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Marco Antonio Cruz. Hospital Médica Sur. Ciudad de México, 1998.

Marco Antonio Cruz. Escuela de Débiles Visuales y Ciegos. Xalapa, Ver., 1998.

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LA PARÁBOLA DE LOS CIEGOS IX

Esta pintura terrible pero grandiosa la parábola de los ciegos sin un rojo

ningún vidente los rasgos descuidados del indigente con sus pocas

en la composición muestra un grupo de mendigos en diagonal hacia abajo guiándose uno al otro

lastimosas pertenencias una tina de lavar en una cabaña campesina y la aguja de una iglesia

en un costado de la tela para tropezar al fin con un pantano

las caras están alzadas como hacia la luz no hay ningún detalle extraño

donde acaban el cuadro y la composición no se observa

a la composición cada uno sigue al otro bastón en mano triunfante hacia el desastre Traducción : Patricia Gola

William Carlos Williams, Pictures from Brueghel and other poems, New Directions Books, 1967.

8


StĂŠphane Coutelle. Autorretrato 46, 1989.


Katya Brailovsky. Sin tĂ­tulo, '998.


La gallina ciega

v

EVGEN BAVCAR: EL DESEO DE IMAGEN

Benjamín Mayer Foulkes


Autorretrato inclinado


Pompeya. La mano sobre la piedra


Ciudad de Es/avenia


Paisaje de Es/avenia


El pozo con sombras


Disparo contra el tiempo


Casa de cart贸n con mu帽ecas


La dama con corazones


La ni単ita vendedora


La chimenea


El รกrbol


La mirada del agua


Barcelona


El รกrbol con golondrinas


La puerta con golondrinas

La bicicleta con golondrinas


Mu単eca de trapo con cuna


El tiempo al galope


Imรกgenes de Venecia


M贸scaras en Venecia


Pampeya


N贸poles, La cabeza de Cal铆gula


Obra de Miguel Ángel con autógrafo

El Moisés de Miguel Ángel con autógrafo


Denis Rache


Berlín. El ángel con nubes


Barcelona


ParĂ­s con gato


ParĂ­s. La Torre Eiffel


Véronique y el pato Página anterior: El

oso de Berlín y niñitas


El gallo con reloj


Retrato de VĂŠronique


La muchacha con el coraz贸n

Retrato de S.


Desnudo con manos

Desnudo doble con golondrinas


Desnudo


Desnudo


Desnudo


Desnudo


Desnudo


Umberto Eco


Hanna Schygulla


Don Quijote

y Sancho Panza


Retrato con pinturas


'~", 'I :I

Una puerta metálica blanca, de dos hojas, entreabierta.

,,~

..

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2

Un refrigerador sobre el que descansan un paquete de servilletas, una lata de cerveza, un horno eléctrico y unos trapos rojos.

Otra puerta metálica blanca de una sola hoja. Una escalera y una ventana de herrería . Un tanque de gas.

3

4

5

6

El muro vecino donde se

Otra vez el mismo rincón vacío donde se distingue un poco más la bocina de la foto anterior.

7

encuentra, sobre otra repisa de madera, el aparato de sonido, sus cables y su enchufe. 8

El mismo muro, en el que ahora se muestran, la cama cubierta por un edredón azul, una almohada con holanes y otra repisa de madera sobre la que se apilan discos compactos y cassetes. 9

.•.

10


Marco Antonio Cruz. Porfirio Moreno Ma rtĂ­nez en su cuarto. San Ba rtolo Coyotepec, 14 de marzo de 1998.


'9 Las excusas están ~ registradas en el informe del día que él sargento James Olseñ tuvo que entregar al' final de su '. jornada.

\',

2O,Flo Fox ~tiliz¡jba u"!.~ i:..,t amara Kodak Instamatic.

basta la Plaza de la Ciu adela. Como de costumbre, despertaba la curiosidad de quienes se cruzaban en su caminata. r,as personas se preguntaban por lo inusitado de la situación de aquel ciego que portaBa una _cámara de foto. De cuando en cuando se detenía, levantaba la . . -' cámaIa y!omaba una foto del espacio urbano de la ciudad. Luego piosegUía su camino. ese mismo. dIale explicó a ciertas gentes algunas de , ' , .' . '. las características de su ceg:!lera. 'Habló ,ge su posibilidad de ver como-si , lo hiciera a través de un perisco,piO, pero aquéllo sólo podía ocurrir l;>ajo determinadas_condiciones,de luz. Era por eso que necesitaba reducir la realidad a expresiones con).primidas -cÓriloiotografias o ,::ideos- pára apreciar así esa recilidad e'll toda su. rri'agP1tUQ. Se Cliscutió ~entonces la idea del uso de la 'fotografí~ cbmó prótesis'. Sóló a través de la~ imágenes -virtuales s-e podía :ser parte 'del mun~~.: Hapia que realizar un proc~so inverso al del coni(lll de las personaS, quieñes suelen buscar en la re· pI~sentapón artiti!=ialla,ficdón de lo cotidiano. ~_ • ¿Cómo Sel'á ,ef-ln.:~;ñsdente d~ ~l'gUi~~Ué apr.,e . ~endedo nat,óral sólo a través de' la' técnica? ¿De 'álg\:l ien que' ne~esita e.sp~{ar lo -que dura un revelado' futográfico parél s aber a ciencia cierta cuál -es su posición frente ~I rñu~do? Po~ la historia de~algunos fotógraf9s' Ciego~, este inconsciente parece tr?sarse. en la necesidad de poseer más y más o- Jealidades. En el 'Vicio de 'estar en tódos los sitios al mismo tiempo. Quizá, a ttavés de este inconsciente tan particular, sea posible ent(:~n· -d er ,el secreto de la.~insaci~ble~nec~sidad de ficción pOI la que todos

,

, ;r .

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la cámara ha sido un instrumento que permite erotizar la vida. Es una extensión de mi cuerpo, sí, un instrumento para atraer otros cuerpos.

Paco Grande . Jessica. España, 1968.'


Flo Fox . Aviadores de fo fortuna, 1980 .


