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Every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were printed in the entire nineteenth century; every minute, people from around the world upload over 300 hours of video to YouTube; and in 2014, we took over one trillion photographs. From the funny memes that we send to our friends to the disturbing photographs we see in the news, we are consuming and producin Every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were printed in the entire nineteenth century; every minute, people from around the world upload over 300 hours of video to YouTube; and in 2014, we took over one trillion photographs. From the funny memes that we send to our friends to the disturbing photographs we see in the news, we are consuming and producing images in quantities and ways that could never have been anticipated. In the process, we are producing a new worldview powered by changing demographics -- one where the majority of people are young, urban, and globally connected. In How to See the World, visual culture expert Nicholas Mirzoeff offers a sweeping look at history's most famous images -- from Velezquez's Las Meninas to the iconic "Blue Marble" -- to contextualize and make sense of today's visual world. Drawing on art history, sociology, semiotics, and everyday experience, he teaches us how to close read everything from astronaut selfies to Impressionist self-portraits, from Hitchcock films to videos taken by drones. Mirzoeff takes us on a journey through visual revolutions in the arts and sciences, from new mapping techniques in the seventeenth century to new painting styles in the eighteenth and the creation of film, photography, and x-rays in the nineteenth century. In today's networked world, mobile technology and social media enable us to exercise "visual activism" -- the practice of producing and circulating images to drive political and social change. Whether we are looking at pictures showing the effects of climate change on natural and urban landscapes or an fMRI scan demonstrating neurological addiction, Mirzoeff helps us to find meaning in what we see. A powerful and accessible introduction to this new visual culture, How to See the World reveals how images shape our lives, how we can harness their power for good, and why they matter to us all.


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Every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were printed in the entire nineteenth century; every minute, people from around the world upload over 300 hours of video to YouTube; and in 2014, we took over one trillion photographs. From the funny memes that we send to our friends to the disturbing photographs we see in the news, we are consuming and producin Every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were printed in the entire nineteenth century; every minute, people from around the world upload over 300 hours of video to YouTube; and in 2014, we took over one trillion photographs. From the funny memes that we send to our friends to the disturbing photographs we see in the news, we are consuming and producing images in quantities and ways that could never have been anticipated. In the process, we are producing a new worldview powered by changing demographics -- one where the majority of people are young, urban, and globally connected. In How to See the World, visual culture expert Nicholas Mirzoeff offers a sweeping look at history's most famous images -- from Velezquez's Las Meninas to the iconic "Blue Marble" -- to contextualize and make sense of today's visual world. Drawing on art history, sociology, semiotics, and everyday experience, he teaches us how to close read everything from astronaut selfies to Impressionist self-portraits, from Hitchcock films to videos taken by drones. Mirzoeff takes us on a journey through visual revolutions in the arts and sciences, from new mapping techniques in the seventeenth century to new painting styles in the eighteenth and the creation of film, photography, and x-rays in the nineteenth century. In today's networked world, mobile technology and social media enable us to exercise "visual activism" -- the practice of producing and circulating images to drive political and social change. Whether we are looking at pictures showing the effects of climate change on natural and urban landscapes or an fMRI scan demonstrating neurological addiction, Mirzoeff helps us to find meaning in what we see. A powerful and accessible introduction to this new visual culture, How to See the World reveals how images shape our lives, how we can harness their power for good, and why they matter to us all.

30 review for How to See the World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More

