John Berger, Ways of Seeing

by Michael Rock

While the digital may be destabilizing print, it is interesting to consider the reverse scenario: print stabilizing digital. Ways of Seeing was a four-part BBC television series written by critic John Berger. Shortly after it aired, Berger and designer Richard Hollis produced a printed version of the series published by Pelican Books—a slim, 5-inch-by-8-inch paperback with only 166 pages and both black and white ink on uncoated paper—an imprint dedicated to education. The essay text starts on the cover, giving the book both a certain modesty (fewer pages) and an urgency (read it now!). The entire text is in bold sans serif, broken down into short paragraphs coupled with visual examples. Reflecting its origin as a televisual experience, the text and images work simultaneously, one leveraging the other. There are five text-and-image essays on everything from Renaissance nudes to modern advertising. But Berger also adds two entirely visual essays: a series of examples that by the power of selection and juxtaposition alone makes his thesis. In so doing he presages the development of the playlist as a predominant contemporary form and creates one of the first pre-digital books.

Michael Rock is a New York-based graphic designer and partner at 2x4.

This text was originally published on Maharam Stories in March, 2012.