128


FOSFENOS Gerardo Deni z

Mil 987 fue para mí un año muy cargado. De todo. Koshka llegó a vivir conmigo . Rúnika fue bautizada, y sus picos pardos aparecieron a mediados de año. Empecé a chapotear en lo que serían Amor y Oxidente y Grosso modo. Mientras, por supuesto, me ganaba la vida con mi vergonzoso oficio habitual. Conocí el tercer cuarteto de Revueltas, estuve en Aguascalientes y, de regreso a fines de julio, me encerré en libros nórdicos, a escribir groserías y conocer los horrores de la gramática irlandesa . Una mañana, al despertar, vi con el ojo derecho cosas inverosímiles. Con luz ·intensa todo se esfumaba pero, como en diez días nada cambió, visité al oculista y supe que tenía una retina desprendida y desgarrada. Me operaron en la segunda mitad de agosto y de nuevo al empezar octubre, aunque nunca quedé bien del todo. Recién vuelto de la anestesia, me fue encargado por teléfono cierto soneto. Olvido detalles, si bien al día siguiente estuvo hecho, desde luego (tampoco era mi primera experiencia) de memoria. Mucho después, al ir a ser publicado, le añadí agunas notas confesando cómo la fuerza motriz para elaborarlo fue la lujuria, ese pecado autocatalítico. De ahí que no quedase en soneto el asunto: durante los siguientes tres meses, entre reposo en penumbra y ojos cerrados, fueron surgiéndome y concretándose diecisiete textos a cuál más vil (me guardaré de llamarlos poemas), a los que se agregó todavía otro ("Consulta") a principios de diciembre, con los ojos recién abiertos de par en par. Los "Fosfenos" que inician Grosso modo, publicado un año después. Inmediatamente tras la operación inicial, garabateaba yo telegramáticamente mis ocurrencias. Enseguida abandoné aquel papelito absurdo y confié sólo en al cabeza, la cual a veces sirve. Tiempo me sobraba . El venidero fosfeno final, número 18, "Allanamiento de violeta", se tornó el eje del conjunto. (Más tarde narré en detalle su génesis y estructura, en un comentario detallado que conserva la CIA en mi expediente.) Diciembre . Todo el mundo ha muerto -el maestro Juan D. Tercero, Rodolfo Halffter, Cocó- y yo, devuelto paso a paso a luz meridiana, caligrafío a diario un par de fosfenos, antes fermentados sólo mentalmente. Casi nada que retocar luego (hoy, dos o tres palabras, para la edición póstuma) . Releo a Shakespeare, lo aprovecho en tres epígrafes (Otelo, Romeo, Graciano). Cuánto ha sucedido desde agosto del año pasado, 1986, cuando me electrocutó aquel anuncio de zapatos deportivos recién puesto en el metro . Cuánta materia por desgracia inventariada no más sobre papel con tinta de retina, la cual es, ya se sabe, una viscosa prolongación cerebral con sus bastones y conos ; desprendible aun sin jeopardo .

Marco Antonio Cruz. Sala de operaciones del Hospita l Médica Sur, 20 de noviembre de 1998.


Lola Ă lvarez Bravo . Entre la luz y la sombra. MĂŠxico, ca. 1945.


Marco Antonio Cruz. El ciego Marcelo L贸pez con su esposa. Sierra Ju谩rez, Oaxaca. 11 de marzo de 1998.


Marco Antonio Cruz. Fe rnando y Al berto v., ciegos por oncocercosis. Comunidad Nuevo Brasil, Huixtla, Chia pas. 19 de marzo de 1998 .

Marco Antonio Cruz. La ciega Antonia G贸mez P茅rez con su mad re. Desplazadas za patistas. Chena lh贸, Chiapas. 25 de marzo de 1998.


Marco Antonio Cruz. Plant贸n de ciegos. Z贸ca lo de la ciudad de M茅xico, 18 de julio de 1993.


Marco Antonio Cruz. Doña Epitacia González. Comun id ad Nuevo Brasil, Huixtla, Chiapas, 19 de ma rzo de 1998.

Marco Antonio Cruz. Don Luz, poe ta y t rovador. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, 199 3.


Eikoh Hosoe . Barakei N" 19. Del libro: Meta, 1961 .

144


IIORRon"sos ASESINATOS COOlplidos por Cristúbal P¡flllcras (,JI Fuente Alvilla. provrnria ti,. 4Ibacetp., el liia 4 dI' octubre dci pre,f)llt,~ :lito; habiendo encontrado á un JO\'cn amaDce· bado con su cSJlo ~ a. di"l muerte á él Y á cuatro hijos. y él mismo se ahorcó, ,:om,) lo VPrá el lector . Tu.o no •• da" t;rlllóbal

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with difficulty be brought to look at objects in his neighborhood; but more than a foot away it is impossible to bestir him to the necessary effort." Of a twenty-one year-old girl, the doctor relates, "Her unfortunate father, who had hoped for so much from this operation, wrote that his daughter carefully shuts her eyes whenever she wishes to go about the house, especially when she comes to a staircase, and that she is never happier or more at ease than when, by closing her eyelids, she relapses into her former state of total blindness." A fifteen year-old boy, who was also in love with a girl at the asylum for the blind, finally blurted out, "No, really, I can't stand it anymore; I want to be sent back to the asylum again. If things aren't changed, 1'11 tear my eyes out." Some do learn to see, especially the young ones. But it changes their lives. One doctor comments on "the rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic only of those who have never yet seen." A blind man who learns to see is ashamed of his old habits. He dresses up, grooms himself, and tries to make a good impression. While he was blind he was indifferent to objects unless they were edible; now, "a sifting of values sets in ... his thoughts and wishes are mightily stirred and some few of the patients are thereby led inta dissimulation, envy, theft and fraud ." On the other hand, many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own visiono To one patient, a human hand, unrecognized, is "something 170

bright and then holes." Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy calls out, "It is dark, blue and shiny .... It isn't smooth, it has bumps and hollows." A little girl visits a garden. "She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as 'the tree with the lights in it.'" Some delight in their sight and give themselves over to the visual world. Of a patient just after her bandages were removed, her doctor writes, "The first things to attract her attention were her own hands; she looked at them very closely, moved them repeatedly to and fro, bent and stretched the fingers, and seemed greatly astonished at the sight." One girl was eager to tell her blind triend that "men do not really look like trees at all," and astounded to discoverthat her every visitor had an utterly different tace. Finally, a twenty-two year-old girl was dazzled by the world's brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, "the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen how an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed: 'Oh God! How beautiful!'" Excerpted from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, HarperCollins,

1974.


Aligarh and the mosquito net

After collaborating on A Fortunate Man and A Seventh Man, writer lohn Berger and photographer lean Mohr produced a book together documenting the lives of peasants in the Alps and also investigating the meaning of those familiar, everyday objects known as photographs. The result was Another Way of Telling, originally published in 1982. This essay has beco me essential to the philosophy of contemporary photography, considering its subject matter from multiple angles and proposing an entirely new approach to the artistic and non-artistic search for a new narrative based exclusively on the discontinuous fragments captured by the camera. Halfway through Another Way of Tel/ing, lohn Berger describes photography as a "semi-Ianguage" structured around the visual impressions of an event frozen in time, with individual photographs as quotes extracted from the tide of history. They are the luminous conjunctions of a given moment that only only be expressed when they transcend their original state, forming links with the spectator's memory and somehow satisfying their own"desire for revelation." (Berger summarizes that "we think or feel or remember through images recorded by photography, and through the question of legibility / illegibility that they induce.") In the chapter "Beyond My Camera," lean Mohr confirms-by means of an informal survey among different professions-that a photographic image isn't the apparently fixed site where

photographer, subject and spectator meet. Subjected to the complex of perceptions and imagination of those who have no other reference than the information present in the picture, a photograph of a young man who had climbed a tree to photograph a demonstration against the Vietnam war inspired the words "spring" and "sexuality" in an actress, and reminded her of Federico Fellini's Amarcord when a man exclaims "1 want a woman!" For a psychiatrist, however, this same picture brought to mind a Hispanic laborer in a flowering orchard, perhaps spying on a 171


sunbathing woman, a voyeur who in any case showed surprise but not guilt. In other parts of the same chapter, where he relates his personal and professional dealings with a few editors and photographic subjects, Mohr talks about the unstable and ever-changing value of photographic images. The photographer recognizes that his profession and his work have a different impact on, for instance, a man who protests against a stranger photographing his livestock in a village market-after all, this visual kidnapping won't benefit him in the least-than on Marcel the hermit, who doesn't approve of any portrait that affords only a partial view of i15 subject, be it a cow or a persono He therefore decides to pose standing for his portrait, but only after shaving, combing his hair and putting on his Sunday shirt, confiding that "now my grandchildren will know what kind of man I was." The simple truth of "Beyond My Camera" is that application, context and angle modify the photographic matter. Gustavo the woodcutter visualizes an entirely different portrait-capturing the precise moment when a tree crashes to the ground in the very spot he'd intended it to as unquestionable proof of the skill acquired over years of practice-than the one his wife would consider framing and placing on the mantel, in which he appears frowning . It is a questionable exorcism that Mohr experiences with photographs of children running after the train from Djakarta to Bandung. They are unaware that their half-naked bodies and begging 172