  1. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm Hebron

    How to See the World is an introduction to the new academic discipline of the study of visual culture. Visual artefacts in the form of fine and decorative arts have been studied in universities for about a century, of course, and before that in salons and art academies. What makes 'visual culture' as a field a new departure is its focus on mass and popular imagery, which now has an unimaginable range and volume in the age of digital media. How to See the World takes us through some of the perspe How to See the World is an introduction to the new academic discipline of the study of visual culture. Visual artefacts in the form of fine and decorative arts have been studied in universities for about a century, of course, and before that in salons and art academies. What makes 'visual culture' as a field a new departure is its focus on mass and popular imagery, which now has an unimaginable range and volume in the age of digital media. How to See the World takes us through some of the perspectives this new analysis can take. 'How to See Yourself' takes us fairly speedily from classical portraiture to modern artists such as Cindy Sherman and the ubiquitous selfie. The emphasis here is on how the self is radically unstable, and a matter of performance rather than essence, in tension with traditional social categories.'How We think about Seeing' is an update on brain science and what it tells us about perception and processing of visual information; we see with our bodies, not simply the retina. Further chapters look at the story of mapping for military purposes from the nineteenth century to the contemporary drone; early film and its conjunction with industrialisation and the train; the rise of the modern megacity; the changing climate; and mass political protest. All of these areas of life have generated, exploited and explored the expressive and interpretive capacities of visual culture. To orient oneself in the modern world, we need to develop skills in reading images from street art to museum-housed installations to instagram snaps and video clips circulated as memes. To be active participants in our own culture, we need to be adept at using these visual codes ourselves. I had some problems with this book, not least in finding some definition for the discipline itself. It draws on many other subjects, presenting some established tropes in a slightly altered format: the ideas on the performative self, for example, are familiar from feminism and gender studies; the psychology of perception is central to Gombrich's Art and Illusion; and the survey of the giant city draws heavily on authors like Mike Davis. Mirzoeff acknowledges a debt to the work of John Berger, itself drawing on Walter Benjamin. Sometimes the book felt like familiar ingredients given a slightly new twist rather than an exciting new departure. Visual culture is so vast that it surely takes in just about anything, from a school whiteboard to a weekend watercolour. Unsurprisingly, the book as a whole felt like a disparate gathering of thoughts on subjects the author is interested in (and on which he is clearly very well informed) rather than a clearly demarcated area of discourse. It's not always easy to find a thread running through a chapter; rather, one item seems to auto-suggest another. 'Divided Cities', for example, uses this suggestive heading to hurtle us through Berlin, the American South, South African apartheid and Israel-Palestine in a few pages, with some fascinating images along the way, but without time to look in any detail at any of these scenarios. In these stretches, the book reads as a sequence of riffs rather than an over-arching composition. Despite these reservations - perhaps I was looking for a more traditional thesis-style work - I must admit found this a riveting read. Mirzoeff has an immediately engaging style, unencumbered by theoretical jargon. Every page offers some fascinating nugget of information, such as the surprising but convincing link between Impressionism and industrial smog. He conveys a passionate curiosity and is an example of an academic for whom the wall between intellectual observation and practical action is, like other walls mentioned here, one to be dismantled. He is clearly fascinated and inspired by social protest movements, from the Arab Spring to Occupy, and sees in the visual traces such collective actions produce a hope for the representation of popular interests in a world in which the 99% are generally excluded by corporate media. Visual Culture is for Mirzoeff something we should do, not simply study. Only through imagining the effects of climate change can we hope to address it; and this imagining necessarily takes the form of the actual making of images. The record of mass protest in Egypt stands as an example of visual artefacts which the regime cannot erase. The commitment to action in the book makes it a refreshing change from the traditional world of art criticism, often confined to a reflective discourse within the space of the museum. If the structure of the book doesn't fit the usual academic conventions, perhaps that is part of the point. 'Once we have learned how to see the world,' he concludes, 'we have taken only one of the required steps. The point is to change it.'

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ugh

    About two-thirds of the way through How to See the World, I thought the opening of my review was going to go something like: "If you were to take How to See the World as an embodiment of its own instruction, you'd think that instruction was: incoherently. Mirzoeff never sets out his intentions, the book veers from one topic to the next and it's not until page 220 that you first come across any directions for viewing the world..." I would have meant to be disparaging, obviously. But then I started t About two-thirds of the way through How to See the World, I thought the opening of my review was going to go something like: "If you were to take How to See the World as an embodiment of its own instruction, you'd think that instruction was: incoherently. Mirzoeff never sets out his intentions, the book veers from one topic to the next and it's not until page 220 that you first come across any directions for viewing the world..." I would have meant to be disparaging, obviously. But then I started to make sense of it, and when I finished the book I thought I'd better go back and flick through the introduction again just to make sure Mirzoeff had indeed not set out his intentions . And it turns out he had. So am I wasting your time by telling you this? I hope not. I think it's informative that I managed to forget or not process what I'd read in the introduction, and I stand by the gist of my one-word summary. Only "incoherent" might be a bit strong: disjointed might be better. And I'm not sure that the book's disjointedness isn't intentional... You see, part of the basis for Mirzoeff's instruction is that the world is too big and too complex to be seen clearly, and part of the instruction itself is that in order to see the world, we therefore need to piece together lots of fragments of information. And he says as much in the introduction, using the clever metaphor of a 2012 recreation of the famous 1972 "Blue Marble" photograph of the Earth from space - the recreation being a metaphor because, rather than being a single photograph like Blue Marble, it was actually stitched together from several satellite images. But having mentioned Blue Marble in the very first sentence of the book, he brings up the reproduction only after having talked in the interim about an explosion of youth across the planet, the vast increase in internet connectivity in recent years, climate change and selfies. I'm being a little unfair making a big deal of the disconnectedness of this part, but I think it's a legitimate microcosm of the book as a whole: you spend most of chapter 1 reading about portraiture, forgetting that it's supposed to be a quick history of visual culture as a field of study; most of chapter 3 reading about warfare, forgetting it's supposed to be about visualisation; most of chapter 4 reading about cinema, forgetting it's supposed to be about the (let's be honest, readily apparent) fact that most visualising is now done on screens, etc etc. Looking back through these chapters, there are hints of the overall narrative running through them - it's just that you have to be paying close attention to find them: "Now we are trained to pay attention to distractions..." (Chapter 2) "All action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a twilight..." (Chapter 3) "... the sit-ins created a link between what was sayable and what was visible..." (Chapter 5) Mirzoeff might well protest, and I might well just not be very perceptive. But I prefer to think that, rather than How to See the World being a somewhat incoherent embodiment of what I mistakenly thought would turn out to be an incoherent instruction, instead it's a disjointed text that's deliberately disjointed in order to give you a chance to practice the very skills the book informs you you are now going to need.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dorine Ruter

