Even just seeing the year makes people anxious and begin predicting “another bad year”. Why? Perhaps it is that we are often unsure of what we are seeing and looking at in today’s world. What once was up can be down, red can be green. We live in what seems a state of permanent revolution. Which is exciting and liberating, don’t get me wrong. We are shaping the future, making history! etc. etc. But it can also be confusing, anarchic, and worrying.
Today’s world is far more urban, connected,and youthful than it was only a few decades ago. we live in a time where Instagram is the Bible, Netflix is date night, and fame can be achieved through filming someone’s shoes and saying “Damn Daniel” over a period of days. With this plethora of new visual material, it can often be hard to be sure of what we are seeing when we look at today’s world.
Cue, How to See the World by Nicholas Mirzoeff.
In this book Mirzoeff sets out to help us understand the visual culture of this ever changing world we live in. Visual culture, as Mirzoeff explains, ‘involves the things that we see, the mental model we all have of how to see, and what we can do as a result’ (Mirzoeff 11). It is not only a way to see what is happening,but a way that we engage in to change what is happening.
This visual culture has greatly transformed compared to what it was only a few decades ago. True, the same can be said of other similar periods of dramatic change in the visible world. The 19th century saw the rise of photography, film and X-ray while the development of maps, microscopes and telescopes made the 17th century an era of visual discovery. But since the rise of personal computing and the Internet, visual inagery today is different and unparalleled in terms of ‘sheer quantity, geographic extent and its convergence on the digital’ (Mirzoeff 16).
This growing visual culture – yes it is daunting and can be overwhelming but moreover, it’s exciting. There is so much to look at, yet How to See the World can offer suggestions on how we can organise what we are looking at and make sense of the changes happening to our visual world.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. How to see the World. Pelican, 2015