How Do I Respond?

Today, I received a comment on a previous blog post – “Developing Blind Photography”.  In the post I talked about working to improve my photography and editing skill, my new photoblog, and a photo contest that I entered and won.  The day after I wrote the blog post, GF Mueden made the following comment

This is a mystery. As I understant it, a blind person can’t see, so what is blind photography. Just how much CAN you see? How do you point the camera and edit pictures? It must be that you are low visioned. What editor do you use and is it low vision friendly? What editing tools do you use?

I ask all these questions because my eyes are going and your answers may help me and others with low vision.

To which I responded

Hello and thank you for writing. You are correct that I am not blind. I have low vision, deteriorating because of MMD. Luckily for me, “Blind Photography” is a name given to photography by anyone who is visually impaired. The camera is used to bring the world, which is usually out of focus, into focus through enlargement on the computer screen. While there are photographers who are completely blind, the activity is not so narrowly defined. I use a variety of editing tools. None of them are specifically for people who are visually impaired. I mostly use Photoshop or Picasa, depending on how much editing I want to do to an image. You will find a lot of helpful people in the blindphotographers group on flickr. Good luck with you exploration of blind photography. I hope it opens your world as much as it has opened mine. Please keep in touch and let me know how it is going.

Here is the comment I received today

Blind photography as you describe it is a term I reject as spurious.

As long as I can see to take pictures I will be a sighted photographer. I am not going to try and impress or make it look hard by calling it blind photography.

Wow!  I was taken aback and did not know, at first, how to react.  I had several thoughts that raced through my mind.

  1. Blind does not equate with “no vision.”  There is a legal definition of blind that includes a vast array of visual impairment.  While I am not  yet legally blind, many blind photographers are legally blind and yet still have some vision.  Do I respond to GF by defending them?
  2. I am not legally blind, but I have a significant visual impairment that requires me to use assistive technology to complete tasks at work.  I use photography to help me see the world more clearly.  Do I defend my own self-definition as a blind photographer?
  3. There are several groups of blind photographers online.  I have found each of these groups to be open to and accepting of all people with any level of visual impairment.  Do I respond to GF by defending their definition of blind photography or their acceptance of me into their group?
  4. Do I respond by objecting to the term “spurious” and defend my use of the term blind photography and show that it is authentic and valid and genuine?
  5. Do I respond to GF’s statement that he is “not going to try and impress or make it look hard by calling it blind photography,” by which I assume he means that I am trying to impress and make it look harder?

I have really struggled, over the past few months, with coming to terms with my deteriorating vision.  I have come to a point where I am peaceful with who I am and accepting of where I am going.  I am seeking the help I need and finding tools to keep me working and productive.  One of those tools is blind photography.  GF may choose to define himself as a sighted photographer.  That is his right.

For a long time, I felt like I did not belong anywhere.  I was not legally blind, but I could not see very well.  I felt lost in a lonely place.  Now, in my mind and in my heart, I no longer identify myself as a sighted person.  I identify myself as a person with low vision, a person who (as my eye doctor attested to New York state) has a strong likelihood of being legally blind within a year.  I am not legally blind, or blind, but I belong in the blind community.  I have found this community to be accepting and welcoming as I travel toward blindness.  No one has ever excluded me or told me to come back when I am blind.  Blindness is not black and white, it is not all or nothing.  It is a broad spectrum and I fall onto different spots on that spectrum day to day, and even moment to moment.

I do not use a camera the way a sighted person does.  I cannot see a clear image on the LCD screen on my camera.  I am often guessing when I am framing a shot.  A majority of my shots are garbage, completely unusable.  I am often disappointed when a shot that I thought was going to be great turns out to be unsalvageable.  It is hard work to edit each usable shot to try to make a beautiful (or haunting, or strange, or whimsical) photograph that I and others can enjoy, that brings my viewpoint into focus.  When I am pleased with a photo, I post it in this blog or my photoblog.

I am not a professional photographer.  I am not even a very good photographer (If you were to look through my deleted photos you would agree).  I am not a sighted photographer.  When I read GF’s comment, I thought for a minute that I am not a blind photographer.  I returned to that place where I don’t belong anywhere.  I did not stay there long.  I have come too far on this journey of self-discovery to let GF’s comment affect me.  I know that my motivation in using the term “blind photography” is not about impressing or “making it look hard.”  I am pretty clear on my goal for this blog, my photography, and my life.  I want to find the grace and beauty in the world and share it with others.  I am not trying to impress others, but to share my discoveries with them.  If GF wants to try to turn that into something ugly, that is his sad choice.  For myself, I choose love and understanding.  I love blind photography.  It has created a place where I have hope and life during this transition to low vision living.  GF can not close the door to this place.  The blind photographers have already let me in.


