John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’
A large part of seeing depends upon habit and convention – Episode 1
Perspective makes the eye the centre of the visible world, but the human eye can only be in one place at a time. – Episode 1
Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I coordinate any and all points of the universe to wherever I want them to be. My way leads to a fresh creation of the perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way, the world unknown to you. – Dziga Vertov, Russian film director, 1923.
“As though pictures were like words rather than holy relics” – Episode 1 1972
“Men dream of women. Women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women. Women watched themselves being looked at”. Episode 2 1972
“From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continuously. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does. Because how she appears to others, and particularly how she appears to men is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life” Episode 2 1972
John Bergers Ways of Seeing
John Berger’s now classic article “Ways of Seeing” (1972) revolutionarily, for his time, analyses the manner in which men and women are culturally represented, and the subsequent results these representations have on their conduct and self as well and mutual perception. In “Ways of Seeing” Berger claims that the representations of men and women in visual culture entice different “gazes”, different ways in which they are looked at, with men having the legitimization of examining women, and women – also examine women.
At the opening of “Ways of Seeing’ John Berger notes that the cultural presence of the woman is still very much different from that of the man. Berger argues that a man’s presence in the world is all about is potency and is related to what he can do, power and ability. On the other hand, Berger says, a woman’s presence is always related to itself, not the world, and she does not represent potential but rather only her herself, and what can or cannot be done to her, never by her. The sources of this identity are for Berger the age old notion that the woman was destined to take care of the man. He argues that as a result the woman is always self-conscious, always aware of her own presence in every action she performs. The woman constantly imagines and surveys herself and by this her identity is split between that of the surveyor and that of the one being surveyed – the two rules that she has in relation to herself. For this reason, Berger notes, her self value is measured through the manner in which she is portrayed, in her own eyes, in others’ eyes and in men’s eyes.
Men, says Berger, survey women before they relate to them and the results of this measuring determine their relation to the woman. As a result all of women’s actions and appearance are indications of the manner in which she would like to be treated. That is, a woman’s actions indicate the way she would like to be observed, contrary to man’s actions which are just actions. Berger simplifies this notion by arguing that “men act – women appear”. Women look at themselves being looked at. The surveying woman is a man, the surveyed woman is a woman, and by this the woman objectifies herself as a subject of a gaze, this is the meaning of Berger’s title “Ways of Seeing” – essentially meaning that there are different ways of seeing man and woman.
The way women are photographed coincides with cultural shift – 60’s, sexual revolution = women being able to control their own fertility = strength.
You COULD argue that the pirelli calendar and other objectifying sources creates a backlash of strong female and feminist images?
Mae Murray (an American actress, dancer, film producer, and screenwriter) photographed by Baron Adolphe de Meyer, 1918.
Photograph by Richard Avedon. Suzy Parker with Robin Tattersall, Dress by Dior, Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1956.
Constructing Gender Identity in Photography
Claude Cahun (25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954) was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was political and personal, and undermined traditional concepts of gender roles. Though Cahun’s writings suggested she identified as agender, most academic writings use feminine pronouns when discussing her and her work, as there is little documentation that gender neutral pronouns were used or preferred by the artist.
She began making photographic self-portraits as early as 1912 (aged 18), and continued taking images of herself through the 1930s.
Around 1919, she changed her name to Claude Cahun, after having previously used the names Claude Courlis (after the curlew) and Daniel Douglas (after Lord Alfred Douglas). During the early 20s, she settled in Paris with her lifelong partner and step-sibling Suzanne Malherbe. For the rest of their lives together, Cahun and Malherbe (who adopted the name “Marcel Moore”) collaborated on various written works, sculptures, photomontages and collages.
