Ways of Seeing

by John Berger


New York: The Viking Press, 1973. First U.S. edition. 8vo (21x14cm), beige quarter-cloth in unclipped dust jacket. 160pp. Text in English. Fine.


In 1971, Stephen Hearst, director of the BBC‘s music and arts department, commissioned John Berger to create a television series on the subjects of his choice. Berger was at the time known as art critic for the leftist magazine New Statesman and teacher at Chelsea School of Art. One year later Ways of Seeing premiered as a four-part television series on BBC Two.

Following the success of the TV series, the BBC asked Berger and Mike Dibb, who was the producer of the show, to translate Ways of Seeing into a book. For this project, Berger and Dibb were joined by the graphic designer Richard Hollis, who had previously worked with Berger on the New Statesman magazine, the artist Sven Blomberg, and script consultant Chris Fox.

The book consists of seven essays, four essays using text and images, three only images, with the aim to start a process of questioning the principles and traditions of Western art over the past centuries. The television series served as a starting point from which the ideas were expanded and elaborated.

Ways of Seeing has revolutionised the popular understanding of art and the visual image. For Berger, seeing is also a political act, especially the essay on the concept of the male gaze shows the imbalance in looking at male and female bodies. While male figures cast an aggressive and objectifying gaze, female figures refuse to make eye contact with the viewer.

Berger writes:

“To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelag within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself.[…] From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.

This landmark publication is the first U.S. edition, published by Viking Press in 1973. What makes this copy special is that unlike all other editions, including the first English edition from 1972 by Penguin, this is the only hardcover version with beautiful dust jacket.