See the World Through the Mind of “The Blind Photographer”
Photo: Rubén Ortiz, Life After Life, Mexico, 2007, ©Rubén Ortiz
For those of us with the gift of sight, we rely heavily on the visual world to guide our thoughts, ideas, and our life. “Seeing is believing,” the old cliché asserts, somehow missing the mark that belief is an act of faith as well. “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear,” Edgar Allen Poe warned, instilling the necessity of doubt in our sense, as well as in his very words.
For sight is a sense perceived not only with the eyes, but with all the faculties of the mind, body, and spirit working as one. The very fact that the retina inverts the world so that it appears upside down and requires our brain’s ability to reverse this information is evidence of the fact that the optical world may not be what it appears. Yet, such is our dependency on sight that we rarely doubt the initial impressions it makes.
The Blind Photographer: 150 Extraordinary Photographs from Around the World, edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding (Princeton Architectural Press) is a tour de force of photography book publishing, revealing the powers of sight that exist beyond optics. The book features 150 photographs made by 50 blind or partially sighted artists along with their words, giving us profound insight into the depth at which vision works.
As Candia McWilliam writes in the introduction, “Blind people, or those adjusting to closing sight, often have to take longer to do things. There are practical reasons for this. Falling is a possibility. Trust in an environment must be established. Atmosphere must be tested. The social bathyscape is employed. Faces cannot be read. Love at first sight is not going to happen. Swift escape cannot be made. A kind of sonar depending upon intuited locations of all kinds of presence or even threat may develop with practice. Practice itself takes time.”
This requires is a level of patience that sighted world all but eradicates. Optical vision increases speed with ever0changing stimuli coming in and out of our landscape. But once these stimuli are removed, or greatly restricted, the brain and the body are able to process other information on a more visceral level.
This is the world of The Blind Photographer; it a world only they know, ripe with richness and a depth of perception that conveys an understanding that is as poetic as it is powerful. It is a universe where vision exists, but it is not informed by optics. Perhaps it is similar to the visions we hold in our mind’s eye, the memories, fantasies, and nightmares; these are things we have drawn not just from the visual world but from information retained in our brain’s neural pathways.
The Blind Photographer is a testament to the fundamental human need to capture our vision of life, and to share it with those around us as a means to communicate the experience, understanding, and wisdom we have acquired.
Slovenia photographer Evgen Bavčar observes, “Photography must belong to the blind, who in their daily existence have learned to become masters of the camera obscura. Camera obscura existed for a long time; it is, for example, the concept of the cave in Plato’s philosophy and later in the invention of the darkroom, which photographers entered blind…For me, photography does not only r4epresent a medium of artistic expression; it is also a manner of reclaiming one’s right to the image, and the refusal to be another’s passive model. All the images that I create exist beforehand in my mind and are perceived by my third eye, that of the soul.”
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.