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