When Scorpio Engages With The Camera

Wednesday January 4th 2017
From Ways of Seeing

From Ways of Seeing

John Berger, art critic, author, poet, visionary, European became (almost) a household name when he made a four-part TV series called Ways of Seeing. This came out in 1972 and it’s a fascinating watch today — not just for the ideas, which became extremely influential (and still sometime subversive), but also for Berger’s relationship with the camera, his delivery and the pacing.

No birth time, so this is set for sunrise

No birth time, so this is set for sunrise

I think you can feel his chart — no birth time — powerfully in Ways of Seeing. His whole argument  is based on the idea of looking at art truthfully, stripping away one’s cultural baggage and seeing the bones of the work underneath. He was born on the New Moon, and New Moon people are wonderful for the freshness of their take on life, yet this is in dark, penetrating Scorpio…  His penetrating gaze, intensity and direct delivery are all Scorpio. His desire to educate (and indeed impose his ideas) is Sagittarian in its breadth and generosity.

His Scorpio planets oppose Mars Rx in Taurus, the most material sign, and indeed Berger’s approach is Marxist: he puts art into its economic context. Interestingly, that Mars is on Marx’s natal New Moon. Scorpio-Taurus is the money axis.

I’d associate the idea of seeing with Neptune, which is in Leo (the performer) exactly squaring Saturn in Scorpio. Berger sought to challenge the received way of seeing with his own revolutionary way (Uranus in Pisces).

Just watch some of this, keeping in mind his chart. This is the final episode (the best I think), in which he discusses envy — a truly Scorpionic subject. I am sure you will find much more that relates to his chart. The other four episodes are also available on YouTube.

John Berger died at the age of 90 this week. If you haven’t read To the Wedding, try it. Again so Scorpio plus Mercury in Sagittarius.


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  1. Iris says:

    Really interesting post, thanks Christina. I’d seen the articles about his death but not being a Brit, I didn’t know about this work. The video clip is succinct and so interesting both in the ideas he conveys and also as a document of its time. He doesn’t directly comment on the gendered aspects of the illusions being spun but my, it makes striking watching – womens’ bodies everywhere. That shot down the tube escalator where almost every ad features a woman’s body.
    The tidy definition of glamour as being the creation of social envy nicely sums up, for instance, the appeal of those who are famous for being famous, as well as the plutonic tumult fame stirs in the public.

    • Christina says:

      Yes, I had not watched these since the early 90s — and I so agree with you. 1972 seems both closer and further away.

      You make a perceptive remark about women’s bodies too. Berger actually devoted a whole episode to that very subject and the difference between “the nude” and being naked. It’s episode 2 — again short and pithy. Not only that, he devotes almost half the show to a discussion with a group of women about the “nude” and the film he’s made.

      This turns out to be a fascinating feminist document in itself.

  2. Sandy says:

    This was fascinating to see again. Thank you. I am an English woman who has lived in California for some decades. Watching this made me realise how much I miss listening to measured words and articulate speech – British version. I was surprised by how much bare flesh, usually female, was used to sell products. I had not remembered those times in this way! I found myself thinking of Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements which was published in the mid 70’s. I will seek out the other episodes of Ways of Seeing on Youtube. Now I am trying to recall where the book is!

    • Christina says:

      I miss it too! Even really clever, articulate people such as Mary Beard or Simon Schama are put into a diminishing format on TV these days. However, I also think Berger has an intense Scorpio screen presence, a kind of chemistry with the camera that not many presenters have. He wrote a lot about photography and I think he’s interested here in exploring how to relate to the camera.

  3. Annette Hughes says:

    Fascinating post. I recently saw Jefferson Airplane’s performance of White Rabbit on American Bandstand in the late 60s. Grace Slick (a Scorpio) has an almost unnervingly intense gaze throughout. I was born in 1970 and wasn’t fully aware of just how endemic the objectification of women was in advertising until I saw your clip.