83 percent of sight gone. Slivers around the retinal wall still accept and pass light rays and dusky images to the optic nerve. I lovingly caress my cameras. I think that the lens is better than my eye, but I mean that the film itself is perfect, that is, much more perfect than my damaged retina, my much deteriorated back eye wall, which cannot be moved along to a fresh working piece along a spool.
There is nothing wrong with the front of my eye, it looks good. Too bad I cannot go out and buy a cassette of retinal wall. Well, I will get a wide angle lens instead. I will set it at f8 and almost everything will be in focus, the way the old Speed Graphics were, held over the heads in crowds.
Technology will allow me to keep photographing, that is, high resolution film, in-camera metering. I will keep on, with my training in visual media and my ten years experience, photographing and printing. My sweet darkroom is only five years old. It has a kind of color spectrum lamp hanging from the ceiling, casting a pale peach glow from the top of the room. Yum.
In the cup-half-full mode, I say that I still have 10 percent of my retinal slivers, much slimmer, but functioning in those narrow lines. I make two great decisions.
I get my first auto focus camera, one of the Canon EOS family. I sign up for guide dog school and graduate with Joseph, my angel dog, my saint and super photo model. I introduce him to all the buildings I love and have already photographed. Now he gets in many of the building shots. In a way, they become his starter palace dog house, his palatial pup tent.
A changed kind of independence has emerged with this auto focusing and this dog direction. Dynamic duo work habits just ignore the beginning questions, “how can you photograph when you cannot see?” Well, there are training, experience, memory and insight.
5 percent full, this now narrow crystal cylinder. Auto focus is splendid in the camera. But there is no auto focus enlarger, and no auto measure for the developing chemicals.
I am directed to Eddie, a wonderful black and white printer in San Francisco. We talk about composition and contrast, velvety blacks and tonal ranges. He saves one gorgeous barn image, taken with a red filter, but underexposed. That was a total bitch to print, he says, so do not do that again. Think about your exposure. I was using an old Hasselblad with no meter, and I guessed wrong. I gave up my darkroom and sold the equipment to another photographer. A major move - accepting sight loss and change, but not accepting not photographing.
No way, not with the ideas and images that are in this brain of mine. And I cannot stop holding and hugging my several cameras.
Still at 5 percent, now switching to color transparency film. I can project these as slides on a big screen and can still see the images. Bigger is much better. I had Eddie do several of my black and white images as 4 foot by 5 foot prints, and I could see them. Now I could grope around in the large color projections. Wow.
I did so many double exposures in this color medium. It was always a surprise, the color combinations always shifted in the viewfinder and in the prints and projection; startling and surprising. A color printer in Japan, printing the gigantic posters for a show in Tokyo, said it was great fun, because he did not know either exactly what would happen. I had a show sponsored by Japan Guide Dogs Association. There were 65 prints of buildings, each with Joseph somewhere in or at the building, beautifully shaped against the form of the architecture.
Dogs, guide dogs that is, go on planes, even on that long flight to Japan. We both would shine at the reception for that show.
Optimistic as ever, but I have to say that the crystal cylinder is totally clear, the sight has gone, no retinal function. Except for full moons in a black night sky, a seemingly bright blob, a high contrast beacon, a sort of message. An illumination, a path or something. Now almost everyone asks the same question, “how can you possibly, how can you?”. I realize they are making a statement, not asking a question. They smugly know that a blind person cannot take photographs and cross streets. My response is that any photograph begins as an idea in the brain. So with current camera tools, I can shoot and have printed an image as close as possible to the initiating image in by brain. They can look at the image and I remember the one in my mind, and we can compare. Size, and large size, is no longer any help. It is not blackness out there, at least in the daytime.
I perceive a pale gray light when there is light, and blackness at night. My saint Joseph dies of the complications of bone cancer after ten years of model guiding. I cry and cry and go back to guide dog school and come home with Slater, a mild joker, no saint he. He likes to window shop and has no desire to be in front of a camera. He does not swim either.
The photography gallery where I had been showing for eight years closes in the economic slump. I feel totally adrift. Who is my audience, I wonder. Will people come to my house to view my stuff? I have so many photos framed on my walls, a mini museum.
I some days forget that I am also trying movement. Nine years ago, a friend and I received a fellowship from Harvard University. We were Bunting fellows at the Radcliffe Institute, to make a film about me and my insight at sight loss. It took us five years to finish the film, that is, to raise more money and continue filming.
Changement de pieds
Foot hopping. Or this is where the subversion comes in.- in the meaning of under or behind, as when a coin is turned over, that kind of behind - “sub verso”. What is behind the paper? Nothing is underhanded, but is sort of under cover. Under the cover of the sightless eye, the non-seeing eye, as the Europeans now say. It may hurt feelings to say Blind. What about the work of daily life and daily photographing? We physiologically unsighted, we blind, are looking under and behind all kinds of techniques to continue shooting and printing or showing our sight out of hand to the world around us. Subversive, yes, in deed and in composition.
We are constantly changing our position, trying to get the best image for ourselves, over and under and behind and out loud. I often photograph my feet on the floor or on a path where a dog is lying. Let sleeping dogs lie. Hop to the other foot, move quietly or noisily around that dog, get better positions for a great shot. That is what subversion is about. Changing with our need to work in a different way, and then tell the world to have a look.