A Response to John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”

John Berger’s essay, “Way of Seeing” dissects the camera’s sway in our society and the repercussions of reproduction.  Before photography, the human eye was regarded as “the vanishing point of infinity” (18).   However, the facility to steal fragments of time and space viciously veered the way man perceived the world. All of a sudden, “the visible…became fugitive” (18).  This marked a turning point in our history, enabling humanity to view “the art of the past as nobody saw it before” (16). It is the art of immortalization. However, this is but a thread in a tapestry of reasoning rendering the repercussions photographs have had on our culture. The invention of the camera facilitated the means of mass-producing a single image.  Berger illustrates how the onslaught of reproduction, in a sense, perverted the meaning of original works of art.  The countless paintings lacing the walls of museums from Paris to New York are regarded in a different light.  The “Mona Lisa,” for lack of a better example, has been printed exorbitant number of times, and thus “its meaning multiplies and fragments into many meanings” (19).  To be graced with the opportunity to visit the Louvre and stand before the painting in the flesh, one will realize that the meaning “no longer lies in what it uniquely says but in what it uniquely is” (21).   We have been conditioned to embrace original works of art with the mindset: it is “authentic and therefore it is beautiful” (21). Moreover, the value of the work is affirmed not by its meaning, but by it’s market value.  The sway of money and our intellect are intrinsically connected, which unveils why art has evolved as something preserved for the wealthy. This fabricated hype “which now surrounds original works of art, and which is ultimately dependant upon their market value, has become a substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them reproducible.” (23) On the other hand, reproduction has afforded the lower class the ability to appreciate artwork never before at their disposal.  This is the paradox photography presents us with.

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