sta res have become the obsession of the documentary photographer riding in a comfortable Pullman car and just as indifferent as his fellow travelers, none of whom are inclined to be Ă­llmsgivers. In fact, the pictures are a commodity bought by an agency and sold to news services. The agencies and magazines that once rejected photos that Mohr had taken of Yugoslavia n president Tito at a diplomatic reception because his personable and friendly manner was incompatible with his position as a communist leader accepted them-unaltered-ten years later beca use the ex-president had changed his political leanings-he was now a socialist opposed to Moscow's plans. The opening pages of "Beyond my camera"-before Berger develops his theory of photographic appearances-presents Mohr's images of a beautiful blind child and the brief story of his encounter with her while visiting his sister living on a university campus in the city of Aligarh, India. It had been a long trip there on a train that had stopped at every station, and upon waking after his first full night's sleep, Mohr heard the faint sound of fingers scratching the mosquito net covering his window. His sister had warned him about a blind girl whose curiosity would surely compel her to check out the new guest. Mohr doesn't know why he reacted to the "good morning" greeting of scratching on the screen by barking and meowing, and then clucking and neighing. Although scared at first by the possibility of a guard dog, the blind girl quickly realized that behind the mosquito net was someone who had decided to


communicate through an improvised circus acto With every new animal imitation, her facial expression changed correspondingly. Mohr decided to photograph the expressions his fictitious animal sounds provoked and, in the morning light diffused by the mosquito net, recorded this magical encounter. These images-those appearing in Another Way of Telling and the ones published here (pp. 30-33) for the first time courtesy of Jean Mohr-can never be seen by the blind girl from Aligarh. As Mohr himself says at the end of the book, the man on the other side of the mosquito net will always be for her "th e stranger who imitated animals." Similarly, we will never know in which cases we are actually seeing her responses not to a dog, cat or horse, but to a fantastic new

species spawned by modern culture-the camera-man, a creature ready to devour the images around it, the wild beast that stalks its prey with its gaze and almost never gives back the impressions it steals, the solitary animal that howls through the camera shutter. Alfonso Morales

.

-:-~~~.~:~:~ - ---:--4'

173


Evgen Bavcar: a Desire for Images Benjam铆n Mayer Foulkes

"1 belong to a wretched generation that has lost practically all of its ideals by experiencing the aftermath of World War 11. In Slovenia 1was exposed to Communism and we were forced to believe in its ideals because there was nothing else. In Paris 1 learned to be more inward thinking and 1 came in contact with photography and its mysticism-to be able to see things with your eyes shut. I've learned to see landscapes through poets. Progress, curiously, took away my sight and gave me a camera in return." These are the words of Evgen Bavcar, a blind photographer who was born in 1946 in the former Yugoslavia, near Trieste in the small Slovene town of Lokavec, in a valley at the foot of a mountain the villagers call the Mountain of Angels. Bavcar's life is marked by two decisive "clicks." After losing an eye at ten when a tree branch struck him in the face, he was out playing one day the following year when he came across a curious metallic object which turned out to be a mine from World War 11. The first "click." In the resulting explosion he lost his other eye. However his vision was only gradually impaired as six months went by after the explosion befare he became totally and permanently blind. During this time his mother (widowed since Evgen was six) and other relatives provided him with a vast quantity of books and visual material-Brigitte Bardot, Kruschev, Eisenhower, Sofia Loren, the Mona Lisa, Mount Everest and Saint-Peter's Cathedral all took part in the long goodbye to his sighted life. 174

Upon losing his sight completely, Bavcar pursued his education at the institute for the blind in the Slovene capital, and later in highschool. Confirming his allegiance to the world of images, at sixteen Bavcar borrowed his sister's Zorki camera, a Soviet version of the Leica, and one day while friends of his were taking pictures of their girlfriends, Bavcar joined in. The second "click:" "It was the girl 1 liked the mosto It was something remarkable. I don't know where that first photograph is anymore. The joy 1felt at the time came from having stolen and captured on film something that didn't belong to me. It was the secret discovery of being able to possess something I couldn't loo k at." Bavcar went on to enro" at the University of Liubliana and complete two bachelor degrees, philosophy and history. At his graduation he was honored as the first blind teacher in the history of Slovenia, and then began teaching geography at an institute. Manuel L贸pez says the following about one of his interviews with Bavcar: "On a map of northern Yugoslavia, he asked me to find Trieste, and from there he took me on a tour of his country's geography. Astounding. 'That's how I gave classes,' he explained, 'AIII needed was to have one student give me a point of reference.'" Thanks to a grant, Bavcar moved to Paris at twenty-six where he did a masters and a doctorate in the philosophy of aesthetics, specializing in Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno. During his studies he


continued with photography as a hobby, taking pictures of people and landscapes. At the age of thirty he beca me a researcher at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and at thirty five he acquired French citizenship. He studied the involvement of Bloch, lukacs, Adorno and Benjamin in German Expressionism and spoke about aesthetics on various radio and television programs. In 1987 he exhibited his work for the first time in a Parisian jazz club, le Sunset, calling the show Black Square on their White Nights. The following year he was appointed Official Photographer of the Month of Photography in the City of light, and in 1989 he put on a show titled Narcissus Without a Mirror at Finnegan's Gallery in Strasburg . Since that time he has shown an ever-growing body of work in over seventy-five exhibitions in France, Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland and Italy; to a lesser extent, he has also exhibited in Spain, Turkey, Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Brazil (The Blind Photographer, Images from Elsewhere, Beyond the Gaze, Sightless Vision, Nostalgia for Light, Visions, Shooting Blindly

among others). His theoretical background has led him to write several books: Le voyeur absolu (Seuil, Paris, in the collection edited by Denis Roche), Les ten tes démontées. Ou le monde inconnu des perceptions (Item, Paris) and Engel unter dem Berg/A la rencontre de I'ange (Pixis bei Janus Press, Berlin).

He says he feels a kinship with Cioran and Kundera, Bernhardt and Hrabel, with the aforementioned Frankfurt School thinkers including Fromm, with the mysticism of

B6hme and Saint John of the Cross, with the essays of Patocka and Blanchot and with the poetry of Apollinaire, Cavafis, Rilke, Jabes and García lorca. Since 1987 he has been the subject of over eight television and film documentaries, and his life story inspired the movie Proof (1994) by Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse.