    Interesting topic and examples but I expected or had hoped for a more structured aproach. Now the book is 'all over the place' which made it difficult for me to take something with me, except for some interesting facts and stories. Interesting topic and examples but I expected or had hoped for a more structured aproach. Now the book is 'all over the place' which made it difficult for me to take something with me, except for some interesting facts and stories.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This is a rather confused and disjointed book. The trouble with writing about visual culture is that it is often stating the obvious to those of us who live within it every day, especially to those of us old enough to remember the pre-smartphone era and so are more aware of the contrast. The power of a visual image cannot be underestimated and Mirzoeff lists well-know examples: the blue-marble earth; wars played out on our TV screens; video games and CGI; the omnipresent 'selfie'; the simulated w This is a rather confused and disjointed book. The trouble with writing about visual culture is that it is often stating the obvious to those of us who live within it every day, especially to those of us old enough to remember the pre-smartphone era and so are more aware of the contrast. The power of a visual image cannot be underestimated and Mirzoeff lists well-know examples: the blue-marble earth; wars played out on our TV screens; video games and CGI; the omnipresent 'selfie'; the simulated world of Google Maps and Earth, etc. He argues that mass protests on the streets are no longer effective agents of change (debatable) and that we are shifting instead to online 'visual activism'. This has a nice ring to it but it’s bogus, for we are so awash with visual propaganda, from the hypnotic, mega-volume of advertising, notably from YouTube ‘influencers’, to the grandstanding of dodgy politicians, that it is no longer possible to tell what is true or false. It is all treated with suspicion, even the good stuff. I think, however, that Mirzoeff misses a bigger trend, though to be fair it might not have started in earnest in 2015 when he was writing this book. We are getting bored! More and more people are turning their backs on social media, the 24 hour streaming and the mind-numbing range of choice, choice, choice. Because every day it's just more of the same, and it's stealing our lives and we know and we’re getting sick of it. And don’t get me started on the gathering and selling of Big Data. The technology counterculture? Now that's a book I'd quite like to read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    How to See the World starts off very literally contrasting two images of the Earth, the 1972 Blue Marble image taken from a camera aboard Apollo 17 and NASA’s updated 2012 Blue Marble , a composite rendering stitched together from a number of digital satellite images but which by all appearances was taken from a single location at a precise moment. The message from here out is that at one time vision came from a single authoritative/entitled vantage while it’s now a democratic unified ren How to See the World starts off very literally contrasting two images of the Earth, the 1972 Blue Marble image taken from a camera aboard Apollo 17 and NASA’s updated 2012 Blue Marble , a composite rendering stitched together from a number of digital satellite images but which by all appearances was taken from a single location at a precise moment. The message from here out is that at one time vision came from a single authoritative/entitled vantage while it’s now a democratic unified rendering that we must work at seeing. Nicholas Mirzoeff offers himself as a guide, making visible the composite of today’s unseen layers. It was a surprisingly taxing process for me to understand Mirzoeff’s overarching theme here (given it’s apparent straightforwardness), and it was only in the second half of the book that I was able to piece it together, the hurdle being that when I think of a whole—at global scales, at least—being fashioned from parts I think not of unity but of an emergent order which is messy, probabilistic, relativistic, and ultimately provisional. So what I thought he was getting at with is introductory Blue Marble evaluation was that we’re moving towards a more distributed world of provisional truths. It was disappointing to finally discover the more simplistic message he was really getting at since his model of a unified whole seems less encompassing than the emergent order model. Mirzoeff never reveals that surface simplicity (of the unified image) is the interface for the complexity hidden below—and that as this complexity grows the interfacing entry points multiply with it. And so while intermittently interesting the book is far more consistently short-sighted and problematic, turning territorial skirmishes over façades into an epic scale war, making lots of fuss about “unseen” worlds with no acknowledgement of the mammoth complexity that undergirds the battlefield. Mirzoeff early on takes as inspiration China Mieville’s novel The City & the City in which two cities exist coextensively while remaining invisible to one another (I believe that’s the gist—I haven’t read it). It’s the formulation Mirzoeff paints onto our world, and he spends the rest of the book demonstrating how to see the composite whole of this unseen world (although it’s not clear to whom the phenomena of selfies, worldwide unrest and protest, and climate change clashes are invisible). He charts a historical course which is making possible this world-wide democratic composite-image. At one time self-portraits were possible only for skilled painters. (Portraiture more generally was available only to society’s elite, and although they didn’t paint their own pictures, their wealth and power spoke for itself—they didn’t need to instruct the artist to paint them in a very specific light, their power therefore effectively guaranteeing control of their image.) Cameras enabled self-portraits on a somewhat wider scale, but only in the last few years has the selfie risen to prominence, letting the image-taker claim control over their image, bolstering the information content in the process by any performative aspects entailed in the picture capture. From here Mirzoeff plots the course of reclaimed image authority to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, offering (and lauding) protest movements as the global composite of these self-owned images. Much of this echoes broader contemporary discussions of narrative control (the image here replacing narrative) and the self-empowerment that comes from everyone gaining the ability to tell their story. I find all of this problematic, not in a curmudgeonly way (if I can try to claim control of perceptions about myself with this kind of caveat)—it does seem somehow