‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger

I found ‘Ways of Seeing’ by Jon Berger shockingly relevant to my current perception upon material objects and the way I personally perceive publicity daily. No other point in history has experienced such dense publicity. In this text Berger explores the relationship between the traditional publicity of oil painting and it’s similarities to contemporary digital publicity through a vast array of ideals and concepts.

Publicity belongs to moment, as in it needs to keep updated with the aesthetic of contemporary society. Berger states that publicity never speaks of the present, it refers to the past and speaks of the future. Publicity is a visual language within itself. “It proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more.”

The aspect of publicity in which I found most intriguing and relevant was the idea of ‘glamour’. Berger states that “publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour”. The consumer envisions themselves becoming transformed by the product from an ordinary, bland person to an object of envy for others which then will justify the consumer loving themselves. I found this incredibly interesting, as I am often purchasing material items in order to feel envied which inevitably makes me feel glamorous. The publicity image steals the self-love and acceptance of the consumer and offers to replenish it for the price of the product. Hence why publicity is so effective, it implements an unhappy notion upon ourselves which we must mend.

Marilyn Monroe Advertisement
Marilyn Monroe Advertisement

Berger states that the oil painting and publicity speak in very much the same visual language. The oil painting in the Renaissance period was a celebration of material items, “you are what you have”. Publicity has to sell the past to the future therefore it makes all history mythical through a visual language with historical dimensions.
The technology of cheap colour photography transformed publicity enormously, as photographers could now reproduce an image of the ‘real thing’ cheaply and on a mass scale.

Dejeuner Sure L’Herbe, Manet 1832-1883, Dior Secret Garden Versailles Ad Campaign.

The oil painting portrayed the consumer enjoying their possessions, making the viewer dis-satisfied with their current possessions. The oil painting anxiety, it creates the notion that without the power to spend money, life is not worth living.
This is where sexuality comes into play, Berger explores the notion ‘sex sells’. Lynx is renowned for utilising sexuality to sell their products – and it works. Without this product you will not be sexually desirable, you won’t find love.

Lynx Ad
Lynx Advertisement

Berger explores the idea that publicity is an alternate fantasy world within itself. The fantasy of a bored office worker, becomes an active consumer. There is a great contrast between the publicity’s interpretation of the world and the real world. This could be seen in news magazines such as ‘the Sunday Times Magazine’ where there was an article depicting poverty and hardship juxtaposed with a glamorous advertisement depicting wealth and luxury. Therefore publicity is event less – it’s effective as long as nothing else is happening within the ‘real world’.

“Publicity is the life of this culture – in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive – and at the same time publicity is its dream.”

Ref: https://au.pinterest.com/pin/242420392412618158/

Author: tjphoto

UON Design Student & Photographer Newcastle, AU

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