Every so often, I return to books that shaped my thinking as a young person. Recently, I’ve done that with John Berger’s classic 1972 text on art history and mass media, Ways of Seeing. I was first assigned it in a film-studies class in high school, and since then, I’ve always kept a copy. The book holds up, nearly 50 years later, for the ways it describes how much visuality is connected to how we are gendered. “Woman,” as a social category, is produced through visual culture as someone who is “seen,” conducting surveillance on herself and her image as available for consumption. Berger’s text reads well with Frantz Fanon’s classic work of anti-colonial psychoanalysis, Black Skin, White Masks (1952), in which he describes how Black people are made aware of being “seen” as “other” in the West. He calls this “third person consciousness.” Even as our understandings of gender and race have expanded in recent decades, so much in these works still holds true.
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On Ways of Being Seen
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