He’s revered for shooting Ways of Seeing with John Berger, but Mike Dibb has made films about all the giants of culture – as well as Wimbledon tennis balls. He looks back on a dazzling career

This morning, like most mornings, Mike Dibb is sitting in his conservatory. “It’s where I spend many, many, many hours,” he says. “And it’s very nice, because I look out into a little garden.” There is a desk, a painting by an old friend, and a vine that twists up the back wall. He’s speaking via Zoom from west London and it feels strange to see this documentary-maker on screen. Over the course of more than five decades, Dibb has rarely ventured in front of the camera. Instead, he’s the voice off-screen, the steady hand steering the story.

A retrospective of Dibb’s work is about to begin online, courtesy of the Whitechapel Gallery in London. It encompasses portraits of Keith Jarrett, Federico García Lorca, Miles Davis, CLR James, Barbara Thompson, Roger Deakin and Edward Said. There are studies of place: Chicago through the eyes of Studs Terkel; Cuba, via its music and dance; Ireland, through spoken word and song. And there are his more discursive works: the 1982 series Fields of Play, which looked at human notions of play, from humour to gambling to war. And of course, it features Ways of Seeing, Dibb’s 1072 landmark collaboration with the writer John Berger, which offered a new perspective on visual imagery, from the female nude and the male gaze, to oil paint, advertising, and the theories of Walter Benjamin.

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