Seeing in the Dark
3 Mar 2011
A friend, co- founder of Photosense London, Innocent Adiko, recently told me he was colour blind and yet he has been an avid photographer for a long time. He has coped with colour correction very well and his 'handicap' makes his processing unique. Many people who view his images would probably just consider this a product of his preferred imaging style, but it adds another dimension when you realise that this is how he actually sees the world. I have problems interpreting colour tones, especially blue and green. I'm not colour blind, I just find it difficult to distinguish between different shades of green and blue. For a long time I processed my photographs so that they were almost made up of primary colours. Even now my images lack tonal range, because I struggle to find balance in the colours I see. However, these are relatively small barriers to photography. So when I recently read an article about Pete Eckert, an American photographer who is living in complete darkness after being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, I was humbled. RP is a degenerative ocular disease, where the sufferer losses their sight gradually until they go blind. Eckert trained in sculpture and industrial design, and was destined to study to be an architect at Yale when he was diagnosed with RP. Even after his diagnosis he could not let go of his need to be creative.
As a photographer I found Eckert's story inspirational. Photography is truly a visual art and here is someone that has managed to circumvent vision to produce some extraordinary images. Eckert has transcended what should be the ultimate barrier to visual creativity. His lack of sight is not a encumbrance to taking photographs, a medium that relies heavily on light, focus and depth of field. What he has done is literally learned to see in another way, so that his images represent the world he 'sees'.
What is truly amazing about Eckert's work is that he develops his photographs himself in his darkroom. Anyone that has every processed in a darkroom understands that this is another feat of artistic ingenuity. He has a completely analogue process, using a Mamiyaflex C2. In our digital age this is the most remarkable achievement, and yet understandable. Eckert can 'feel' his way through his method.
I can empathise. I use my Nikon D90 set to manual now; I have even reverted to manual focusing because it is sharper in low light. I also use an old Nikkormat FTn film camera, which is heavy, cumbersome and sometimes the shutter bucks like a bronco. I love it. For manual handling, your brain has to be completely engaged and there can be no test shots!
Eckert's story set me thinking, has digital photography handicapped the photographer's skills? I'm not talking about the merits or the pitfalls of going digital. Digital processing for me is a godsend! My point is, does digital photography make us lazy? Do you take a picture and think, 'I can touch that up in Photoshop later'? Do you fire off a dozen test shots before settling down to the photograph you're aiming for? If a blind man can take photographs, why are we so reliant on the LCD on the back of our cameras to let us know what is going on in front of our eyes?