Posted by: annegab | October 12, 2012

Ways of Seeing: From Oil Paintings to Profile Pics

Ways of Seeing: John Berger’s Classic 1972 BBC Critique of Consumer Culture | Brain Pickings.

I stumbled upon this article last week and lo and behold it pertained exactly to our discussion of Bleak House. The article, by Maria Popova discusses John Berger’s 1972 TV-mini series on “Critique of Consumer Culture”. Berger began by talking about oil painting and “its formative role in the creation of consumer culture”. As we discussed in class, Bleak House illustrates (with Lady Dedlock’s image) the transition towards painted portraits as a celebration of private property to an object of public property no longer controlled by the individual. This evolution from private paintings to public portrait photography created our perception of portraiture and poses. Tagg mentions this in his example of  the middle-classes imitating aristocratic poses in the beginnings of portrait photography. The idea of poses and posturing in photography made me think of our modern-day poses (often sexualized) that we put on in front of the camera for facebook or other social networking sites. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t see someone taking a picture with their iphone or asking a friend to record a moment. The question of who controls images is still relevant today and in particular with Berger’s  “discussion on how media culture shapes gender politics and woman as an object.” Berger’s quote talks about how being born a woman, was to be born into a confined space controlled by men. Under this limited space women were constantly surveying or watching themselves being looked at and since that surveying was male, Berger argues that the surveyor of woman in herself is male. Who is the surveyor today and why do we continue to constantly watch ourselves or manipulate images to represent an idealized reality?


  1. It’s amazing how much we share on the internet, myself included. Because I have such an online presence I actually have come to accept that if someone wants to find something about me, they probably can. A little scary, but I try not to worry about it.

    However, ownership of images, for instance, does bother me. Take a look of Facebook’s Terms of Services (section 2-1):
    “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

    When they made this change in policy I stopped uploading “all” of my photographs. I like to share my life, and I like living my life through images (I mean as of right now I have 941 images of me, over 6000 images uploaded, and 119 albums). I now use far more discretion when uploading and I’ve been debating deleting my mass of photographs because something feels so _wrong_ about facebook having ownership, even in part, over any of my images.

    And yet I don’t mind sharing my name, where I go to school, where I went to school, where I work, etc..
    I think the fear is definitely still present as to what someone, or in this case a company/corporation, might do with a person’s image.

    (Sorry, a little off of what you were discussing, but I had to share).

  2. I work in a high school and am constantly seeing students (mainly female) taking pictures of themselves with cell phones. Once posted these images become part of the public domain. Last year we watched Miss Representation, a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsome. This film showed how the media publicly portrayed women, as body parts. Photographs of scantily clad women pervade advertising. It is acceptable to use women to sell products. Who is the audience for my female student photographers I wonder.

  3. I agree with the previous posts – I believe that how women represent themselves via photography is strongly influenced by what society expects of them. An interesting counterpoint is the work of Feminist Artists such as Eleanor Antin. Her series of photographs “Carving: A traditional Sculpture” (which can be found at this link is a great example of how women can fight back against what society excepts of them. Antin has documented her nude figure over a series of time as she underwent a diet (i.e. carving her body). The genre of specimen photography was frequently used by male imperialists to take control of the female body. I think Antin’s work is interesting because she fights back against this notion.

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