humane—but the claim seems to be that at some critical mass, once everyone has their story told, all that’s dismally unseen will become visible to the world and to the light of justice. I’d say that has things reversed. To tell a story is not the same as having it heard, and taking a selfie is not the same as having it seen. Profusion is the mechanism to make things invisible, not of bringing them to the fore. In humanizing billions by disseminating billions of stories, story becomes a mass commodity. In whatever aspects it may formerly have been useful, narrative becomes tainted by association, and we migrate into a world of partial and fake truths. Try posting a selfie online and seeing if you feel like your story’s been told or whatever nameless grievance has been redressed. Cameras aren’t documentary devices, they’re no longer the tools of artists. They’ve become sensors. As protest becomes more and more systematized it grows increasingly fungible with whatever other form of spectacle that comes along and offers itself out as a reasonable swap. “Organizing” is practically its own industry now. Not to say that revolution is dead, but neither is there a template for it. What was once spontaneous and emergent is essentially being photocopied and distributed around the world, any information in the original image becoming fainter and fainter with each reproduction. Only in places where protest is truly subversive can it convey any information. The more difficult it is to coordinate ahead of time, the more information it conveys. In this paradigm even what’s seen is invisible. This is the futility of trying to compete with it (for spotlight) on its own terms. So in focusing on the 99, the Mirzoeff narrative is blind to the substructure that’s roping in the 100 percent. The final skew of all possible narratives once logged never anymore cancels out to yield a level plane for stable observation but is always left off-tilt (not as a remainder—this is the composite) so that while there’re of course still plenty bastions of power worthy of scrutiny there’s increasingly something ineffectual and strangely fictive about them. Stitched composites become necessary only with growing complexity, and only carelessly will these patchwork wholes be taken for one-to-one translations of some deeper reality (if only we had the vantage to see it) instead of the pre-masticated information consumables for our brains to ingest through our eyes that they are and to which RDA guidelines should strictly apply. Technology is discussed throughout the book, but always in a woefully subservient role. Mirzoeff reveals that the current peak of technological cultural attainment is the camera bolted onto to the social network. Technology comes across as a stepstool that we use to reach greater heights of justice—or alternatively something elites use to “dominate nature”. At these scales it’s no longer helpful to wield “technology” as a distinct segregated phenomenon. In the historical sweep technology should be viewed almost as being alive, something which at a certain point conceptually fuses with biological evolution into some greater complex system. While, no, technology isn’t all progress, it should be seen as part of a progression. Mirzoeff gives no hint of any such consideration. The resulting book is flat. He instructs the reader in how to perceive deep time and two sentences later uses the term “developed nations”, conveying the (arguably ultimate Western-centric) idea that development has peaked, that we’re at a zenith where our final collective decision will be how to distribute our finite power. He wants to make change visible but the book is so myopically rooted in the present that for all the change he wishes to show it’s How to See the World that feels static. (The “developed nation” designation is a fairly common convention and would be forgiven in this light if this characterization weren’t so paradigmatic of the book’s message overall.) There are times too where Mirzoeff doesn’t seem to know what he really wants to convey. He points out how Google Glass is so expensive that it’ll only be available to the 1 percent, but by the end of the paragraph it’s something that will track masses of users as they go about their daily business. I’m sympathetic to the privacy concerns, but this kind of approach is too ham-handed to take seriously. If Mirzoeff wanted blow deep time open for inspection he’d have seen more success opening up to considerations of deep technology, deep evolution, deep complexity, phenomena which come at scales where compression becomes as concerning as oppression. Telling your story, posting a selfie—as these things become more and more profuse in the technological tubes the pressure is to compress it. We repeat the process until we create a template at which point it’s easy fodder for an algorithm to mine—not for information, which is almost absent by then, but for redundancy, compression’s fulcrum. Beyond the point where an audience can no longer consume everything that’s disseminated, there’s a shift; your audience is now the intermediary, to which you’re visible as a data point. To whomever or whatever else you try to reach, profusion of message precludes visibility altogether, spinning a glut of signals into a composite hum. Is there a way still to convey a message in such an environment? If there is Mirzoeff hasn’t discovered it. Whatever resolution there may be doesn’t come with taking back power from authoritative vantages, learning to see the world as a composite of the seething unseen majority but to realize that at this scale it’s consensus that’s gone. Mirzoeff merely stands from his position as published author to enact an additional authoritative vantage. Getting rid of the authoritative vantage brings in something newer than what Mirzoeff is attempting to show. With inadequate respect for deep complexity the opportunity for solutions that might compute our world(s) on our behalves while leaving humanity maximally uncompressed in the process as possible is missed. At any scale of vision you can play the semantic game of illusion—down to the level of rods and cones, it’s always just stitched together. The question is where do you place the import? Where do you designate reality? Mirzoeff finds appeal in the performative aspects of visual culture, but performance is a convention, a communication template, and so the trick of being seen is locating the scarce ground where action is stripped of performance. But since performance is undetectable even to the performer (and so not something phony or disingenuous), that may be impossible. We may already be hemmed in by the shedding of performance itself being templated. At which point I suppose it’d be permissible to read How to See the World, by Nicholas Mirzoeff.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sasa Zrilic