Vision Without Sight Bavcar hits the nail on the head when he says that "blindness isn't just the blind person's problemit's also sighted people's, if not more so." Indeed, the latter hound him with an insistent question : "A blind photographer?" "How is it possible that he takes photographs if he's blind?" "How can he take them?" Among sighted people, the idea of a blind man who takes pictures never ceases to surprise, disturb, or even cause a peculiar kind of resentment and anger. Why? Faced with the unrelenting skepticism regarding his "method" and its "Iegitimacy," Bavcar simply answers: "The matter isn't how a blind person takes photos, but rather why he would want images." As he explained to Michael Gibson in an interview for El Paseante: "Even those who can't see have in them what we could call a visual need. A person in a darkroom needs to see light and will do anything in his or her power to find it. This is the same need I express when I take a picture. Blind people long for light the same way a child on a train does 175


while it's going through a tunnel." It is precisely the eagerness of the questions regarding Bavcar's "method" and "Iegitimacy" which makes the latter suspect, so that we should begin by examining the question itself. As Bavcar observes: "The fact that people ask me how I take my photos and are surprised that I'm actually able to produce pictures is often the result of historically conditioned prejudices against the blind, who have always had to prove that they can do what they do, and prove this constantly. I have a blind friend who learned to use a rifle just to show that he could. I managed to ride a horse by myself and even a motorbike, something I was able to do in first gear with a woman riding behind me. People who assume they're not handicapped are often reassured at not having their competitive superiority questioned in any given field." But then how do we account for the strange uneasiness sighted people often feel when faced with Bavcar's work? What is it about the blind photographer that makes them react this way? How can we explain it? In the West, there has always been prejudice against the blind. Even in ancient Greece the concepts of knowledge, truth and sight were inextricably tied : according to Plato the Eidos or Idea consisted of a colorless visible formo Descartes then developed this link within the field of empirical 176

observation which in turn layed the foundation for modern science. However, we also have to consider the nature of Bavcar ' s work: in spite of everything one might think of a photographer whose premise, unlike most of his colleagues', is darkness rather than light, to look at Bavcar's images is to face an unbearable flash, a blinding revelation, the effect of a kind of photography that is, strictly speaking, an art of bedazzlement rather than of light. This is perhaps why Bavcar often receives visitors at his small Paris apartment in total darkness. And why we could claim, as Walter Aue does, that after NiĂŠpce, Fox Talbot and Daguerre, Evgen Bavcar is photography's fourth inventor. We then have to specify the kind of photography Bavcar has fnvented, and understand his consequent need to replace the word photography by another more accurate and precise

term-iconography: "I 'm photography's degree zero. Let's say that I'm more of an iconographer than a photographer. I've met blind people who also take photographs but never as selfconsciously as Ido. Some of them even do it with the hope of seeing again some day ... " In contrast to the photographic legacy of NiĂŠpce, Fox Talbot and Daguerre, Bavcar's iconography isn't a luminous graphics, nor can it be interpreted as the hope for what we usually understand as sightedness. On the contrary, the blind photographer clearly states that what interests him is "the invisible world," the fleeting image of the mirror that photography appears to be.


An Inner Gallery How then does the iconographer go about his work? "1 photograph what I imagine, you could say I'm a bit like Don Quijote," he responds. This means, as he adds not without irony, that "the originals are inside my head." His work then lies in "creating a mental image," and in documenting this image in "the physical record which best represents the work of what is imagined." To achieve this, Bavcar uses an ordinary camera and incessantly cultivates the faculty to which Freud granted its proper importance: memory. It then comes as no surprise that tor Bavcar the desire for images and memory are closely related: "What I mean by the desire tor images is that when we imagine things, we existo I can 't belong to this world if I can't imagine it in my own way. When a blind person says "1 imagine," it means he too has an inner representation of external realities. Having a need tor images amounts to creating an internal mirror, in other words a speculum mundi which expresses our attitude towards the reality that lies outside our body. The desire for images is consequently the work of our interior which consists of creating, based on each one of our valid points of view, a possible and acceptable object for our memory. We only see what we know: there is no vision beyond my knowledge. The desire tor images resides in the anticipation of our memory and in the optic instinct which seeks to appropriate the world's splendorits light and darkness." To desire an image is then to foresee its recollection; and to

imagine is to reconstruct, in turn, the memory ot a former image. Thus Bavcar travels constantly between Paris and his native village in Slovenia to secure the basis tor his speculum mundi---his childhood imagery: "My childhood world was one of light and eternity. Everything comes from there. I try to salvage everything lean from my homeland. Family album photos are my favorite. When a friend described El Greco's paintings to me, light and colors are what I remember from my childhood . For me fluorescence will always be light shining on water, the reflections I saw. I have to go back to my country often to refresh my palette." Bavcar goes back time and again to the homeland of his memoryand always comes across something new: "When I go back to my hometown I touch the trees or the bottom of walls to feel the passage of time. But what's most important is what goes on in my head, what I imagine. It's what I call the gaze of the third eye." For this reason, Bavcar's art would seem to be an art of the intelligible. If that is the casedespite our readiness to perceive the photographer as the refutation incarnate of the Platonic association of sight with truth-Bavcar would then be nothing less than the Official Photographer ot Platonism. This in consideration of the reservations Plato himself often expressed regarding visual perception: according to him, "seeing" should be specifically understood as putting to use the mind's "inner eye," and Bavcar's 177


third eye is simply a variation of this "inner eye." However, Bavcar's photography isn't a photography of the intelligible in the classic sense, nor-as we will see-can Bavcar's third eye be understood as the "inner eye" of Platonic reason. Instead, Bavcar's photography is a photography of the intelligible unconscious: he develops a particular kind of intellect that is as alien to Plato as psychoanalysis. If Bavcar does indeed describe his iconographic act as a "mental function," he also maintains that "there is no separation between my dream world and what I see." Just as for the blind the distinction between night and day isn't as drastic as it is for sighted individuals, with Bavcar reasoning cannot be entirely differentiated from dreaming. As such, Bavcar's practice of the 178

intelligible unconscious is nothing less than the following: the intelligible constantly overflowing its own bounds, an overflow produced by the necessary intervention of memory and imagínatíon in any intellectual acto Consídering the formal affinity Bavcar shares with the subjects of his pictures, ít's not surprising that digital photography interests him, though he lacks the necessary equipment to experiment wíth it. However-and paradoxícally for someone who also defines himself as a conceptual artist (a conceptualoneiric artist?)-the blind photographer says that "for now, I prefer the more material, tangible and noble base of silver nitrate on tradítional film." So for the time being his main tool is that "controled trap of darkness called a camera" which "seduces light" and whose adaptibility he plays with as if it were an eye freed from its socket: "Every photo I take I have to have perfectly organized in my head befare shooting. I put the camera at the height of my mouth and that's how I photograph people I hear talking. The autofocus helps, but I can manage without it. It's simple. 1 measure the distance with my hands and the rest is done by my internal desire for images. 1 know there are always things that escape me, but that's also true of photographers who can physically see. My images are fragile; I've never seen them, but I know they exíst, and some of them have touched me deeply." Contrary to popular belief, the camera's nature is not foreign to him. As he says, "it wasn't conceived for the blind any more


than it was designed for lefthanded people," in fact "its potential to exist lies in the interaction between technological blindness and visibility." Thus the photographic industry itself sometimes employs blind people, in labs for instance, because they can handle film in the dark with relatively greater ea se than sighted people. For this reason, the last thing Bavcar considers himself to be is "exotic"-on the whole, the photographic device consists of a marriage between light and dark. A photograph composed only of light without areas of relative darkness would be an impossible photograph. Bavcar's prints are always black and white, though even after fifty years of blindness he still remembers colors: "1 remember red and yellow, they're the colors that are etched in my mind. Red for me is a brick in the sunlight. Blue, on the other hand, is a little hazier." Though he may work just as easily in the light of day, the iconographer generally composes his images in the dark, with very long exposures and a moveable light source (a flashlight, candles or a gas lamp) to illuminate what he wants to show. By the same token, Bavcar sometimes "intervenes" his prints with different kinds of light beams. In terms of his project, these "interventions" are not artificial, but rather form part of the same iconographic operation: "1 feel very close to those people who don't consider photography a piece of reality, but rather a conceptual structure, a synthetic form of pictorial language, or even at times a Suprematist image. I'm