In many ways, Cahun’s life was marked by a sense of role reversal, and her public identity became a commentary upon the public’s notions of sexuality, gender, beauty, and logic. Her adoption of a sexually ambiguous name, and her androgynous self-portraits display a revolutionary way of thinking and creating, experimenting with her audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality. their poetry challenged gender roles and attacked the increasingly modern world’s social and economic boundaries. Also, Cahun’s participation in the Parisian Surrealist movement diversified the group’s artwork and ushered in new representations. Where most Surrealist artists were men, and their primary images were of women as isolated symbols of eroticism, Cahun epitomized the chameleonic and multiple possibilities of genders and of the body. Her photographs, writings, and general life as an artistic and political revolutionary continue to influence countless artists, namely Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Del LaGrace Volcano.
Self Portrait, Claude Cahun, 1920.
The Factory Diary Andy in Drag (October 1981), Christopher Makos’ Altered Images series (1981-2) and the Self Portrait in Drag polaroids shot on two separate days in 1981 offer telling insights into Warhol’s desires, sensibilities and work ethic. His expressions and postures as he ‘gets into role’ are captured as his heavily made up face is transformed from a pale middle-aged man to female ‘Diva’.
Cross-dressing gender identity and sexual ambiguity were loaded issues for Warhol who was painfully aware of people’s prejudice. As Makos has reiterated this is about Warhol’s face. “It was important not to alter the body to support visually the ambiguity…it had nothing to do with transexuality…There were hand gestures but the power is in the gaze and its not related to drag queens or drag aesthetic”. Warhol however records a note of anxiety in his diary about the images . ‘Christopher is having his photo show out in California and its going to highlight his photographs of me in drag, so just when we finally get Mrs. Regan this is going to be publicized. Time and Newsweek will probably pick it up and my reputation will be ruined’.
“A drag queen I know is waiting for a real man to fall in love with him/her. I always run into strong women who are looking for weak men to dominate them.” Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, p.56
Photograph by Christopher Makos. Lady Warhol, 1981.
As variously costumed characters, Mapplethorpe researches his own identity, capturing his complex and contradictory nature. Whether depicting himself in a playful, fierce, or vulnerable state, the artist’s explorations are intensely personal and self-reflexive.
In a number of early self-portraits, Mapplethorpe boldly explores the notion of gender. In one work from 1980, the artist appears as a sneering, smoking greaser – a James Dean archetype. In another from the same year, Self Portrait(with make-up), Mapplethorpe blurs his gender identity by appearing in partial drag, his face dramatically made-up. By employing conventional signs for man and woman – physical, cosmetic, and sartorial – Mapplethorpe questions established notions of “male” and “female.” This gender-bending game is once again played in a third self-portrait from 1980. Wrapped in a fur collar, Mapplethorpe’s striking profile makes direct reference to Duchamp’s female alter-ego, Rrose Sélavy. In his homage to Duchamp, Mapplethorpe is showing his keen awareness of historical precedents and influences.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1980.
Marcel Duchamp & Rrose Selavy
Rrose Sélavy, or Rose Sélavy, was one of the pseudonyms of artist Marcel Duchamp. The name, a pun, sounds like the French phrase “Eros, c’est la vie”, which translates to English as “Eros, that’s life”. It has also been read as “arroser la vie” (“to make a toast to life”).
Sélavy emerged in 1921 in a series of photographs by Man Ray of Duchamp dressed as a woman. Through the 1920s, Man Ray and Duchamp collaborated on more photos of Sélavy. Duchamp later used the name as the byline on written material and signed several creations with it.
Woman Does Not Exist???
“Woman cannot be said (se dire). Nothing can be said of woman. Woman… is not-whole, since she can also have a relation with N..
I designate N as the phallus insofar as I indicate that it is the signifier that has no signified …”
(Lacan, Seminar XX)7
Female clothing history – Trousers
In 1919, Luisa Capetillo challenged the mainstream society by becoming the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public. Capetillo was sent to jail for what was then considered to be a “crime”, but the judge later dropped the charges against her.