    Erudite, all over the place and brilliant.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    Mirzoeff self-consciously updates the late John Berger's Ways of Seeing with a new piece of popular Marxist pedagogy on how to read politics and history into images and how to change politics and history through images. Chapters situating the selfie in the democratizing history of self-portraiture, explaining the three phases of the modern city (imperial, divided, and global) through artistic representations thereof, elaborating the inextricable relation between railroad and cinema (the signal t Mirzoeff self-consciously updates the late John Berger's Ways of Seeing with a new piece of popular Marxist pedagogy on how to read politics and history into images and how to change politics and history through images. Chapters situating the selfie in the democratizing history of self-portraiture, explaining the three phases of the modern city (imperial, divided, and global) through artistic representations thereof, elaborating the inextricable relation between railroad and cinema (the signal technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively), and expounding on contemporary neuroscience to demonstrate that vision is a process involving the whole body and the whole polis are vertiginous mind-changing narratives in the manner of the best popular nonfiction; they justify Mirzoeff's claims for the omni-relevance of "visual culture" as a discipline. On the other hand, chapters that range slightly further afield from visual culture as such (not that Mirzoeff would see anything in our represented world as outside its mandate), such as those on war and climate change, fit less readily into the overall narrative. Mirzoeff's conclusion is also compromised: its almost kitschy "we are the 99%" progressive optimism about "visual activism" has been called into question by the political right's own relatively successful entry into the digital culture war of images since the text's 2015 publication. Finally, this book could also use color plates or else just instructions to google the pictures discussed, because its black-and-white and heavily miniaturized image reproductions are often too murky to contribute much to Mirzoeff's compelling exegeses.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Riar

