Ways of seeing

Rosemary Sullivan

M. John Berger

JOHN BERGER is on my list along with Leonard Cohen, Dorothy Day, Doris Lessing,  and too many to name here…. folks I would have loved to spend time with over a cup of tea or scotch or whatever.  Unfortunately this list contains the dead, so I am left to enjoy their amazing contributions to our world.  John Berger’s  son announced his death on January 3….»The winner of Booker Prize writer died at 90 years».  Yes, he was truly a «renaissance person»….writing, painting, photography, and teaching.

I was introduced to his work back in the 1970’s when he created the BBC film production and subsequent book «Ways of Seeing».  Or was it the other way around ?  I was fortunate to immerse myself in a conversation with his ideas and vision by showing his film to my Cegep and University classes and workshops.  In subsequent years I have been blessed to continue to see flashes of his work and remember his message while travelling, visiting museums and participating in the world of images and photography.  And now he is on to his next assignment.

We are blessed to have his work with us.  Thanks to friends who emailed me, I know that his film «Ways of Seeing» is available on YouTube.  His views affirmed my experience of the power of the image and encouraged me to participate in photography for most of my life.  I still have the Brownie Camera I got when I was nine years old. But that’s another story.

Berger was a feminist and demonstrates through his work how women have been objectified throughout  history, in art and media.  Women, so obviously creators of children, are not valued as creators of our world’s  sciences, arts and architecture, economic systems,  thoughts etc.  For me, Sophia Coppola who I was fortunate to meet along with her family (father Frances Ford Coppola famous for his many films and now his wine)  when she was five years old, is a wonderful example of a woman taking her place as a film director.  I highly recommend her films, «Lost in Translation», «Marie Antoinette», «A very Murry (sic) Christmas», «The Beguiled» and especially  «Somewhere» about a famous film actor and his young daughter in Hollywood.  Hmmmmm !

Back to Berger.  He was a feminist and one of the first  men (who else was there ?)  to show how women are a minority among artists.  He inspired artists in the Spiracle Group, Doreen Szilazi, Isobel Gow, Alba Taylor and myself, along with Stanje Plantenja, Pat Walsh and others  to start one of the first collective galleries of women’s art «Powerhouse» on Greene Avenue in Westmount/Montreal  back in the 1970’s.  You can now enjoy some of the fruits of those efforts at the La Centrale Powerhouse (514-871-0268) check out their website for upcoming shows and events in 2017. They are celebrating the 40th anniversary.

The Women’s Studio at the National Film Board of Canada also must be mentioned as one of the foremost resources for women, art and film.  Back in the 1970’s Denis Gillson, head of Cinematography at the NFB/ONF trained Susan… of the first women camera operators at the NFB.  It was a very exciting time.  I was blessed in the 1980’s to help create some study guides and film compilations on Women and Film for Studio D headed up by Kathleen Shannon.  Now I am blessed to have as my neighbor, Josee Beaudet who was the head of Studio D en Français.  I wish these studios were still in place ; my hunch is that most film-makers in Canada are still men.

If you are interested, call and come for a visit to «Galerie Isle de ‘Paradiso'» in Pigeon Hill where I work with photographs and images.  I would love to share thoughts, ideas, photos and my LIFESCREEN project.  I also recommend The Factory in Dunham, Quebec where women artists are carrying on the art of working with fabric.

Thank you John Berger for all your insight and inspiration.

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