32 thoughts on “How Do I Respond?

  1. I am so visually impaired (legally BLIND) that I have tried to strike up conversations with mannequins! Yet I consistently beat ‘sighted’ fauxtographers in competitions and have had my works exhibited in museums.
    I am an artist and I can perceive form, color and light. The basic elements of visual art. I have overcome a severe handicap to bring beauty into the world as I ‘see’ it.
    So until you have tried to see with my eyes…

    CT Ward

    • Thank you for your beautiful testimony to blind photography. Your photos are wonderful. You give me hope that, even as my sight diminishes, my photos can improve if I keep working at it. Thank you for commenting.

      • Thank you Belinda. I hope the skeptics read my post. Use it if you like.
        Yes it took determination to achieve my knowledge of “analog” photography. I separate knowledge from the Art though which comes from my love of Nature and wanting to share it.. Their are several visual aids available in my Olympus film camera system that are not available in digital and I prefer film. It unarguably is much more aesthetic than a digital image.
        Most importantly I rarely make a picture without a tripod and a shutter release so as not to jar the camera at all. Those are the two pieces of gear someone wanting to be a better photoartist should never leave home without!
        See you on Flickr!

  2. i’d like to give this lily-livered canker blossom a piece of my mind!
    yr pictures are great B don’t sweat the small stuff AKA GF wuts his name

  3. people always criticise and find fault an negativity when they don’t understand or are scared of what they see. For a person who is losing his sight, there is little he understands or sees dor that matter. Keep doing what you are doing, your pictures are beautful, whether its called “blind photography” or photography, its really beautiful

    • Thank you, Sarah. More and more, I see how blessed I am to have people in my life who support my efforts to describe my transition to low vision through words and photos. If I did not have such a great support system, I am sure that I would be having a much harder time accepting each stage of this journey. Thanks for saying my pictures are beautiful.

    • Thank you, Sarah. More and more, I see how blessed I am to have people in my life who support my efforts to describe my transition to low vision through words and photos. If I did not have such a great support system, I am sure that I would be having a much harder time accepting each stage of this journey. Thanks for saying my pictures are beautiful.

  4. All I can say is Wow (shaking my head). GF is in a different place and you did handle it with grace my dear. You are to be commended. I also will not let someone take away this informational journey you have so kindly let me and others join. Is it not difficult enough to have this challenge with your vision than to have someone pull apart a definition? I am just typing off the type of my head because I am so aghast at this persons comments. But as one poster stated there is a lack of civility out there. You are giving others a chance to understand this visual disease. This is not some topic that is so controversial. I am hoping that GF finds an outlet or asks for assistance for his bitterness. It is not an easy journey but can be made easier by being polite, forgiving and understanding and asking for assistance.

  5. Belinda,
    I was taught the concept of “ambiguous loss” when Rob was born. He suffered a brain injury at birth and had a 50% chance of recovery. We did not know what his future would be, but we’d lost something, for sure. There were those who criticized me for being sad, as if losing 50% of your confidence that your child will walk and talk was not to be mourned. I remember reading in a book that eloquently acknowledged how people don’t understand how much effort goes into sustaining hope against tough odds. I reread that quote everyday, but I also found great companionship among parents who had no such hope of their child recovering who shared much of my experience and could understand it as no parent of a healthy child could. To this day I rarely talk about those early years because I don’t enjoy reliving the feelings among those who still can’t understand.

    You have found a community who understands that you are at a place of ambiguous loss, even if some within that community are struggling on their own journey. Only you know the right words for your photography, and while your explanations are a window into your experience that I enjoy reading, your final decision is something I can only understand through your experience. Trust yourself.

    • Alana, thank you so much for your insight. I never thought about my vision loss as being an ambiguous loss, but of course you are right. Thank you for sharing your story with me. That must have been so difficult. You help me put things into perspective and understand why some days it is harder to give myself a pep talk than others. I am so blessed to have so much support and acceptance. Luckily, there is room for everyone who needs support. We just need to find ways to understand and help each other, instead of hurting each other. Thank you for your comment.