thinking of Malevich and his black square. The direction I've taken is closer to that of a photographer like Man Ray than other forms like photo-reportage, which is like target-shooting at a fixed momentphotography conceived as the photographer's immediate reaction." To be sure, Bavcar's photography, whose uniqueness lies in its simulation of transparency and erasure rather than the photographic subject itself, goes far beyond mimetic reproduction, and points more towards the "framework" Merleau-Ponty alludes to in The Visible and the Invisible when he states that "The visible itself has an invisible inner framework." As Bavcar notes: "The desire for images means that one tends towards invisible realities, to the extent that in each fragment of our existence we are also, as Ernst Bloch put it, 'in the dark of the experienced moment. '" Confronted with Bavcar's work, we begin to understand that what may be unbearable to the average sighted person-the heir, whether he or she knows it or not, to Platonic ocularcentrism in its perceptible or intelligible aspect-is the proof that to see is, originally and technically, to be blind. We must take into account the persistent vehemence with which ocularcentric bi-ocular logic opposes the seeing eye to the blind one. As our artist observes, some of his photographer colleagues "have been quite aggressive, going so far as to state that my notoriety could be attributed solely to the fact that I'm blind." The obvious ocularcentric orientation of the photographic 179


industry on the whole is also worth noting, even though the "market" already has a considerable number of "consumers" for whom the devices invented by Bavcar would be very useful: "1 could even give technical hints to camera manufacturers, especially regarding the making of tools for people who're blind or whose vision is impaired . The lack of certain technical tools, like a phonic or talking light meter, has forced me to come up with personal solutions that give me a greater degree of autonomy and independence in the dark." Towards the end of the 1990s, Bavcar wrote to the main companies in the photographic industry asking for sponsorship and received a single response: a symbolic gift of five rolls of film . The company that makes the camera he uses didn't even bother to answer his letter. Perhaps the firms' respective marketing directors were weary of having their products publicly associated with blindness. Blind From So Much looking With these references in mind, what is then the strategy behind Bavcar's projects? Far from serving as mere confirmation of the enlightened tyranny of the eyes, his handling of the photographic device entails precisely the opposite-its obscuration. Just as Bavcar cannot be categorized as an "exotic," neither is he simply an apologist of blindness like Democritus who, it is said, blinded himself in order to better "see" with his intellect-a position, like that of exoticism, whose existence is foreseen by the panopticon known as 180

ocularcentrism . Indeed, Bavcar's case is entirely different: "My photographs are not subject to the now-common laws of seeing, but rather form part of the Greek myth that expresses both horror and its possible redemption. My work is to join the visible world with the invisible. Photography allows me to pervert the mode of perception established between people who see and those who

don't." With the same eroticism that filled his first photograph (transgression, pleasure, theft, the possession of something that can't be seen), Bavcar's iconographic act subverts the habitual tyranny and logic of stereoscopic visiono His target is precise: it consists of images or icons that, from being looked at so often, have become invisible: "Traditional photographers are the ones who are really a little bit blind from being constantly bombarded with images. 1 sometimes ask them what they see but it's hard for them to tell me. It's very difficult for them to find genuine images, beyond clichĂŠs. It's the world that's blind: there are too many images, a kind of pollution. Nobody can see anything. You have to cut through them to discover true images." Like Roland Barthes, in his mythology about "Th e Eiffel Tower," Bavcar visualizes and stages icons to better obscure them : "When 1 got to Paris 1 went up the Eiffel Tower close to forty times. I touched its structure until I became familiar with it, and 1 made my own image of the Tower documenting it in the multiple photographs I've made in Paris. In my photos 1 try to


destroy one image with another that I consider more real." Of course, if the matter at hand is to destroy invisible icons, the first proof that must be obscured is the one relating to the blind, the one that keeps bi-ocular perspective well enlightened: "Proof is an interesting film, but it has aspects that follow the filmmaker's logic rather than the blind person's. This is quite significant. It's a good thing for film to free itself of the blind person's ghost, but it would also be good if it gave us a voice. Filmmakers are al so blind when they let clichéd images speak for them." In contrast to ocularcentrism's toxonomic impulse, whose effectiveness and purity are always merely appearances, Bavcar's iconography is explicitly and irreducibly a practice of mediation and synergy. It bears no trace of the practice of photography as a "pencil of nature," a fantasy of the medium by which nature captures its own raw essence without the intervention of mano On the contrary: the hand-and the eyeare obligated to intervene with the blind photographer's camera: "1 depend on others to make my photos. They have to describe the landscape or whatever is in front of me. Other people tell me what they see and I act accordingly. I pick my photos on a contact sheet the same way everyone else does, the only exception being that I have to control the physical gaze of those who serve as mediators between the contacts and my own inner reality." By the same token, and against the fundamentals of photography,

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iconography (whose classic definition is to be a "description of images, portraits, paintings, statues or monuments, especially ancient ones") is an undeniably interpretive arto This is perhaps why Bavcar never dates his photos, which can't be considered snapshots beca use their temporal existence is really that of their successive viewers. The blind, and people who think they aren't, face the constant, radical threat of what is seen-or, at least, of what is apparently seen . Bavcar always attempts to obscure these appearances and throw clichés back in the direction of hope and becoming. As he says about himself: "1 don't see the world as it is but as it could be." Bavcar's iconographic art is the art of revealing shadows; if photography is writing with light, the art of the blind, which Bavcar 181


considers "almost a mysticism of photography," establishes, in return, that any image is an image of something, and primarily of something invisible. To sum up, as we have already glimpsed, Bavcar's iconographic activity is guided by that inaccessible star known as the third eye. The Inaccessible Star "Today we are witnessing an expansion of the visible world, which causes a similar expansion of the invisible world. Perhaps we must accept this dogmatic deduction in order to refute modern man's supposed ability to see the infinite, a notion that serves only too well the ideology of technics. I'd make a distinction here between light (Iumiere) and illumination (ĂŠc/airage); I believe that the play of light is what prevents us from reaching the real. IIlumination is different from light produced by modern methods because it is always excluded from the field of obvious perception-it is something we must strive to grasp 182

despite the weakness of the means at our disposal." Any image, whether it pertains to the realm of the "sighted" or the "blind," creates a latent clichĂŠ, and for this reason it always has the potential to dazzle, to blind; and the iIIusion of light, in the end, can also blind the blind. Thus Bavcar takes advantage of the antidote for the invisible, and describes himself as "a darkroom behind a camera" that in turn conjures "another dark chamber that can capture any kind of outer reality inaccessible to my gaze." This other dark chamber is the third eye: "Our desire for images is consequently our response to the existence of a third eye which is aware of the misfortunes of our physical gaze, 'of our eyes of clay which cannot see the invisible' in the words of Kazantzakis. The third eye alone has the privilege of seeing even further." The third eye is the point of contact between the sighted person's eyes and those of the blind one, as well as this contact's simultaneous disintegration, the original, boundless blind spot of all vision and all blindness. Then the invisibility Bavcar goes in pursuit of isn't merely a potential or deferred visibility, but truly an original and uncontrollable invisibility which Merleau-Ponty (in the aforementioned work) describes in the following terms: "Principie: not to consider the invisible as an other visible 'possible', or a 'possible' visible for an other ... The invisible is there without being an object, it is pure transcendence, without an ontic mask." Likewise, the third eye Bavcar