    Less powerful than I expected, though still a jouissance reading. Hardly structured and unfocus, How to See the World provides a bunch of visual interpretation and genealogy of, arguably, the new discipline 'visual culture.' However, though theoretically the thread between selfie and Anthropocene is interconnected, Mirzoeff all-over-the-place writing style makes it feel like a disjointed patchwork; unrelated. Anyway, it is interesting to rethink the correlation between representation and visuali Less powerful than I expected, though still a jouissance reading. Hardly structured and unfocus, How to See the World provides a bunch of visual interpretation and genealogy of, arguably, the new discipline 'visual culture.' However, though theoretically the thread between selfie and Anthropocene is interconnected, Mirzoeff all-over-the-place writing style makes it feel like a disjointed patchwork; unrelated. Anyway, it is interesting to rethink the correlation between representation and visuality in terms of political activism—as quite often we see visuality merely just a form or a method of representation. However, the question raises after reading this book is: according to the factoid and visual analysis provided in this book, is visual cultures the study of representation—as it encapsulated in the afterword as Visual Activism? How to see the visual culture outside the framework of representation?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Francisco

    An introduction to Visual Studies and the importance of image in the modern world, this is a pretty fascinating book. It starts out with self-representation, from the self-portrait to the selfie and continues on to explore how images were and are important in the way people see themselves, others and the world. This is also a really political book in a good way, it explores how images are not innocent of political content, and towards the end explores how social networks and the current capacity An introduction to Visual Studies and the importance of image in the modern world, this is a pretty fascinating book. It starts out with self-representation, from the self-portrait to the selfie and continues on to explore how images were and are important in the way people see themselves, others and the world. This is also a really political book in a good way, it explores how images are not innocent of political content, and towards the end explores how social networks and the current capacity that so many people have to create their own images have led to popular movements propelled by visual culture, from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movements. All in all, it's an easy and important read that even if it doesn't bring anything specially new to the table, at least condenses it all in one place contextualizing so much of the visuals of modern world in the political and aesthetic history of humans.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    In the preface to his marvellous Age of Revolution Eric Hobsbawm noted that the book’s “[i]deal reader is that theoretical construct, the intelligent and educated citizen, who is not merely curious about the past, but wishes to understand how and why the word has come to be what it is today and whither it is going”. It’s a fabulous goal, and I hope one shared by many of who work in the social sciences and humanities; it is certainly the rationale behind the revival of Penguin Books’ Pelican seri In the preface to his marvellous Age of Revolution Eric Hobsbawm noted that the book’s “[i]deal reader is that theoretical construct, the intelligent and educated citizen, who is not merely curious about the past, but wishes to understand how and why the word has come to be what it is today and whither it is going”. It’s a fabulous goal, and I hope one shared by many of who work in the social sciences and humanities; it is certainly the rationale behind the revival of Penguin Books’ Pelican series, with its plan to take the big ideas and best of contemporary thinking to wider, non-specialist audiences. One of the more interesting spin-offs from the last 30 or so years’ work in and around thinking differently about culture has been the growth of a much more systematic study of visual culture. The centrality of the visual to the current world is hard to overstate: in our streets we are battered by images, signs, messages and instructions – and that’s before we even get to television and the interweb that allows you to read this. Nick Mirzoeff, a major figure in the field, is a fine choice to be the writer bringing these developments to Hobsbawm’s ‘theoretical construct’. The book is divided into three sections. In the first Mirzoeff explores what it means ‘to see’. As with so much else in studies of culture, ‘to see’ seems a remarkably straightforward verb, until that is we start to realise just how different are the things we see, and that these differences are not just between individuals but are also culturally framed: that is, we see in ways similar to other people like us. He opens these chapters with a discussion of the 1972 photo from Apollo 17 known as Blue Marble and arguing that it profoundly changed the way we think about ourselves because for the first time we have seen our world from the outside. It is hard to overstate the sense of wonder this image evoked. Yet, Blue Marble also encapsulates a profound tension in visual culture – between that sense of the single objective real image and the way that we all see differently. The opening three chapters explore this tension, along the way unpacking what it means ‘to see’ given this contradiction. As Mirzoeff notes it is not just about seeing our word from without, but also seeing ourselves which takes him into an engaging discussion of the ‘selfie’ – not as it is often the case as a marker of contemporary narcissism but as a way of framing the world by framing ourselves, while making sense of the selfie through other forms of (self)portraiture from Velazquez to Cindy Sherman. This set of chapters concludes with a discussion not of seeing but of how we might think about seeing, including what vision is in an anatomical and neuro-scientific way. (These really are the big ideas!) In the second set of chapters, Mirzoeff explores where and how we see and how where we are shapes what it is we’re seeing. He opens these chapters with an unsettling discussion of maps of war, and the impact of military looking and seeing on the ways we conceptualise space. Whereas the other two foci of discussion here – screens and urban spaces – might make a lot more intuitive sense, as for many of us these are the parts of our world that frame what and how we see, I find compelling his case that military ways of seeing pervade and to a large degree determine the ways many of us see; what’s more, this so banal that we remain unaware of it. Mirzoeff’s city-vision parallels his military vision, as constructing and enacting zones of inclusion and exclusion, of empire and power and of the walls and barriers – physical or not – that direct us to enact space and vision in specific ways. This is a visual culture of power and authority. This, then, bring him to the final section – change. Much as I like his discussion of the global changing world – of climate change, of our understanding of the ways that we might see change, especially large scale, systematic and slow change – I find his exploration of the ways that we might engage with visual culture to bring about change much more exciting. He draws on film, on urban rebellion (Arab Spring and Occupy) and on culture jamming to discuss how we might visually create something new, or even just dissent. For him, changing the world and visual activism is about an interplay of pixels and action – not the ways we usually think about activism, but often a good place to start. I teach a final year class based in the cultural sociology and the sociology of consumption for sport studies students (coaches, teachers, community development workers, managers and journalists) many of whom come from a deep rooted positivist outlook and positive engagement with sport as a social practice – but in developing a strong visual culture strand through the class many of these students find a dissident voice (often that they didn’t know they had) because the visual allows them to engage with both different aspects of their sporting worlds and to engage differently with those worlds – and they finish up being much better critical scholars, and in many cases developing a much stronger activist outlook designed not to reproduce but to make better, more open and democratic the world that is both their hobby and their chosen site of work. Various pieces by Mirzoeff and other visual culture scholars appear throughout this class – sometimes explicitly, more often implicitly. Learning its codes is a great way to see and act in/on the world in different ways. Mirzoeff is a fine guide the ways to see the world, but don’t just stop (t)here; the book has an excellent guide to further reading. Highly recommended, for specialist and non-specialist readers alike.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Lugthart

    I was looking for sources to revise my lecture material for art academy students and this introduction was very useful for that. Of course Mirzoeff can only touch upon some subjects which I would have liked to read more about, like gender or representation, but it is clear that the writer has a deep understanding of the topics and can connect many examples and can put them under one umbrella or theme. Also the visual activism part and the possibilities that artists or civilians in general have t I was looking for sources to revise my lecture material for art academy students and this introduction was very useful for that. Of course Mirzoeff can only touch upon some subjects which I would have liked to read more about, like gender or representation, but it is clear that the writer has a deep understanding of the topics and can connect many examples and can put them under one umbrella or theme. Also the visual activism part and the possibilities that artists or civilians in general have to act was inspiring and something I will definitely focus more on in my lectures to young students!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andri Erdin