Women increasingly wore trousers as leisurewear in the 1920s and 30s. In the early 20th century female pilots and other working women often wore trousers. Actresses Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn were often photographed in trousers from the 1930s. During World War II, women working in industrial work in war service wore their husbands’ (suitably altered) trousers, and in the post-war era trousers were still common casual wear for gardening, socialising, and other leisure pursuits.
Similarly, in Britain during the Second World War, because of the rationing of clothing, many women took to wearing their husbands’ civilian clothes to work while their husbands were away in the armed forces. This was partly because they were seen as work garments, and partly to allow women to keep their clothing allowance for other uses. As the men’s clothes wore out, replacements were needed, so that by the summer of 1944 it was reported that sales of women’s trousers were five times more than in the previous year.
In the 1960s, André Courrèges introduced jeans for women, leading to the era of designer jeans.
Arguably the most influential fashion designer of all time, Coco Chanel revolutionised the way women wore clothes and paved a new way for the fashion brand, capitalising on the changing times she was living in and her status as a fashion icon. With The London College of Fashion opening an exhibition of portraits of the designer painted by her friend and artist Marion Pike on tomorrow, Wonderland looks back on seven ways the designer changed the course of fashion history.
Trousers For Women
Although during the war women often had to wear trousers when working in traditionally male jobs, Chanel played a huge part in accelerating their popularity as a fashion item. While at the society beach resort of Deauville she chose to wear sailor’s pants instead of a swimming costume to avoid exposing herself, and the style spread quickly as her legions of followers emulated her. In the end, the designer regretted how her careless decision affected the course of fashion history. Aged 86 she said: “I came up with them by modesty. From this usage to it becoming a fashion, having 70% of women wearing trousers at evening dinner is quite sad.”
The designer was one of the first to borrow from menswear for women’s attire when she created her iconic suits. Consisting of a collarless boxy wool jacket with braid trim, fitted sleeves and metallic embellished buttons with accompanying slimline skirt, the outfit was the perfect choice for the post-war woman who was trying to build a career in the male-dominated workplace. The suit was favoured by celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, and made its mark on history when Jackie Kennedy wore it on the day her husband was assassinated.
Comparing the cultural shift in female sexuality…
Marion Morehouse in Conde Nast’s apartment. Photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1927 – compared to:- Woman Examining Man, Saint-Tropez. Photographed by Helmut Newton in 1975.
Camp ‘You are You’
Rhetoric of the Image – Roland Barthes
When discussing Panzani “The relation between the signifier and signified is quasi tautological”
Meaning that the signifier is so dense t almost becomes impossible to use in certain situations. e.g.. BUM. p.154
“the viewer of the image receives at one and the same time the perceptual message and the cultural message.” – good to refer back to when discussing theory. p.155
“the text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image, causing him to avoid some and receive others; by means of an often subtle dispatching, it remote-controls him towards a meaning chosen in advance.” – can link to Walter Benjamin here. p.156
“Even if a totally “naive” image were to be achieved, it would immediately join the sign of naivety and be completed by a third – symbolic message.” p.157
“Man’s interventions in the photograph (framing, distance, lighting, focus, speed) all effectively belong to the plane of connotation” p.158 e.g.. young girls looking at magazine images and understanding that it is not real but still wanting to achieve the look of the fashion image.
“The signs drawn from cultural code” p.158
“the denoted image naturalises the symbolic message, it innocents the semantic artifice of connotation, which is extremely dense, especially in advertising.” p.159 – basically saying that the more we share images the sneakier we can be at putting messages in.
In Platos Cave – Susan Sontag
But Photography for Sontag is always an interpretation of the world and this interpretation, be it on the side of the photographer or the person viewing the photograph, is always ruled by conventions, ideology and the zeitgeist. Photographers always, inevitably, impose their own preferences on their product merely by choosing where they point their camera and how they point it.
we need the camera in order to realize and substantiate our experiences.