,. invokes is the radical formlessness that's the origin of all form, that "invisible center" Derrida refers to (in Memoirs of the Blincf), which from an absolute withdrawal "ensures from a distance a kind of synergy. It coordinates the possibilities of seeing, touching and moving. And of hearing and understanding." Thus it's the third eye that inspires Bavcar's deployment of synergy on every level of his iconographic practice. Not only does he photograph landscapes based on other people's descriptions-for instance children's indications or passages from books, like when he photographed his friend Peter Handke's native town. Not only does his iconography deal with things he or the viewers of his work have never seen-the intense darkness that a stairwell leads to, the clarity that a tree's branches point to, the pure transcendence concealed by a carnival mask, the enlightening contemplation of a cloudy stream. Like an echo of Merleau-Ponty's description of vision as "touch by sight," Bavcar's iconographic gaze is intrinsically, though not exclusively, tactileindeed he sometimes calls his prints "tactile views" and sta tes that "the sense of touch is the logic of vision." If the field of the image doesn't overlap with the field of vision, then neither is the operation of the third eye essentially visual. Just as memory and imagination are conditions for the possibility of any perception as well as the inescapable source of all sensory "distorsion," the third eye is simultaneously the source and

disintegration of the visual. For this reason it constitutes the punctum caecum in which the history of Western visual art and the history of its own self-destruction converge: "1 admire painters like Malevich, Picasso, Modigliani, Kandinsky, but I feel more of a kinship with sculpture. I'm really interested by Duchamp and the spirit of the negation of arto The whole history of art consists of the gaze's renewal by means of the third eye." Of course, as the lacks an "ontic mask," any attempt to portray it results in nothing but the portrayal of its own afterimage and remains. Thus in Bavcar's imaginary the third eye is portrayed successively as an angel, a swallow and wind. Like the angel, the iconographer sees just as clearly in the light as he does in the dark. Swallows then establish the difference between light and dark while not being subjected to it: "As a child I learned that swallows fly low when it's gloomy and fly much higher up in the sky when it's bright. These birds form part of my childhood landscape." And concerning the wind, he refers to the Gospel: "No one can tell you where it comes from or where it goes, or how it is, but it undeniably exists. Wind can't be, but it can be heard, it can be felt." But Bavcar also refers to the third eye in the case of the stairway that ascends and descends, the tree that both blocks our sight and allows us to see through it, the mask that manifests and conceals, and the water that is at once transparent and cloudy. Furthermore, Bavcar deals with time, writing, portraiture, and light itself in the same fashion: 183


time generates its own representations but hides behind them; writing, both as image and word, is at once the cause and effect of figuration; portraiture confronts and challenges both the observer and the person being observed; and light, while pretending to make something visible, dazzles. Angel, swallow, wind, staircase, tree, mask, water, time, writing, portraits, light... AII of these and none: Bavcar is the first to point out that any figuration issued from the third eye is defective, which is why his work is "fundamentally unfinished." And so many more: all of Bavcar's icons-each one an attempt to represent what lĂ­es beyond the gaze in the gaze-are also defective figurations of the third eye. By virtue of this, as we see more and more clearly, upon looking at Bavcar's prints our own gaze also discovers itself as the desire and figuration of the formless. It's not surprising then that Bavcar conceives of his photographic act as a "Iay prayer," and that "a kind of theology of light" is part of his practice in the sense that "just as theologists don't know God, my awareness of light is also relative." Surely, as Derrida notes (in "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials"), "the name of God would suit anything that can only be approximated, approached or designated in an indirect and negative manner. Any negative sentence would already be haunted by God or the na me of God." The Invisible Gaze

What, then, is the source of the surprise, the bewilderment, the peculiar kind of resentment and anger that the blind photographer 184

never ceases to provoke in sighted individuals? What causes these reactions if, essentially, Bavcar seems to operate like any other photographer or sighted person? Like Bavcar, photographers in general have a desire for images, and this desire cannot help but be for the invisible, for something that remains dark and obscure at the moment it is experienced. As the blind photographer says about love, "when you approach a woman, you reach a point beyond which you see nothing." In effect, perhaps the impulse behind any click of the shutter is an attempt to possess something that can't be seen. Like Bavcar, every photographer necessarily makes a pact with darkness and the invisible, and his art resides precisely in the conditions of this pacto If, unlike other blind people, our iconographer doesn't take pictures with the hope of some day seeing again, it's not because he fully accepts his blindness, but that sighted people, he points out, are also at least partially blind. Like Bavcar, all photographers imagine and remember their images much more than they actually perceive them: the necessary intervention of the dream in any photographic intellection is inherent to the desire for images. In other words, like Bavcar, all photographers, in the end, see things with their eyes closed. For this reason, as we can clearly see in the case of this artist, the grounds for any photographer's speculum mundi are the images of their childhood . Like Bavcar, every photographer stumbles synergistically and simultaneously through countless sensory and intelligible frames of reference. Thus


it seems that to question a blind photographer's possible existen ce, to question his "method" and "Iegitimacy," is nothing less than to question the possible existence of photographers in general. What 's more, not only does Bavcar operate like any other photographer but also like any other sighted persono Not only beca use, just as in the case of photographers, if a sighted person looks, he or she does so driven by a desire for images. Not only because he or she who looks does so beyond visibility. Not only because seeing is bringing imagination and memory into play. Not only beca use seeing is falling prey, befo re the fact, to an overwhelming synergy. Beyond all these concerns, Bavcar operates like the rediscovery-as here we are any sighted person beca use, like dealing with something that could only have been discovered Bavcar, any sighted person can only look from, and towards, the third beforehand-of the fact that they eye. What else could the are originally and structurally blind . As Bavcar says: "shortcomings" and vacancy of our "physical gaze"-as it lands upon "If people are perplexed, it's because angels, swallows, winds, stairways, their own relationship with blindness trees, masks, waters, times, writings, comes into focus, and sometimes portraits, lights, images and other their fear, in the sense of a castration blindnesses-be due to? complex or an immediate recollection of their own Oedipus Despite first impressions, Bavcar does not represent the simple complex. From some people's point inversion of a photographer's and of view, and this is something I've any sighted person's characteristic confirmed through numerous function, but rather the oppositeexperiences which are shared by his or her total entrance into the many of my blind friends, I represent light. Why, then, do sighted people a kind of Oedipus after the tact." If to contemplate Bavcar's images feel uncomfortable when faced with the image of someone else like is to face an unbearable flash and a themselves? Precisely beca use of blinding revelation, it his art isn't one the former. By contemplating of light but of bedazzlement, this is Bavcar and his work, due to the fact that his iconography photographers and sighted people does nothing more than reflect his contemplate nothing more than viewers' desire for images-and then their own selves, and what makes folds back in upon itself. this unbearable is that it consists of And if indeed one can only look 185


from and towards the third eye, then when looking at Bavcar's images, these same images look back at uso For the gaze cannot settle on the third eye, as it is invisibility itself; in any case, the gaze is at once penetrated and gazed upon by it. As Lacan states about Merleau-Ponty (in his Seminar, Book 71): "We are beings that are looked at, in the spectacle of the world ." But, as Paul-Laurent Assoun explains (in his Lerons Psychanalytiques sur le Regard et la Voix), this occurs with any image, as it looks at us much more than we do at it: "When I look, it cannot but follow that, ipso facto, 'it' looks 186

