How to see

How to see-George Nelson
TitleHow to see
Visual adventures in a world God never made
AuthorGeorge Nelson
PublisherPhaidon
Year2017 (original made in 1977)
Format24×22 cm
Pages248
Price24,95 EUR
CoverHardback, colors
ISBN9780714873831

“Seeing is not a unique God-given talent, but a discipline. It can be learned “: this quote in the back cover well explains a lot about the book, its content and its purpose. It is a real guide to the right way to see and understand the images, the shapes, and the geometries that our eye faces at any moment, and this is a discipline, an art that according to the author can be learned like any other. George Nelson was a designer and architect considered one of the fathers and leading exponents of American Modernism, countless of his design works have become true icons, recognized all over the world.

Convinced that most people were not able to “see”, meant as the ability to decode the non-verbal messages that occur to their eyes, as a result of some experimentation carried out on groups of different people, Nelson carried on his message , “How to see” is the Summa, according to which these people (90% of the total according to his experiments) would be educated to “visual literacy” as well as to mathematics and literary sciences.

How to see was published in 1977 and this new 40th anniversary edition by Phaidon is aimed to repropose the Nelson’s thoughts even if lowered in a world completely different when we think about what he called “visual pollution” from that in which the author worked and wrote: Nelson mentioned the city of Las Vegas with its billboards and light signs as the maximum example of pollution from visual saturation but today, with photographic smartphones and instant social sharing, we can easily say that Las Vegas is everywhere.

The Book is full of pictures, an astonishing amount of 341 in 248 pages: we know that George Nelson almost always traveled with a camera around his neck, although he was not a photographer, and countless were the film slides with which he returned from every trip. Do not expect artistic photographs (or rather, deliberately artistic) in which it lends great care to composition, exposure or any technical aspect: what counts in the reproduced photographs is to show Nelson’s contemporary reality with all its signs and symbols, helping the viewer-reader to recognize and understand them. The effect is remarkable and will not fail to amaze the reader who can see what is shown to him (which, as the subtitle says, is a world created not by God but by man) with the eyes of the designer and communicator.

How to see is divided into chapters but, there isn’t a proper reading order to follow; each section is made up of Nelson’s writings, quite concise and clear in the message they want to share, embedded in the full-bodied photographic apparatus that truly makes it a master. Immersing yourself in the images, recognizing signs and symbols and then looking for confirmation (or denial) as exposed by the author is the best way to enjoy this text.

Although not properly addressed to those who take care of photography, How to see is certainly an excellent resource for all of us as it can offer important insights and profound reflections on how to communicate content more or less (especially less) explicit with images. It certainly finds its own place in the library of the conceptual photographer!

As far as this edition is concerned, How to see is proposed in an attractive and manageable format, almost square, which invites to keep it at hand to browse it from time to time; the hardcover is very neat and decidedly graphic, while the inside paper is semi-gloss and seems by good quality both to the sight and to the touch, very apt to bring out the many images present inside.

The prefaces and the introduction of Nelson are to be noted as important to better understand the original context and purpose of the publication as well as the author’s thought on “visual literacy”. Surely, even for those who are concerned only with photography, the reading of How to see will open the doors to further investigation.

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