  6. This post REALLY bugs me. Why do people delight in trying to steal the joy of other humans? If a hobby brings happiness and purpose to another and they are courageous enough to share the experience with strangers it’s a shame that anyone would want to tear it down. All I can guess is that this individual is on the path to losing vision but is not anywhere as far along on the journey to gaining insight as you are.
    Please check out number two below from the msn on line dictionary:

    adjective Definition:
    1. unable to see 2. unable to recognize
    Obviously, in the case of blind photography most fall under the second definition. They shoot photos of things they are unable to recognize at the time and then bring them into focus during the editing process. My advice is to keep on with your photography, keep on with your blog and keep praying for negative people. Something in their life experience is causing them to miss out on the joy you are experiencing in your journey. God Bless You!

    • Marge, we are so much alike. The first thing I did 0after I looked up spurious) was to look for an official definition of the word blind. I do know that seeing less than 20/200 in the better eye with corrective lenses makes you legally blind according to nys disability. I don’t meet that, but my doctor did say that I have a high likelihood of being legally blind within a year. That is why I am eligible for all the assistive technology for work. So, I answered him that I am not blind. I think he defines blind as being totally in the dark. I don’t fault him for this, because that is what I thought for most of my life. I thought that people who were blind could see nothing, only a world of darkness. Now I know that “blind” is a huge umbrella covering a full spectrum of people with low vision. I am not going to argue with him, because I don’t believe I can change his opinions. Life is too full of wonderful people to listen to someone who is so negative. Thank you for encouraging me to keep using photography and my blog to make sense of the world. I love you.

  7. I find the internet to be a place where people lose civility and personal communication skill. I have never seen such hurtful comments as can been every day in the blogesphere (sp).

    I pray for the person who made that comment as it seem that he or she may not be able to come to grips with their failing eyesight, as you have so beautifully and gracefully have.

    God Bless you as you explore your new gifts and new experience of life and light. You are such a great example to the rest of us.

    And, frankly, give no further thought to the mean spirited person who is clearly in pain and in need of God’s grace.


    • Dennis, thank you for helping me to see from his perspective. I think that you are right and that he is struggling to come to grips with his vision loss. I thank you for your kind words about my blog. I will not let his words bother me, but I will pray for him to come to a place of peace ad acceptance on his journey. Thank you for your comment.

  8. Belinda-
    What you write is inspirational and enlightening. You are such a “glass half full” kind of person…we need more of those.
    With 310 million people in the US, there are going to be 310 million views, opinions, and individual points on their own journeys.
    Sometimes, it’s best to simply acknowledge their view, and pray for their progress. As you probably know, there is nothing anyone can say or do to advance your journey….you have to do it, and the same for GF.
    Best to you and JB,
    (TKE ’81 Clarkson)

    • Hi Tom, how nice to hear from you! It took me a day to come to the conclusion that you have stated. He has to walk his path and I am free to walk mine. His opinion does not affect my self-identification and I should not let his words bother me. Thank you so much for your kind words about my writing. I really appreciate your comment.

  9. Hello bbrslay,

    I trained in core blindness skills at a major school for blind adults in Austin Texas, The Cris Cole Rehabilitation Cener. Many of us at CCRC were VI with various degrees of useful vision. The admission criteria was 20/200 best vision. For those of us who lost our vision as an adult, there was a resistance to calling our condition “blindness” or referring to ourselves as “blind”. We were trained, counseled and otherwise encouraged to call ourselves “blind” as a way of psychologically acknowledging and embracing our condition .whatever that was for each of us.

    Most fully sighted members of the public do not have the informed sensitivity to fully appreciate what we do, or how we do it, as we live our lives. It is a little different for each of us. That we can capture or create images at all is meaningful to me. That someone else likes an image enough to ask for a print is validating.

    You cannot educate this person and others like him, directly by instruction. You can only influence them by the example of your life as you express yourself through photography. I would recommend that you do not engage this person in further discussion. He will never understand.

    • Thanks, Drew, for your comment. It is so good to hear your experience. If I can ever make photos that are as beautiful as yours, I will be so happy. I think that part of my vulnerability is that I am not yet officially “legally blind,” so I do sometimes feel like I don’t belong in either the blind or the sighted world. I have decided that I am not going to let his words hurt me or make me question my motives for sharing my attempts at photography. I thank you for your encouragement and inspiration.

