Visual Impairment - The Important Lenses
We take a lot for granted in life. It is not a conscious decision, it is just how we are wired. As a photographer, there were numerous times when I was frustrated by my inability to see things 'differently' or to find a way to interpret what I could see in front of me. At these times I failed to think about how privileged I was to see anything at all. As a photographer I'm used to manipulating light, isolating detail or choosing how I present an image. For some though, just seeing is their quest. Your most important lenses are the ones you were born with. They are the ones that allow us to enjoy what we do.
To see is a gift. We've all probably been troubled by an eye condition or injury at some stage in our lives, yet it is more often than not treated or corrected. Recently my wife was suffering from a Corneal Ulcer which was located in a dangerous position close to the centre of her eye. Doctors were concerned, hourly antibiotics and several eye-drops were taken regularly for weeks. They spoke of potential sight-loss due to scarring and it brought back to me how imperative it is we look after our eyes.
This issue was a by-product of normal safe contact lens use. How many time though have I slept in my daily disposables? How many times did they stay in my eyes for a few days at a time? How often have I worked on cars, with wood, with chainsaws etc without eye protection? It was on one such occasion last Summer that a spark or foreign body scratched my own cornea. The recovery was unpleasant, to say the least, and every throb or stabbing pain was a reminder of just what I stood to lose if I did not look after this precious commodity.
The human eye operates from f2.1 to f8.3 in bright light, it comes with advanced autofocus, it varies in sharpness from person to person. If you damage one beyond repair, if you don't look after it, it can't be replaced like a cherished bit of glass. They should be, by far, your most important lenses.
Out on The Forest
I was out working one morning on Ashdown Forest. I was re-visiting a spot for the umpteenth time, trying to see if I would react to it differently if I could find some visual cue I had not seen before. After a while, it dawned on me that I was void of that all important, creative spark. I grew impatient at my inability to see things differently. It was ironic really, here as here I was, in a wood, doing what I love, but still, I had managed to find time to forget where I was and how fortunate I was to be doing what I was doing.
I decided to take a break, get out my lunch early and just enjoy the tranquillity for a while. Sandwich in hand I decided to just have a wander about without the mental barrier of a camera in hand. I noticed a small group of people skirting past the wood slowly in single file. It reminded me of a line of religious brethren making their way through the countryside on a pilgrimage. I was intrigued, although on closer inspection they were leading each other as a number of the group were visually impaired. I watched on as they reached a spot and paused to relax in the warmth of the sun. This area was clearly a delight for the senses, the bird chatter, the distant squawk of a pheasant, the occasional bleat of a sheep carried over from further away on the breeze. Yet here I was fretting over my inability to extract something visual from my surroundings. I had mixed emotions. I was relieved that this aspect of the outdoors was available to them to enjoy but I felt a pang of guilt that I perhaps was occasionally taking it for granted.
I spoke with one of the carers for a short while and I asked about the varying degrees of sight loss among the group. There were some who were profoundly blind and others with differing levels of sight-loss. I was interested in understanding what they could make out and how severely others were affected. Were these degenerative conditions or had this been all some had known since birth? It is hard to wrap your head around what a memory would be if there was no visual cue but then most do remember the scent of freshly cut grass and its promise of longer days.
In the back of my mind, I considered how as a photographer I look to control light in many of the images I create. How I work with motion and blur to give an impression of a time and place. As the gentleman shared some of what he had learned from those he supported, I felt I wanted to understand what it was a few could see. Reaching for my camera I took a quick monochrome, de-focused image and asked if this would be how some might see the forms of the landscape around us? He suggested it was quite close to what had been described to him.
More and more I have learnt to appreciate what lies around me. I already take great pleasure from the outdoors, from the beauty of nature, the variations within the landscape but after that short chat, I was looking at my surroundings differently. Seeing is a privilege that we sometimes take for granted. It is a true gift, as is good health, safety, love and happiness.