Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 7:30pm
Amie Siegel: Ways of Seeing

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Ways of Seeing, John Berger, Michael Dibb, and David Gladwell, 1972, 117 mins
Color-shifted 16mm print courtesy of Harvard Film Archive
Presented by Amie Siegel

John Berger’s Ways of Seeing remains a hugely influential book—particularly for artists, writers, and designers. Less well-known is that Ways of Seeing originated as a four-part BBC television series written and presented by Berger in collaboration with director Michael Dibb and editor David Gladwell. Shot on 16mm color film, the series was broadcast in January 1972, then distributed as four 30-minute 16mm prints which could be rented by art schools or, later, purchased as four videocassettes. Only after repeated broadcast of the television series did Penguin publish a paperback book the following year, with Richard Hollis and others contributing.

Famed for its critical take on Western art, photographic reproduction, gender roles, and advertising in contemporary culture, the Ways of Seeing television series is also pointedly self-reflexive—cutting to long shots to reveal the production’s lights, camera crew, and studio set-up during a scene, informing viewers prior to a cut or music cue, directly addressing how variations of montage (or the addition of music) alters meaning, creating a self-consciousness of the medium as one of photographic and print reproduction. As a work—an essay evaluating the social history of art and images, itself reproduced in several formats as TV show, film, and paperback—its reproduction and mutability across mediums reiterates its critical stance, presenting a unique space where no one form of the text—while different—is more important than the other.

A few years ago I came across one of those early Ways of Seeing 16mm prints in the Harvard Film Archive collection. The print was originally purchased by Amos Vogel, founder of Cinema 16 and the New York Film Festival, for UPenn’s Annenberg School of Communications, where he was teaching, and then later donated by Vogel to the Harvard Film Archive as part of a collection of films he acquired. However the HFA archivists gently warned me that the 16mm print had turned a distinct lavender-rose tone, from color dye fading, a process of deterioration common among color films printed on certain stocks where the cyans and yellows die away over time, leaving a strong magenta cast. The first, second, and fourth reels are indeed an irreversible magenta, yet the penultimate reel of the series reveals itself in full, original color.

Is the color-dye faded 16mm print of Ways of Seeing a Duchampian ready-made? An uncanny creation of an "original" in the context of infinite copies? An artifact of photochemical animism, enhancing and underlining the concerns of the work itself in our present day condition of digital transfer and restoration?

- AS

Amie Siegel is an artist based in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; MAK, Vienna; Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin; Kunstmuseum Stuttgart; and the Museum Villa Stuck, Munich. Her current exhibition The Spear in the Stone is on view at Simon Preston Gallery, New York, from May 1 – June 20, 2016.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.