Sontag compare photography with rape because in photography we see people in a manner unavailable to themselves and we gain knowledge of them which can never be theirs, and thus photography reifies people into objects which can be subjected to symbolic ownership.
“Photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are” p.6
“There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera” p.7
“Although the camera is an observation station, the act of photographing is more than passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to keep happening. To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged p.12
“There is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people in to objects that can be symbolically possessed.” p.14
“Photographs insofar shock as they show something novel.” p.19
“Any photograph has multiple meanings; indeed, to see something in the form of a photograph is to encounter a potential object of fascination.” p.23
“The camera makes reality atomic, manageable and opaque” p.23
The Ecstasy of Communication – Jean Baudrillard
“With the television images – the television being the ultimate and perfect new object for this new era – our own body and the whole surrounding universe become a control screen” p.127 – saying that not only have we changed the way we relate to each other but we are part of the ‘network’. Relationships are purely narcissistic.
“He can no longer produce the limits of his own being, can no longer play nor stage himself, can no longer produce himself as mirror. He is now only a pure screen, a switching centre for all the networks of influence.” p.133
Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema – Laura Mulvey
In her “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” Laura Mulvey utilizes psychoanalysis theory as a “political weapon” to demonstrate how the patriarchic subconscious of society shapes our film watching experience and cinema itself.
Mulvey argues that the popularity of Hollywood films is determined and reinforced by preexisting social patterns which have shaped the fascinated subject.
Mulvey’s analysis in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” combines semiotic methodology of cinematic means of expression with psychoanalytic analysis of desire structures and the formation of subjectivity.
Mulvey’s main argument in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is that Hollywood narrative films use women in order to provide a pleasurable visual experience for men. The narrative film structures its gaze as masculine. The woman is always the object of the reifying gaze, not the bearer of it (this has something reminiscent of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”)
The cinematic gaze is always produced a masculine both by means of the identification produced with the male hero and through the use of the camera. Mulvey identifies two manners in which Hollywood cinema produces pleasure, manners which arise from different mental mechanisms. The first involves the objectification of the image, and the second one the identification with it. Both mechanisms represent the mental desires of the male subject. The first form of pleasure relates to what Freud termed as scopophilia or the pleasure derived from subjecting someone to one’s gaze. The second form of pleasure other which operates alongside the scopophilia is the identification with the represented character which is brought about by needs stemming from the Freudian Ego.
“It is said that analysing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it.”
“In his Three essays on Sexuality, Freud isolated scopophilia as one of the component instincts of sexuality which exist as drives quite independently the erotogenic zones. At this point he associated scopophilia with taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze”
“Jacques Lacan has described the moment when a child recognises its own image in the mirror is crucial to the constitution of the ego”
“At the same time the cinema has distinguished itself in the production of ego ideals as expressed in particular in the star system, the stars centering both screen presence and screen story as they act out a complex process of likeness and difference (the glamorous impersonates the ordinary).”
“scopophilic, arises from pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight. The second, developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from identification with the image seen. “
“Sexual instincts and identification processes have a meaning within the symbolic order which articulates desire. Desire, born with language, allows the possibility of transcending the instinctual and the imaginary, but its point of reference continually returns to the traumatic moment of irs birth: the castration complex. Hence the look, pleasurable in form, can be threatening in content, and it is woman as representation/image that crystallises this paradox.”
“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire.”
Budd Boetticher: “What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.”
“Ultimately, the meaning of woman is sexual difference, the absence of the penis as visually ascertainable, the material evidence on which is based the castration complex essential for the organisation of entrance to the symbolic order and the law of the father. Thus the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controllers of the look, always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified.”
“Women, whose image has continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret.”
Andrej Pejic – the most famous Trans Super Model
Andrej Pejić, 2015 for Vogue. Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier
Andreja Pejić born Andrej Pejić; 28 August 1991) is an Australian model. Pejić is a transgender woman, who until 2014 was billed as an androgynous male model, self-described as living “in between genders”.