An extract from Words to Live By Vol 2
Out soon in print and an ebook
The philosopher Descartes wrote those wonderful words ‘I think therefore I am.’ I recently gave a lecture to a group of dedicated and experienced amateur photographers. We talked about suitable angles, appropriate lenses, choices for deciding depth of field, proper colour balance, correct compositional techniques, geometric balances, effective crops, ephemeral gestures and decisive moments. But this group was different, distinctly unlike my usual gathering because, whilst a few were visually impaired, the remainder and by far the majority were completely blind… each of them suffering the physical handicap of not seeing what was directly in front of them or at best a blurred interpretation of what the rest of us could fully appreciate.
When my phone rang asking if I’d like to talk to them, I have to confess the first question I asked myself was… ‘if photography is the art of capturing a visual moment’ then how could someone who is blind appreciate what they had recorded and be a successful photographer? It seemed a contradiction. But after a wonderfully enlightening day together I now realise that for them, it’s as much of a pastime as if they had the benefit of sight. Their intention is the same as for those of us with full vision, each of us trying to catch essences, elements and moments. Perhaps it’s these blind photographers that prove Dorothea Lange the brilliant American portrait photographer’s statement when she said… ‘The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.’
Even though most of my students had absolutely no sight, what they did have was the ability to perceive something visual by building a mental image before capturing whatever they wished to photograph… walking around it, interacting with the subject to get a feel for what the lens would eventually record. They were photographing what they imagined, the scene from a perspective free of sight-driven selection and self-censorship. The results were pure, unfiltered, and inherently conceptual.
We sat and chatted afterwards, over tea and later some beers too. ‘I can’t stop wondering what it must be like to live in the world without colour, without shape and form.’ I said. But it seems from our conversations that the physical handicap was not an essential part of their being, or of whom they were… lacking the ability to see was not in any way a part of their mind.
These five emphatic words… ‘I think therefore I am,’ was visible in each of them, they understood that a brightly enthusiastic mind was their tool for happiness and joy… bridging the dark unseen.
This wonderfully enlightening day taught me that it’s entirely possible for each of us to create light inside of us no matter what calamity might happen in our inner world.