at me. The gaze is a response to a certain gaze that has alwaysthough not since all eternitysettled on me." Not only does every image look at us, but every gaze does as well, and thus always looks at us more than we look at it. Of course, this fact usually remains unacknowledged. However, again with Bavcar, it becomes totally clear: by looking at images taken by his blind gaze, we discover that we are being looked at by our own gaze. Thus the photographer places us before an odd mirror that confronts us with the ominous experience of finding ourselves looked at by our own gaze. Having mentioned the fact that Bavcar welcomes guests in his home in the dark, we must add that his apartment is also covered in mirrors. The experience's ominousness issues from the structural intensification that creates it. Following Freud's indications relative to the unheimlich (in "The Ominous"), we see that the experience of the ominous arises from the revival of the previously repressed intuition of the viewer's own integral blindness: all of us are Oedipus after the fact. We all know the outcome of this unbearable revelation, which the psychoanalyst describes in terms borrowed from Heine: "after the fall of their religion the gods took on demonic shapes." Light, previously desired, becomes dazzling, as there is nothing more blinding to the gaze than the monstrous spectacle of its own blindness. At this point we must reconsider ocularcentrism in all its


institutional weight to risk the hypothesis that, though its effectiveness is never more apparent, its "pure" taxonomic impulse and its attempt to dissociate what cannot be dissociated-the blind person's eye from the sighted person's eye, light from darkness-carry out a very specific function : to intercede in the experience of the ominous, prevent its spread, stop anything from happening in the place where everything happens. How else do we explain the obstinacy of ocularcentric guidelines that permeate the photographic industry? How else do we account for the lack of blind students in photography, film and televisionproduction schools? Thus we must also reconsider the transcendence of what Bavcar brings into play with his iconography. If indeed his work produces a kind of tautology in which sighted people see nothing but themselves looking at their own selves, this tautology is far from sterile. To paraphrase Derrida (in "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials"): "To experience what occurs within sight through sight itself, on the trail of a kind of quasi-tautology, is not quite to look in vain and not see anything." Quite the contrary: like a disturbed and disturbing bedazzlement, Bavcar's iconography "intervenes" herethat is to say, everywhere-where ocularcentrism's institutions refuse to see and do nothing but play blindman's buff. Bavcar patiently contrasts one bedazzlement with another-the bedazzlement of the gaze that looks at itself with the

bedazzlement of what is apparently seen-with the hope that the former will eclipse or at least dim the latter-which will always be more blinding to the gaze than the renewed confrontation with the mirrar of dreams. For a partial bibliography refer to the Spanish on p. 59

187


Gerardo Nigenda's Intersecting Photographs

188

Oaxaca, Oax., Friday, April 30, 1999. A spring evening closes in and the fiery sun cools. At 302 Murguía Street, preparations are under way for tonight's event, the presentation of Graciela Iturbide's Imágenes del espíritu (Images of the Spirit), copublished by Aperture and Casa de las Imágenes. The seasoned intimacy of this large eighteenthcentury home, bought and resto red by painter Francisco Toledo and named after the great photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, has been transformed into a photography center, welcoming the public into its exhibition rooms, library and darkroom. The central eye of Álvarez Bravo's famous photo "Parábola óptica" was chosen as the logo for this center which, since its opening on September 16, 1996, has played host to distinguished artists such as Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nacho López, Walter Reuter, Mary Ellen Mark, Sebastiao Salgado and Josef Koudelka . Heeding a suggestion from

Francisco Toledo made shortly before the arrival of the public, all the seating for the event is moved from the exhibition hall to where it was originally set up in one of the house's beautiful courtyards. In the open air under the Oaxacan night sky, the center's director, Cecilia Salcedo, introduces speakers who describe the world that Graciela Iturbide has opened up to them, particularly through her images of the iguanas, men and women, stones, blossoms and thorns of Oaxaca. Rosa Rodríguez, an editor at Casa de las Imágenes, speaks about the women-girls, matrons and seniors-who have been both Iturbide's subjects and her friends. Lamenting the trendiness and excesses of ethnographic photography, the director of the Oaxaca Botanical Garden, Alejandro de Ávila, thanks the author of Juchitán de la mujeres (The Women's Juchitán) for having shown him again the beauty of his work materials-the plants and cacti he grows in a small plot in the former monastery of Santo Domingo. Alfredo López Austin reads part of the epilogue omitted from the final version of Imágenes del espíritu. Written in the toril' of letters to the photographer; this anthropologist's text posits Graciela Iturbide's work as a reconciliation with the Other-a celebration of difference. Gerardo Nigenda, a young man of thirty-two, listens to fragments of the talk on this artist who photographed a female angel in the Sonora deserto He then takes a shortcut through the galleries to


discretely slip out through a door behind the conference table. Aided by his canine guide and Cecilia Martínez, a friend of his from the Álvarez Bravo Photography Center, he goes to pick up his belongings in the Jorge Luis Borges Library which he happens to run oThe library itself, founded on March 26, 1996, contains several shelves of books in Braille. The divine creator of paradoxes has decided that a writer of labyrinths and a photographer of daydreams should gaze upon the same trees and cross the same door everyday in that large white house they share on Murguía Street, divided inside by a reflecting pool ending in a garden of wild plants. What do they talk about? What can two artists at the opposite extremes of light possibly have to say to each other? The author of Siete noches (Seven Nights) wrote that blindness is neither confinement to a world of darkness nor a blanket of eternal night and could even be considered a gift, offering different perspectives from those available to the apparently privileged eyes of the sighted. With more than eight decades under his belt in alife dedicated to observation-the tree trunks and clotheslines of the garden in his Coyoacán home being accomplices to this-Manuel Álvarez Bravo has once again demonstrated in his Variaciones (1995-97) that sight is also a caress or music-a way of merging with the stream of symbols that describe life. Gerardo Nigenda, whose fingertips opened the door to Juan Rulfo's (omala and Gabriel Garda Márquez's Macondo for him, has decided he wants to contribute to the apparently impossible

conversation between blindness and photography. A few images demonstrate his commitment to reducing the distance that separates a library for the blind and a center for education on the photographic medium. Blinded by diabetic retinopathy at the age of ten, Nigenda, who has completed four years of a degree in agronomy, said to himself one day, half-joking, half-serious, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." He was speaking mainly in reference to the most immediate representative of the sighted world, the Álvarez Bravo Photography Center, whose members would suddenly find themselves faced with the challenge of creating a workshop for a blind man adamant on exercising his right to produce images according to his own perception of the world-a personal perception, Nigenda points out, through which any sightless person can record and comprehend the volumes and shapes surrounding him by using all the senses. The initial exercises for the Álvarez Bravo Center's first blind student consisted of mapping out his everyday surroundings, the places where he lives and works. Guided by sounds and murmurs, and by memories from his repeated walks, Nigenda deconstructed the route to his home through a series of ten photographs. (Some of these photographs are reproduced on p. 98 while others are described on the same page by the following texts: 2. A half-open white door made of two metal sheets. 3. Another white door, but made of one metal sheet. A stairway 189


