The Art of Seeing: Blessing or Curse?

July 21, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The human body is an amazing machine with an array of senses.  In elementary school we all learned what those were: seeing, hearing, smellng, tasting and touching.  As a photographer the most important of those is the ability to see both physically and metaphorically.

But what happens when you are reduced to single vision and can't physically see out of one eye due to an injury or defect in your vision?  Some would say that is a curse but I might disagree.

I've been blessed or cursed, depending on your perspective, of only having single vision.  

Yes, that is right.  I am a one eyed photographer.

Some of the problems (or blessings) that I deal with every day are things that a normal person with two good eyes doesn't even think about, such as:

  • I have very little depth perception.  When driving I have to be really aware of everything going on in front and around me at all times because I can't really tell how close the car in front of me happens to be. Fortunately, the human brain is a master of adapting and keeps me from running into something or even worse, someone.  As comfort to those that have ridden many miles with me on photo trips you need to know I have never had a wreck that was my fault.
  • I can't see in 3D.  I live in a world that is flat.  From 10 feet away, I can't tell if two items are at the same distance or one is 10 feet farther back. It creates an interesting view for sure and one I will discuss more later.  Again, the brain does what it does best and because of the different parameters it can adjust for, it tells me that one of the items is farther back even though I can't really see the difference.

For the last 3-4 years I've been researching my blessing or curse, again depending on your perspective, to try and determine exactly how I can be a photographer yet not be able to perceive depth or see a three dimensional world.

As a photographer not being able to see in three dimensions would seem like a huge detriment but the more I have read and researched I've begun to realize that perhaps I have an advantage when it comes to creating images.  A famous German writer, Hugo Von Hofmannsthal, said, "Depth must be hidden. Where? On the surface."

Although I'm sure what he said had nothing to do with photography and not having two good eyes, I think it can be applied to this discussion. The reason is because I often get told that my images have depth and with many of them it feels like you can reach in and feel the contours of the subject(s). I don't see that depth, at least not in the same way as most people with stereo vision.

While I don't have "stereo vision" I have learned to adapt to my surroundings.  If you want to understand more about what I mean simply put a patch over one eye and walk around your house. See how many things you bump into and how hard it is do simple tasks, such as cutting an apple or even worse, going down a flight of stairs. By covering one of your eyes you have basically turned off your stereo vision, or in other words, reduced your three dimensional world to a two dimensional one.

During her research Dr. Margaret S. Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and author of Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing, discovered a common trait among an unusual percentage of famous artists she examined. It seems that they all suffered from a lack of stereo vision, including famous American artist Andrew Wyeth. What relationship could this have? Here is what I think.

If you already see the world in two dimensions it is much easier to produce art in two dimensions. I am of the opinion as a photographer I ignore the distraction of the usual depth cues that others see because they aren't as obvious to me but as a result I am more aware of those that I can see. I would venture to guess that I see things differently than the average person; things such as linear and aerial perspective, dimensional hints from shadows, relative sizing, etc., because I depend on them more than other people in order to maneuver the world around me.  

While artists with stereo vision need to learn to see these things to produce art, those of us with stereo blindness need to understand them on a much more intimate basis to accomplish even the simplest of tasks like getting up or down a full flight of stairs, driving a car or slicing an apple.

Is only having one functional eye a curse? Yes, especially when it comes to things like 3D movies or television.

Is only having one functional eye a blessing? When it comes to photography and art it certainly seems that way.

I've been legally blind in one eye for over 50 years. I've learned to adapt both in every day tasks and it would seem (if you are to believe the research) the same with my photography.

I have a friend that I met when I was 15 or 16 years old that was born with detached retinas and has been blind since birth. In a conversation I had with him a few years ago I asked him if he could have his eyes fixed (considering the advances of technology when dealing with detached retinas) would he like to have his vision restored? He thought for a minute and said, "I've thought about it but if I were to do that I would have to learn how to read all over again.  I hate reading."  

I got to thinking about what he said and realized that he would have a lot more to learn than just how to read again.  He would have no concept of color or shapes or what people looked like. He would have to learn to navigate by seeing which would be a totally different experience.

Am I blessed or cursed?  

You can decide for yourself but for me I think learning how to go up and down stairs again might be a nightmare.

Besides, I wouldn't get to scare folks quite as much when I drive.

Two shacks in the Mississippi Delta near Belzoni MississippiDelta HomesteadThese two shacks exemplify the Delta both in earlier and later years.

 

 

 


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