Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Visual Cultures 1

A classic TV series and a canonical text, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing is an excellent introduction to the complexities of visual cultural. Part one of this series draws heavily on the ideas of the German critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). His essay is called ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936) and is available in a collection called Illuminations (and on the website below). Benjamin questioned ideas about originality and authenticity. Berger’s use of Benjamin’s arguments is not only relevant to discussions of painting, photography, animation, film and television, but other areas of mass culture: the internet, computer games, magazines, newspapers, CD-ROMs amongst other visual cultural artefacts. When transmitted the images meanings are multiplied and fragment into other meanings and often jostle for attention alongside other images and pieces of information under gaze of a mass audience. Berger encourages us to view images as a language that can be manipulated to communicate all kinds of ideas.

Before this ‘technological age’, the invention of the camera and even before the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg, images adorned the walls and stained glass windows of churches, their meaning singular. This was as Berger suggests the age of pilgrimage: we went to the images; they did not yet travel to us. Information came from one source and it resided in one place at one time, the camera, digital technologies and television changed all of that.
Berger, John Ways of Seeing London: British Broadcasting Corporation Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972

Texts of interest and linked to Berger and his book:
Clark, Kenneth Civilisation: a personal view London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1969
Web sources:

John Berger Homepage:

Daniel Chandler Semiotics for Beginners, Denotation, Connotation and Myth

The Marxist Internet Archive: Benjamin, Walter The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936

Digital Imaging and Photography Production II

The working title for project two is Dialogues in the Cities. Project 2:
  • Aims to build upon previous approaches to digital imagin
  • An attempt move away from imagery that is inward looking. 
  • An attempt to create work that has a social context. 

Pablo Picasso Glass and Bottle of Suze November 1912. A recent reproduction.

Picasso's collage seems to represent the public sphere in some way: the cafe and the newspaper. It also presents us with an image of modernist consciousness. I like Patricia Leighton's use of Charles Baudelaire to describe this image as a "true painting of modern life".

Rodchenko Photomontage For "About This" by Vladimir Mayakovsky 1923

The Rodchenko photo-montage is fascinating because of the way in which communications technologies are represented. It is as if the communication, the phone call, takes place through the medium of the city.

Dialogues in the Cities (2010)

Dialogues in the Cities (The Ecstasy of Communication: After Baudrillard) (2010)

The above pieces are attempts at combining and re-combining text and image and theory and practice. The top image is an unsuccessful combination of photographic imagery and a film still from Hans Richter's Dreams that Money can Buy.  

The bottom image presents a series of photographs combined with text from Jean Baudrillard's "The Ecstasy of Communication" from Hal Foster's Postmodern Culture  1987 p.132. 

This image is attempt to compress a variety viewpoints and representations into one moment.