  10. I remember reading somewhere that if someone throws mud in the air at you, it’s left on their hands, not on you. You’ve handled this situation with grace. Thank you for sharing your photography process. It’s so reassuring to know that with assistance you can still have a full rich life with low vision.

  11. First I had to look up spurious, which gave me more time to think about what you’re asking and where GF might be coming from. After your 5th thought about how to respond you describe, briefly, the journey that you are on and allude to the journey that GF might be on. So, it could be that GF is in a different place on his journey and is lashing out. You just happen to be out there, bravely giving everyone a glimpse of your journey. I thank you for what you have taught me but not everyone is such a great student (lol)

    • Ha, ha, you and me both! I had to look it up, too. Thank you so much for your comment. I think you are right. GF is in a different place on his journey and I must have touched into some pain in him. Then, his comment touched into some vulnerability about my own self-worth and belonging. I think I asked how I should respond so that I did not let myself respond rudely and continue the cycle. I have come to understand that his opinions are not facts and that I have a right to call myself a blind photographer without having to fear him belittling me for it. His mean-spirited words can only hurt me if I let them. Thanks to you and my other friends, I can let them go. Thank you.

  12. Seems to me your correspondent is in denial, and is taking it out on you. You are absolutely right to keep to your course.

    From time to time, someone will pop up and accuse you, and me, of trying to pull off some kind of fake circus act by calling ourselves blind photographers. What on earth would the point be? Photography is a difficult undertaking, as you say, and there’s no pretence involved with that.

    I am probably in much the same place as you, in that I have some degree of sight (ddiminishing over time), but as I can’t read print, drive or see my way across the roads, the medico-legal system tells me I’m blind. After a brief peiod of denial myself where I didn’t want the word “blind” in my life, I embraced the whole thing and got on with the adventure that I’m now in.

    Your journey, and mine, include photography as an enabler. I got into it as a direct result of the very real sight loss I experienced. The camera sees things for me that I couldn’t see otherwise.

    Strangely enough, I put together a slide show on YouTube called “Reasons for being a blind photographer” not many days ago. It might spark off some thoughts in other people.

    Sorry there’s so much text in it – I will make an audio version soon.

    You could simply tell the person who wrote to you that’ he’s mistaken about the concept of blind photography, which is becoming more accepted as its own genre, and includes everyone who can’t see very well and takes photographs. It’s his choice how he defines himself, and we’ve made ours.


    • Vince, I love your slide show! In it, you say so many of the thhings I have been struggling to put into words. It’s ironic that it took me so long to be willing to admit that I was going blind, and now that I have embraced my low vision, I am criticized for calling myself a blind photographer. Oh, well, it just goes to show that you can never please everyone. That’s why it’s important for me to know who I am AND to surround myself with people who are supportive and accepting. I thank you so much for your comment and for being my companion on this journey.

  13. This brings up a couple of thoughts for me. Something I have learned and re-learned and re-learned again is that when someone makes a statement that I take personally, for whatever reason, that is about me. My taking it personally is an internal/me issue. For what am I fertile soil? His comment is only about him. It is his sense of himself in the world. It has nothing to do with you. But, if it gets into you, allow yourself to discover the wound in you that needs healing. If you feel the need to defend yourself, what drives that? This kind of thing happens to me with others, sometimes with a close loved one, sometimes a student or a colleague, sometimes a stranger. So I am trying to look at the parts of me that are fertile soil for a difficult comment. Then I try to be open to God’s Healing Grace to heal whatever is wounded in me. In a way, any time a person says something that injures in some way, it is a blessing. It gives me that chance to have utter reliance on God and to heal some wound in me. Thanks for sharing so much of your truth Belinda. I enjoy reading your thoughts.

    • Dan, I think you are absolutely right. I have been thinking a lot about my internal response to his post. It showed me that, although I am have come a long way toward accepting my visual impairment, I still have some self-doubts about belonging and self-worth. I am going to take your advice and pray this week for God’s healing grace to touch these two vulnerabilities in me. Thank you for your comment and your insight.

  14. It’s a shame that this wonderful hobby and the way you share it generously with all of us would be so rudely criticized on such arbitrary semantic grounds and with such an unfairly judgmental approach. But of course someone with such an arrogant attitude would have difficulty understanding your motivation in celebrating your talents and gifts the way you do. I am proud of you.

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