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Mirzoeff’s extremely ambitious work on visual culture sets out to link a variety of vastly different topics such as war, urbanisation, climate change or selfie-culture across the span of human existence and across all continents. While his illustrations are enlightening on their own, his aim becomes clear in the last chapter: visual thinking is only the first necessary step in understanding and, ultimately, changing the world. ‘How to See the World’ is both a starting point for newcomers and gra Mirzoeff’s extremely ambitious work on visual culture sets out to link a variety of vastly different topics such as war, urbanisation, climate change or selfie-culture across the span of human existence and across all continents. While his illustrations are enlightening on their own, his aim becomes clear in the last chapter: visual thinking is only the first necessary step in understanding and, ultimately, changing the world. ‘How to See the World’ is both a starting point for newcomers and grand narrative for advanced readers in the field. A book to return to.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andriy

    A decent history of how we see and are seen. In spirit, it`s a continuation of John Berger's "Ways of seeing". Though, with a focus on the developments in the field of visual culture from 1990s till 2014. It shows how visual culture is connected to humans rights abuse, the climate crisis, inequality and state violence. Definitely an interesting and important read, though not a groundbreaking work. A decent history of how we see and are seen. In spirit, it`s a continuation of John Berger's "Ways of seeing". Though, with a focus on the developments in the field of visual culture from 1990s till 2014. It shows how visual culture is connected to humans rights abuse, the climate crisis, inequality and state violence. Definitely an interesting and important read, though not a groundbreaking work.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    In the beginning the analysis and observations the writer makes were a bit to general for me and not revealing to me the bigger understanding I was looking for. It is aiming to be an introduction to a field called the visual culture studies. So maybe I am wrongfully critisizing it's briefness. If you are considering studying in this field or are for example a first year art student I think you will have the most merit from this book. In the beginning the analysis and observations the writer makes were a bit to general for me and not revealing to me the bigger understanding I was looking for. It is aiming to be an introduction to a field called the visual culture studies. So maybe I am wrongfully critisizing it's briefness. If you are considering studying in this field or are for example a first year art student I think you will have the most merit from this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

    honestly was a rough read. i think i just don't like reading art history. i definitely learned some interesting things and perspectives. but the jumps across so many topics, genres, disciplines, and modes of thinking was a lot to handle. i think i'm just not used to working my brain in this particular artistic way. honestly was a rough read. i think i just don't like reading art history. i definitely learned some interesting things and perspectives. but the jumps across so many topics, genres, disciplines, and modes of thinking was a lot to handle. i think i'm just not used to working my brain in this particular artistic way.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Walker

    What is visual culture? How should we approach the visual world around us? What skills do we need to make sense of what we see, and how did these senses develop and evolve over time? All of this, and more, is the subject of Nicholas Mirzoeff's magnificent introduction to the world of visual culture. What is visual culture? How should we approach the visual world around us? What skills do we need to make sense of what we see, and how did these senses develop and evolve over time? All of this, and more, is the subject of Nicholas Mirzoeff's magnificent introduction to the world of visual culture.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Xander Mitchell

    An exceptional introduction to the subject of visual culture--perhaps a bit basic for students of art history, but a great blend of fields as diverse as urban studies, economics, war history, and portraiture.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Simply, Mirzoeff remains one of our great writers in visual studies.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anatolii Belikov

    Goood Love it. A ton of interesting thoughts about visual culture and a way how we see the world around us. Highly recommended to artists and designers.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leah Davies

    interesting book, skimmed through chapters to find relevant information for my art practice, pretty contemporary despite being written nearly 10 years ago.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Santillán

