Book review ” John Berger – Ways of Seeing”

In my opinion this is a great book for all photographic students. I bought my copy from Waterstones at Meadowhall, Sheffield. Let me explain why I have added this.

When paying for the book, the salesperson said “When did you start studying photography?” This is the first time a salesperson has, not only read my mind, but also my soul. Did I look like a student photographer? What does a student photographer look like anyway?  They then went on to explain that this is the most popular book they sell to such students and he had therefore decided to enlighten himself by reading it. He told me I would enjoy the book, but he didn’t tell me it was £3 cheaper at Amazon!!!

This was the first of a series of books, I have bought for the OCA degree course. My copy is a Penguin paperback and as with “Understanding a Photograph” (by the same author), I feel the photographs/illustrations in the book are of very poor quality, which therefore detracts from the points being made. This is not a fault of the author, but a fault of the publisher. If I were publishing such a book I would not allow this to go to print, with such substandard imagery. Therefore given this poor quality and as this is the most popular book for students of photography, it must speak volumes of the written content by the author.

The essence of the author’s main point is the photographs are not simply images but images are a language in their own right and can and should be read (properly). This means the author of a photograph should understand how to make an image and one that can be read by different audiences. Conversely,  if a photograph is to be read, it must contain something worth reading, or you will browse over it and return it to the metaphorical shelf.

The book opens with a quote, “Seeing comes before words”, which is interesting when the conclusion of the book is that photographs should be read like a language, but I do get it.

There is much reference to great art works and how the essence of these can still be seen in photographs today, especially in the poses used in commercial photography, which is a very interesting concept and one that I did not know about until reading this book.  There is also a multitude of top art works reproduced in the book, but the quality of the reproductions, as mentioned above is poor. The book finishes with a chapter which is heavily involved with “publicity” and what this is and how photography deals with this.

Ways of Seeing is another book I will read again and will refer to from time to time. The concepts in the book are not difficult to grasp, but were new to my non-academic self.

This book should be the first that any photographic student buys and reads due to the concepts and pointers it gives you. This is a better book in my opinion, when compared to “Understanding a Photograph”.

My advice is shop round for a hardback version and check out the prices before you buy.


One thought on “Book review ” John Berger – Ways of Seeing”

  1. Chas Bedford February 10, 2017 / 23:23

    I was annoyed at the image quality in the Penguin books as well, but assumed it was ageing (I got my copies on eBay). It is disappointing to hear that new books are a s bad.

    The book is a tie-in to Berger’s 1970’s TV series, also called ‘Ways of Seeing’. All four episodes are on YouTube and well worth watching.


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