Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sensorium of Sight: "The Blind Photographer"

The Blind Photographer: 150 Extraordinary 
Photographs from Around the World
edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding, 
published by Princeton Architectural Press, 
When the Princeton Architectural Press offered me a copy of 
The Blind Photographer: 150 Extraordinary Photographs from Around the World I leaped at the chance to review it. This wonderful book expands my concept of sight and has encouraged me to consider—as I never have—its sensory sources. 

The ideas alone would be enough excitement, but the one-hundred fifty photographs themselves are genuinely remarkable: You won't have to be a student of philosophy to be smitten. These are all different, and not in the way of freakery—curious extension of the limited capacities we attribute to persons we deem deficient. Even did we know nothing about the artists' blindnesses, their unusual perspectives and the concentrations—the committed, bullet-like deliveries of life—make any viewer's heart leap in a new direction. There is indeed a lot more than first meets the eye!

The Blind Photographer, edited by Julian Rothstein and Mel Gooding, is introduced by an essay, "Eyes That Feel," by the Scots novelist, Candia McWilliam. It is a superb piece of art writing, poetic in a way that, I venture, clarifies and informs more successfully than a "scholarly" essay could. Her success lies in leading viewers into the hearts of the artists' goals and challenges. As she discusses a single one of them, McWilliam teaches us how to travel through the surfaces into the images and into the mental and sensory worlds of the photographers.
Untitled. Copyright Ramón Jiménez.

One photo she describes as "a rainbow-fibred mop head with its alert handle and attendant bucket; two bottles, one water, one maybe bleach; the distinction comes into our sinuses as we imagine sightlessly drinking from the wrong one." 

I see a composition with three centered circles (their volume isn't apparent) of decreasing circumference, shot from an unusual perspective, straight down. The pole appears very securely upright, but by what means? It's too far from the cameraman for him to hold it. We see the artist's feet: It takes two hands to grip the camera and shoot straight down.

If we with sight put ourselves in the blind photographer's shoes—which we are certainly invited to do—the image is transformed. Then, off course, drinking from a circle makes sense. If I were blind, I would lack the perception of volume. A circle and a sphere would look the same to me. Jimenez was informed by that smell of bleach: In fact, for him, this whole composition is formed around the sensory perceptions of standing on a freshly-mopped, possibly wet, tile floor. 

It's not only the smell of bleach, but the feel of the floor under his feet, something he is sensitive to in ways we sighted can only begin to imagine. Will he slip? The stability of the mop pole takes on a significance beyond, "How did he do that?" The floor, which few of us think much about, must be the center of the world for the blind. Jimenez shows what he knows about the floor from the smell, and from the shapes he perceives both literally and poetically. In his shoes, the photograph is a different work than the one we see at a distance, with vision only. We are welcome to a new way of knowing, and a new, enriched way of seeing.

Untitled. Copyright Alicia Meléndez.
"To look closely at these photographs is to be humanly remade by the refusal of these photographers to objectify an atom of the experienced world, recorded here with what we could call felt sight," McWilliam writes.

That's a fascinating thought: that these photographs don't objectify their subjects but bring them to us through direct experience. If we experience Alicia Melendez's photograph of her shoes rather than look at it, it becomes almost tremblingly intimate. I'm used to seeing images of women's shoes as glamorous and sexy products that place their wearers miraculously "above" any impediments that the earthbound suffer. 

Melendez's shoes are shown at floor level, on the floor, as if they walk toward us motivated by the power invested in them by their wearer, or as if they have become pets that come when called. They are scuffed, stretched out, water-worn and yes, we can smell them too. The shoes are a self-portrait in the sense that they communicate their importance and the experience that creates their importance. They are solid on the floor and through puddles; they are durable and flexible and dependable. They are important to her security and to her ability to move independently in the world, photographed as they are on a rooftop, in a space between the outdoors and indoors.

Untitled. Copyright Gerardo Ramirez Pfizer
Gerardo Ramirez Pfizer shot his hand of bananas in much the same way as Alicia Melendez portrayed her shoes: nose-to-nose. This extreme close-up is seen a lot in the book and no doubt reflect the necessity of the partially-sighted to hold things close to examine them. This results in unusual and striking perspectives, like this one of looming, aggressive bananas. Are they sighted with black eyes that are examining us? Are they creeping up on us? These are experienced bananas, fruit to which we bear a relationship. It's not sitting
Untitled. Copyright Aaron Ramos. Another fine example of
the close examination. Did sound lead Ramos to the subject?
Imagine the patience and slow movement required to get
this shot.

there waiting to be consumed. It's something individual out there in a world where objects do not automatically have value or precedence one over another; most are experienced singly. Right now, it's bananas. Let's close in. Maybe they'll open up to us.

McWilliam's "felt sight" has particular interest for the blind photographer's relation to human subjects, of which this collection has many wonderful examples. I'm fascinated by this photo of a seated female. It feels very traditional and
Untitled. Copyright Mickel Smithen
 formal: Just look at her pose, her position within the picture frame, and her contemplative, far-away expression. But I find her expression a little odd because the pupils of her eyes are unusually dilated. Possibly she too is blind.

Once more, the possibilities of blindness—now on the parts of both photographer and subject—reorient our view of the image. Is it or is it not a formal portrait, for instance. 

Did the subject "dress for the occasion?" Are the brightly colored clothes special, or what a partially-sighted woman chooses on a daily basis? Is her expression the expression she assumes when she is between tasks or waiting, since she may not be acquainted with the wide variety of facial signals the sighted use for tiny distinctions of mood or occasion? To the photographer, this may be a woman in a chair and not at all a formal portrait. Did it matter to her that she was being photographed? Would she be interested in the resulting picture—or vain about the outcome?

