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Postcards From the Darkness: The World From the Lens of Blind Photographers


A provocative work leads us to wonder over the porous border between technology and the senses.

There’s always something of magic to photography: through any image, there remains the tension of light and darkness in just an instant of time. An image produced by photographic means is meant to be seen, though it sounds odd, by seers, by those who can see, or – to be even more explicit – by those whose brains can look through their eyes. But if we turn away, for a moment, from the notion of photography as “image to be looked at” and think about the image’s production process (which we might abbreviate to the “creative process”), we can find an interesting aspect of nonvisual contemplation without losing any of the magical properties of the photographic artifice.

A new book titled The Blind Photographer challenges our usual assumptions about the process of producing images by convening a diverse group of professional and amateur photographers (all of them blind or of pronounced visual deficiency). In the book, both who looks, and who is looked at are placed in risky, even subversive, positions, in an attempt to present the impossible: to show the visions of the blind.

Many of the images don’t so much discuss what is seen as they do the way things are seen by photographers who do not see. From abstract and semi-dreamlike investigations, such as those by Slovenian Evgen Bavcar, a philosopher by profession, to others that “translate” somehow, something that only the blind can see, as in the visual poem by Gerardo Nigenda. Here, images of bodies and faces are marked in fragments of text in Braille characters.

Though we often hear that we live under an imperium of images, it’s not always clear that these images are not uniquely visual. An image can be a sensory or neurological construct, the result of processing information through the sense organs, of which the eyes are only one of the receivers. The look, that is, the testimony of the world, is produced at the intersection of sensitivity and the mass production of images. It’s not always visual.

As Mexican photographer and founder of  “Ojos que Sienten” [Sight of Emotion], Gina Badenoch said in an interview with The Guardian, we

“[…]tend to focus on sight as the only way to produce and enjoy an image. But the process of creating a photograph also involves feeling, story, perception. When you listen to the radio or read a book, you still create images in your mind because we see with our brain. So it is with blind people – through perceiving their surroundings they create images.”

Aaron Ramos, another blind, Mexican photographer, explains that the photographic process involves not only observing, but imagining the picture, so to speak, before its being recorded in the photographic apparatus, and this process doesn’t only involve the eyes.

“I use my senses – hearing, touch, taste and smell – when taking pictures,” he says. “When I touch the camera lens I create an imaginary line from the lens to the object I am taking a picture of; I create the picture in my mind, I feel it and construct it to communicate feelings to the normal-visual world.”

The darkroom reveals, in chemicals, light particles trapped in film. This reminds us that we can see a basic teaching, one present in both Plato and in the medieval alchemists: too much light is capable of blinding us. What we see in the images of The Blind Fotographer are not reproductions of what photographers (didn’t) see, but a concrete testimony to all that the eyes don’t capture, precisely because they’re too accustomed to seeing without looking. They’re images of what’s often left out of the picture, outside the frame, outside of peripheral vision, and offered to the visual / normal world, as Ramos had it. It’s an invitation to see not just with the eyes but in every way, and to engage our imaginations with the memories and experiences of these artists.

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