BBC Radio 4 — Viewfinders: Ways of Seeing at 50, Melissa Chemam — An Installation by Lubaina Himid
Five writers on looking at art, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Ways of Seeing — the 1972 TV series presented by John Berger, which was turned into a best-selling book.
First broadcast in 1972 on BBC Two, Ways of Seeing was a collaboration between the writer John Berger and director Mike Dibb. Across a series of four half-hour episodes, Berger talked about how we look at art, and why it matters: “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled … The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe … Every image embodies a way of seeing. Even a photograph … Our perception or appreciation of an image depends also upon our own way of seeing”. The programmes explored Walter Benjamin’s ideas about the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction; the female nude and the male gaze; oil painting, status and ownership; advertising, art and commerce. The book published to accompany the series has never been out of print and has had a profound influence on popular understanding of art criticism and visual culture.
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Ways of Seeing, Radio 4 invites five writers to tell us about a work of art that is important to them, and to reflect on how Ways of Seeing influenced their own ways of looking at — and thinking about — art.
In today’s episode, we follow Bristol-based French writer Melissa Chemam to the island of Zanzibar, to the refugee camps of Calais and into galleries back in the UK: “I discovered Himid’s installation ‘Naming The Money’ almost by chance. I came upon it in 2017, at Spike Island, an art gallery here in Bristol. It was part of an exhibition called “Navigation Charts”, which felt fitting for this port city with its complex past, enriched by transatlantic trades… Sugar, tobacco and enslaved people”.
Melissa Chemam is a writer and broadcaster. She has reported from the USA, Europe, and East and Central Africa for the BBC World Service, AFP, Reuters, CBC and more. She is the author of a book on Bristol’s culture, ‘Massive Attack — Out of the Comfort Zone’ and has been the writer-in-residence at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, UK since 2019.
John Berger was a storyteller, a novelist, a painter, a poet, a critic, a screenwriter, a playwright. He died in 2017, at the age of 90.
Produced by Mair Bosworth for BBC Audio
IMAGE CREDIT: LUBAINA HIMID, NAMING THE MONEY (2004). INSTALLATION VIEW, SPIKE ISLAND, BRISTOL (2017). COPYRIGHT LUBAINA HIMID. WORK COURTESY HOLLYBUSH GARDENS AND NATIONAL MUSEUMS, LIVERPOOL. IMAGE COPYRIGHT SPIKE ISLAND AND PHOTOGRAPHER STUART WHIPPS