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The Basic Critical Theory for Photography Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: May 18th, 2020

Chapter one of The basic critical theory for photography, is a summary of Ways of Seeing by John Berger. The chapter explains Berger’s perception on the relationship between people’s perception and their words. Apparently, visual realization precedes words according to Berger. Through visual recognition, people establish their niches, but they employ words to explicate it. However, Berger highlights a clear difference between what people see and what they know. Given that individuals see first and then explain what they have seen using words, experience influences how they see things, and thus the choice of words to describe the same.

According to Berger, images depend on the way of seeing of the person who has taken them (La Grange, 2005). In addition, people understand images based on what they see. Berger holds that images conventionally worked as memories of how certain things appeared in the past. Later on, people started seeing images as the vision of their creator. However, when individuals come across historical images, as artistic works, they interpret the meanings therein based on suppositions and experience.

Berger is concerned with how individuals see and interpret images from the past in a way that suits their justifications. People do not see images from the past from a neutral perspective; on the contrary, they draw conclusions based on their experiences on what the past should have been and according to Berger, this act amounts to cultural mystification. Unfortunately, this cultural mystification bars people from understanding and appreciating their histories.

Berger rues that movie camera photography revolutionized images by making them timeless. Due to the introduction of cameras, artist would see and document different aspects of the same image, and thus when presented to disparate audiences, the images appeared dissimilar.

According to Berger, women have dominated nude paintings, especially in the European oil paintings, and this assertion highlights how artists view women as objects of sight. Ironically, men love seeing nude women images, but they (men) accuse them (women) of vanity. Apparently, the nudity lies in the eyes of the beholder (men), and thus women are not nude in their own right.

Berger insists that ‘publicity images’ and ‘advertising images’ have the same meanings. These images are used as sentimental tools to convince people to purchase certain products. Therefore, these images are used to propagate consumerism, whereby consumers assume that their lives would be better by buying more stuff. The promoters of consumerism use ‘advertising images’ to create envy in consumers by using publicity to show how other people have become glamorous by consuming certain goods or services.

In Berger’s understanding, oil paintings and publicity images are directly related. The relationship is deeply rooted in culture, materialism, art, and spiritualism among other aspects. However, Berger notes that publicity does not yield happiness. Therefore, for publicity to remain relevant in the absence of happiness, it appeals to people’s fantasies by making them envious of the aforementioned elusive glamour. Publicity makes people think that they have the freedom of choice, which is a lie.

Reference

La Grange, A. (2005). The basic critical theory for photography (1st ed.). Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Basic Critical Theory for Photography." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-basic-critical-theory-for-photography/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Basic Critical Theory for Photography'. 18 May.

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