On the other hand, McWilliam points out that blind photographers never point and shoot; that all of their work is accomplished over a longer period of time than most sighted photographers take. Setting up the equipment, let alone the shot, is especially time-consuming without the aid of vision.

So we may be sure that Smithen at least had the chair waiting for an occupant. For her? For a series of people? For whoever sat down? This shoot was purposeful, but to what degree the shoot depended on this subject is uncertain, particularly since the image is untitled.
Untitled. Copyright Tanvir Bush.
The variety of photographs in The Blind Photographer is surprising and wonderful, far too many to touch in a review. But it would be a pity not to share this from a series of photographs of this young man lifting this weight. There are several such series, in which a sighted subject playfully performs some act of athletic skill for the photographer. They "show off" and as they do, and they keep their eyes directly on the camera in a way I suspect they would not if they were certain that the photographer could see them. In this shot, the young man seems to be measuring the photographer's capacity as much as he is demonstrating his own strength. He appears to have no doubt about the latter: It is a means for getting a peek at the blind person with the camera. Which is looking at him? The person or the machine? Is either more imbued with sight than the other? Or does each confer sight upon the other?

The photographer's blindness is disinhibiting for the sighted subject here and in other photographs. They express their curiosity, their swagger, their uninhibited joy in their accomplishment and activity in ways I haven't experienced in other photographs. Go to the library and ask for this book: Take a look. It is so much fun!

Not being familiar with Candia McWilliam, I looked her up. Her writing in The Blind Photographer is exceptionally fine and insightful. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that she is blind. Apparently her eyes function, but ten years ago she contracted blepharospasm, a disease that makes it impossible for the eyelids to open. She writes by holding an eyelid open with one hand and typing with the other. Her memoir, What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness (2010), is on my list.


  1. This is a fascinating glimpse into another realm of perception. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Thank you. I can't express how much pleasure it gave me to write this.

  3. Thank you for sharing this information with us. You always inspire us.

    Okinawa Flat Belly Tonic

    BioFit Probiotic

  4. If you want to get quick, professional, and easy local garage door service in London. So adv garage doors ensure that you can get the professional service of a garage door repair company from us at the cheapest rates. So please contact us and take our professional service.

  5. We provide garage door installation for over 15 years in the UK area with top-quality services. We are emergency garage door repair professionals. Our team of experts is committed to providing quality garage door repair services, which include 24/7.

  6. if you are finding the best pizza top local pizza restaurants near you is easier than ever before. Enjoy a delish pizza today with our amazing deals! We are the one-stop shop for top local pizza delivery, fast and delicious!

  7. UK Roller Garage Door offers a professional garage door near me at a price that fits any budget. We have rapidly grown to become one of the market's leaders in installation and maintenance.

  8. UK roller garage door provides the best shutter repair service near me and maintenance service in London. If you need the roller shutter repairs. For other information, Visit our website or contact us.

  9. Uk roller garage door, a shutter repair service provider with over 10 years of experience in the industry, is one of the leading names when it comes to installing and repairing roller shutter doors. For more information visit our website and contact us.

  10. UK Emergency Glass is a emergency glass repair company that provides 24/7 emergency glazing service that covers all the emergency and non-emergency glass and glazing services.

  11. Are you looking for the best local roller garage doors providers in London? If so, we would love to help. We are a company that provides professional services and offers clients money-saving options for their repair needs. Contact us for more.

  12. Looking for the perfect roller garage doors for your business? Look no further than UK Roller Garages Door. We have a wide selection of the latest and greatest models to choose from, so you can find the perfect door for your needs. Plus, our team is available 24/7 to help you get started. Give us a call today!

  13. UK Emergency Glass offers 24- hour glass repair service in London, providing you with a professional and fully insured trustworthy team of glass today!

  14. Adv Garage Doors is the best local roller garage doors repair company in London. We offer professional garage door services and affordable pricing on all our projects. Call us today.

  15. The Automatic Shop Front Dooris a cost-effective automatic shop door for retail and commercial shops. It has an easy-to-use design with a lock and key for convenience. We provide the best quality material. For more information, you can visit our website

  16. We are a professional Local Roller Garage Doors company in London. Our goal is to provide top-quality service and repairs at an affordable price. ADV Garage Doors is a family-owned and operated company providing professional garage door repair services in London.

  17. A perforated roller shutter is very durable. Their life is many years long without any problems. This is because they are made from high-quality materials and they designed to last. In addition, perforated shutters are energy-efficient. This means that they use less energy than other types of shutters, which makes them environmentally friendly.

  18. Adv Garage Doors is a garage door repair service that specializes in providing the best service for all your residential and commercial needs. Get in touch with us 24/7 for more information about our products and services.

  19. Looking for a stylish and professional glass door shop front? Take a look at the UK shops front! We make customized attractive, bespoke glass doors for all types of companies. To learn more about our services, visit our website or give us a call today.

  20. UK Emergency Glass is London's top supplier of glass door shop front. We have a variety of styles and designs to select from, so you can choose the ideal one for your company. From design to installation, our team of specialists is here to help you every step of the way. To learn more, call us at +44 7572315958 or visit our website.

  21. Insulated Roller Garage is the UK’s leading garage door and window repair service, offering a wide range of services to keep your home secure and handy. From repairs and replacements to security solutions, our team of experts can help you keep your home in top condition.

  22. If you need commercial garage door repair? then you are at the right place! Our team of experienced professionals are here to help you with all your garage door needs. We take care of everything from fixing as well as replacing an entire unit.

  23. We're excited to be shop front installation in London! If you want shop front installation, repair, or replacement in London. Visit our website and get in touch with us right now.

  24. ADV Garage Doors is the top company in London. We provide the best garage door repair service in London. Get help for your garage problems. Call us 24/7 at Adv Garage Doors! Visit our website.