How I use light and shadow rather than focus to compose images.
I have been asked a lot recently on social media to talk about how I can be a photographer with my limited vision. For those that don’t know, a car accident in 1999 left me with 5% low-functioning vision in only one eye. I lose detail at about an inch, so I mainly see the world in blurred shapes, with highlights and shadows. Retinal specialists I have spoken with tell me the largest percentage of patients with similar traumatic eye injuries like mine lose all color perception. For some reason, I kept my ability to see color (just not detail). My injury left me with a very small portion of light perception, so when I shoot an image I tend to scan my camera’s viewfinder from top to bottom and mentally stitch the blurry image together. I work with the rules of composition as my guide. I try and make images that I find interesting from a shape, and highlight/shadow point of view. I can’t see the detail of the images I am taking when I am composing the shots, so I rely completely on my camera for overall focus. Once I capture the image, I zoom way out on the back screen of my camera to check composition.
To illustrate the way I see, I have used an image from my Landscapes of the Body collection – http://www.bodyscapes.photography/ This example is a good representation of the way I see the shots I create, and how they appear to me. As you can see, I create the work based on the shapes I see and how the light touches the subject. It doesn’t matter if the subject matter is a human body or a bottle of wine – I focus my attention on the highlights and shadows I can see and take the shot. Also included, is the final image.
I also quite often get asked “why photography”. I fell in love with the still image around my tenth birthday when my parents gave me a polaroid camera. I learned everything I could about composition and how to make a pleasing photo (I could see at this time). I spent a ton of time at the library (this was before the internet) researching the masters works and observed their composition techniques and read everything I could about why they composed their shots the way they did. I think this helps me even today to compose my images – I imagine how the scene I am looking at should be before I take the photo.
I create photographs for others. I strive to create work that will stand on its own and be a good photo – not just a good photo for a blind guy. When I show my work to someone who has full sight, they can see that I know my camera, and I am capable of composing and capturing a decent image, but the reaction they have when they find out it was made by someone who is almost completely blind it totally worth it to me. Art doesn’t have to be exclusively the domain of the fully sighted. I also don’t sell my work – I only use it to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Whether its donating to ALS/MLS research, Cystic Fibrosis research or to Heather’s Camp – a Kansas based nonprofit which provides summer camp experiences for blind and visually impaired kids, I want my art to do good for others.
This is an exciting year for me, there are many announcements coming – I want to make a real difference and it looks like this year will be the start of that.