    A lot of this is implicit in our everyday life, but it was a great perspective that I didn’t expect to find in a homework reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    The momentum of change gathers pace. As a 40-something woman, I have to accept that the world I remember from my childhood has now disappeared. We are experiencing the death throes of one system and the birth pangs of the next. Change can be exhilarating, frightening, unsettling; it benefits some and destroys others. The gist of Mirzoeff's book is that we also need to equip ourselves with a new visual vocabulary; we need to learn to see the (new) world. We need also to decide where to place ours The momentum of change gathers pace. As a 40-something woman, I have to accept that the world I remember from my childhood has now disappeared. We are experiencing the death throes of one system and the birth pangs of the next. Change can be exhilarating, frightening, unsettling; it benefits some and destroys others. The gist of Mirzoeff's book is that we also need to equip ourselves with a new visual vocabulary; we need to learn to see the (new) world. We need also to decide where to place ourselves within this visual culture; in relation to what has gone before and in relation to the kind of future we would like to help shape. It is a very interesting read. I have a Degree in art history/film studies/architecture/cultural theory and so a great deal of it was already familiar to me. However, there was also a lot of new and interesting stuff to learn here, as Mirzoeff's book is bang up-to-date. For that reason, I would urge everyone to read it right away. Pretty soon, a new edition of "How to See the World" will be needed, as ideologies collapse, cities decay and are reborn and new technologies emerge to replace what seemed 'new' five minutes ago. Equip yourself to read the visual world - read this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Morgan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very informative. Nicholas begins by exploring the personable aspects of visual culture, how time has given way to the age of selfies, which allow us to explore aspects of personality and perform as ourselves for our digital circle. The book then gives way to discuss the more technical aspects of the visual. How vision is constantly being learned and unlearned, that our brain is designed to learn from others and the systems in our brain will change how we perceive things to account for new infor Very informative. Nicholas begins by exploring the personable aspects of visual culture, how time has given way to the age of selfies, which allow us to explore aspects of personality and perform as ourselves for our digital circle. The book then gives way to discuss the more technical aspects of the visual. How vision is constantly being learned and unlearned, that our brain is designed to learn from others and the systems in our brain will change how we perceive things to account for new information we receive. We then learn more about visual culture's effect on the world as a whole. There is emphasis on an accelerated rate of change. The chapter on climate change made the visible changes that climate change has brought, within lifetimes, to our planet. Even describing instances where artists have in the past accounted for human pollutants as examples of (attractive) ambient additions to exciting life in the city. It drives home what the point of visual culture should be, to translate messages that instigate real, positive change. When it is possibly more important but still harder than ever to, rebel maybe? Stand for something? Live for ethics?, this book works as an engaging and informative read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fabienne

    A really interesting book on ow visual culture (i.e. images, art, film) influences ways in which we saw and see the world. Mirzoeff caused me to ask a lot of questions and has very interesting ideas, I have not thought of images and visual culture in that way before. Especially interesting is his chapter on visual activism (e.g. the revolutions in Egypt, occupy wall street etc) and how street art and other visuals were used. Also interesting is his comparision between the self-portrait and the s A really interesting book on ow visual culture (i.e. images, art, film) influences ways in which we saw and see the world. Mirzoeff caused me to ask a lot of questions and has very interesting ideas, I have not thought of images and visual culture in that way before. Especially interesting is his chapter on visual activism (e.g. the revolutions in Egypt, occupy wall street etc) and how street art and other visuals were used. Also interesting is his comparision between the self-portrait and the selfie, even though I am not sure whether I agree with his conclusions, as they seem a bit too far-fetched for me. In short: He has got interesting claims to make and has introduced me to new ways of thinking about visual culture. Still, I feel that often his conclusions are a bit too ambitious and I am not sure wether I agree with all of his ideas. This is a good thing of course, because it makes me think ;) Definitely worth a read!

  25. 4 out of 5

    innferno

    "Art might seem to be the only way to live a life for yourself in the global economy, as opposed to the dominant so-called 'service economy' in which we work, not for each other but for someone else's profit." An interesting dive in into the world of art and visual culture, compared to other writers in this area Mirzoeff is quite optimistic about the modern changes and sees new opportunities in our ever-shifting world. "Art might seem to be the only way to live a life for yourself in the global economy, as opposed to the dominant so-called 'service economy' in which we work, not for each other but for someone else's profit." An interesting dive in into the world of art and visual culture, compared to other writers in this area Mirzoeff is quite optimistic about the modern changes and sees new opportunities in our ever-shifting world.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Susan Csoke

    In 1972 astronaut Jack Schmitt took a picture of Earth from Apollo 17 spacecraft. People were now able to see the earth as a whole. That unified world visible from one spot often seems out of reach now. The world has changed dramatically since then. The planet itself is changing before our eyes. There are no limits to how far digital companies want to integrate themselves into our lives and even our field of vision. This is a very interesting read. THANK YOU GOODREADS FIRSTREADS FOR THIS FREE BO In 1972 astronaut Jack Schmitt took a picture of Earth from Apollo 17 spacecraft. People were now able to see the earth as a whole. That unified world visible from one spot often seems out of reach now. The world has changed dramatically since then. The planet itself is changing before our eyes. There are no limits to how far digital companies want to integrate themselves into our lives and even our field of vision. This is a very interesting read. THANK YOU GOODREADS FIRSTREADS FOR THIS FREE BOOK!!!!!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hjd

    Does what it says in the description. I found this book very interesting and inspiring and it will have an impact on my interpretation of what I see and photograph, as well as what I might choose to do with those photos. This was a great reminder that seeing isn't just a biological process, but an interpretative and cultural one as well. Does what it says in the description. I found this book very interesting and inspiring and it will have an impact on my interpretation of what I see and photograph, as well as what I might choose to do with those photos. This was a great reminder that seeing isn't just a biological process, but an interpretative and cultural one as well.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    302.2 M677 2015

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joel

    A fantastic work on the changing nature of the image and the influence it bears on society, connecting globalisation, climate change and politics via highly relevant examples.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Karla Kitalong

    I get to teach a graduate class in visual communication this year. I can't wait. I get to teach a graduate class in visual communication this year. I can't wait.

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