I Photograph Because I Can See!

My friend Melissa Dunn is one of those wonderful human beings who actually listens. I’ve only known her a short while, so I’m not sure if she’s always been like this or if its a trait that’s grown from a beautiful marriage to her James. A man that is very comfortable with silence. Just speaking with him will set you to squirming and fumbling for words if you are not acquainted with silence. Anyway, I do love silence and I adore Melissa and James. I also really appreciate this video she sent my way a couple of days ago. It really opened up a floodgate of things I’ve kept locked away as insignificant archaic facts about myself. Really, these things have always been driving the core of my creative life. She said some of the images in the short video reminded her of my photography, so I watched…and wept. Here was my message to her afterward:

“I watched this, this morning and wept. I’ve only ever told Chris this, but my greatest fear that began around age 14/15 was always blindness. There was a table with a long wire on it in my high school ceramics studio where I spent a lot of time, but I eventually couldn’t stand to be in there because I began to have strong waking images of that wire slicing through my eyes, and I finally couldn’t be near it. It was then that I drifted into the darkroom; which was upstairs in the art building. A much safer feeling in there. At 20, when I got frustrated with photography, I kept trying to find something that I wanted to see. I kept searching books, magazines, movies and MTV, but I couldn’t find it anywhere and it was a suffocating feeling. Finally, it occurred to me to try and make it, so I got out my stash of oils and painted my first oil painting. It was a smoosh of colors: black with red, magenta, ochre, yellow medium hue and pthalo blue+white. It looked like planets and nebulae in space and it satiated that feeling.

I realized that I was craving color. I had only been working in black and white film. I switched to color slides, but couldn’t process them myself, so I gave up and switched to painting for the next 16 years. (!) There’s not much to show for it, except that the imprint of my time with color pigment is irreversible. Color is in me now and watching this video about going blind revived that poignant fear. I remembered that I’ve always strived for a sense of something more, all the things that could be sensed and heard without sight. I had trouble teaching painting because what I have to share, my painting technique,  is to feel the subject matter with my mind as if I was running ‘my touch’ my fingers along every surface and contour, and the colors I taste and smell them in my mind’s eye…and not everyone is willing to do that. That was what painting did for me though-awakened all my other senses beyond sight. Now, that I’m back to photography but with color this time, I love to make photographs like I’m painting. I also make photographs with extreme nostalgia and sentimentality, as if time is running out.

This movie makes me realize that MY answer to Roland Barthes question is that I make photographs because I CAN SEE! It really is that simple. Sure, it’s an act that helps me remember, but it is also because there is such a wealth of food in the visible that I hunger for. Making images feeds me. When I can bring into sight something that I hunger to see, something shifts in me internally and I feel right again. I’ve stopped thinking about my fear of blindness for awhile now since I got my first migraine at 23. I thought I was going blind, but I didn’t.

This video also reminds me of the many, many, repetitive dreams of not being able to see clearly, usually while driving a car. Of course, that’s another topic for another day, but the feeling in those dreams is akin to looking through the small viewfinder on a camera body and working to see something that comes alive. It’s hard to describe. Here is the fantastic video (click on photo):



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