and a forged iron window. A gas tank. 4. A fridge with a package of napkins on it, a beer can, an electric stove and so me red rags. 7. The same empty comer but the speaker from the previous photo is showing a little more. 8. The adjacent wall where the tape recorder can be seen, its cables and the socket on a wooden shelf. 9.The same wall but now showing a bed with a blue blanket, a pillow with lace and another wooden shelf containing compact discs and cassettes.) Gerardo Nigenda ca lis these probing images which represent his travels around his bedroom and workplace "Fotos cruzadas" (Intersecting Photos). They intersect not just beca use of the angles from which he takes them but, more importantly, because they require an intimate relationship with people who can see in order to complete the cycle that starts with a mechanical record and ends with mental reconstruction. For the blind, a photograph is, after all, merelya rectangle of coated paper, a smooth or rough surface that could be mistaken for any piece of cardboard or Bristol board. The camera, obedient to the finger that operates the shutter, records a moment and scene that a blind person can only perceive once it's described by a sighted person, as if the photos were developed a second time by the spoken or written word. The blind photograph, if we consider what Gerardo Nigenda says, is beyond the logic of the decisive moment or formal composition. It begins befo re and continues after the instant the 190

shutter clicks, like a sequence and comparison of images under construction, an equation that multiplies itself in its interpretation. In order to keep all the symbols released and captured by his camera from being misplaced, and to keep them at hand (Iiterally), Cecilia Salcedo advised Nigenda to write descriptions of the images directly on the photos. The result of this idea was to turn a printed photograph into a tactile and visual device where others' descriptions and personal memories join forces, where graphic information meets coded writing, a palimpsest that surely would have pleased the author of El Aleph. A courtyard is the image of a courtyard, but also the verbal description of a picture of a courtyard written on the photograph of it: "First patio. CEFAB (Ă lvarez Bravo Photography Center). White pillars. The wall has a green climbing vine with purple flowers. Between the pillars there are plants and pots that are also green. The plants are mostly cacti. In the background you can see the security guard, Tino, and beyond that the main entrance. The floor of the first courtyard is green stone. The shot was taken from the rear looking towards the front, which is why the entrance can be seen." Having made these maps of his home and workplace, always with the help of members of the Ă lvarez Bravo Center, Nigenda now proposes to use images to tell the story of his friend Sergio, who lost his sight five years ago at the age of twenty due to hereditary glaucoma. In order to document the life of this poor, blind Zapotec Indian,


Nigenda journeyed five hours-three of them over dirt roads-to his friend ' s village, a place where an amphibian called ajolote is considered a delicacy and where a simple wooden board is offered as a luxurious bed. According to Nigenda, in remote communities such as this-yet another nook in the geography of Oaxacan poverty-there are many blind people not included in official statistics. Unlike Sergio, some of these people still consider blindness a curse from the heavens. The truth is that even befo re training himself in photographing voices and whispers, the wind in the trees and the din of street demonstrations (he photographed the Zapatista contingents marching through the city of Oaxaca when they were promoting their national conference), Gerardo Nigenda had already pointed a camera at the adventures and misfortunes of a blind Oaxacan, placing photographer Marco Antonio Cruz on the trail of Porfirio Moreno from San Bartolo, Coyotepec. This is a man who, from the immobility of his bed and the confinement of his room, continues to shield himself from professional saviors of souls and attempts to cure, through conversation and reflection, some

of the contemporary world's ailments. On that occasion, Moreno, an out-of-town reader of the books in Nigenda's library, warned Cruz to be careful not to contribute to sensationalizing blindness with his photographs, making the fundamental criticism that photography of the blind is a spectacle invented by and for sighted people, many times merely a pretext for earnest and tearful pity. With his "intersecting photographs" and the photodocumentary of his friend Sergio, Gerardo Nigenda aims to take this criticism to the terrain of images by attempting to use lightsensitive material and make it sensitive to the touch of the blind. One of these days, in a springtime yet to come, Gerardo Nigenda will enter th"e courtyards of the Ă lvarez Bravo Photography Center to refine the language of the sentences and stories that his first photographs have only begun to articulate. Alfonso Morales 191


The Distance Between Things Porfirio Moreno Martínez

Porfirio Moreno Martínez was born in 1954 in San Bartolo, Coyotepec, a village in the state of Oaxaca famous for its black ceramics. In 1970 he contracted an illness called juvenile rheumatic arthritis which caused an eye disease known as uveitis. In 1974 he went to Mexico City for an eye operation, but to no avail. Tired of so many treatments and realizing that his health wasn't improving, he returned to his village and, after a period of frustration and anger, decided 'to take the bull by the horns,' as the saying goes. Blind and bedridden for almost ten years due to a chronic and increasingly acute disease, the closest contact Moreno Martínez has with the world is through radio and reading and writing Braille. Photographer Marco Antonio Cruz met Moreno Martínez in March of 1998. The photographs reproduced herein (pp. 102-106) are the result of the long conversation the two had o Intrigued by Cruz's photos, Luna Córnea visited Moreno Martínez one Sunday in April. He seemed to be waiting for uso Following a short introduction by his sister Silvia, Porfirio talked at length about his static voyages from the solitude of his room. From 1970 on, when I was about sixteen years-old, I began to have problems and finally went to Mexico City in 1974. I went to many clinics and doctors there. My obsession with getting better led me to try anything that might cure me. But my illness continued to get worse, so I came back to my hometown 192

around 1989 or 1990, completely disillusioned. A while after coming back, when I got ill again, I pulled myself together and made figures out of clay just like that, blind, beca use the arthritis had attacked my eyes and left me sightless; but because I was young I overcame it and started like that, making things with clay simply by touch, and that's how I survived. I lived with my father and one of my younger sisters. When you're young, you can take a lot. Maybe it's also because of the way I am that I've never given up. And I tell you, I went to Mexico where all that stuff happened to me, where the doctors let me down. That's alll did-livefor my treatments. I was completely selfconsumed because, like I said, I was obsessed by the idea of getting well. But then I came home. I let life follow its own course for a while, despite being disappointed and all. But then I beca me more aware of myself and that's when my psychological or mental state improved. I became stronger and then I realized that everything the doctors could do for me, I could do for myself, such as the ability to take hold of my life, to embrace all that could make me well again. So I started to look after myself, to rid my body of the toxins from all the drugs I'd been taking. I was unstable psychologically, so I concentrated on that and became my own doctor and psychologist. From then on I started recovering; I lowered the dosage of medicine I'd been taking, taking only what I thought I needed, and noticed that


psychologically I felt better, that my head was clearer and that I was putting order to my life. So even though this was a new way of life, I decided I was going to try living it. And that's how I finally realized that I had to help myself first; I admit that yes, I needed someone to help me with essential things that I couldn't do, but I decided to take my life into my own hands as they say, right? Because I'm the one who has to know how to survive. Herbal remedies-I've tested out so many plants I've learned a lot about them-have allowed me to do without all the drugs and pi lis that had poisoned my body. And once I controlled all of that, I started living again. It was like beginning anew. But then I realized that it wasn't necessary, because sometimes people do a lot of walking and end up going around in circles. So I haven't missed out on mucho That's how Ilook at it. So what if I'm bedridden? I'm not going to worry about it beca use I'm able to develop other aspects ot my life, such as my mind. I've noticed that people at Neurotics Anonymous share the same beliefs and that's why they form groups. This is true of any group: people understand one another so it's like a catharsis, you could say, beca use they tell each other their problems, and that's why they get along. But I've noticed that they merely exchange one dependency for another, whereas I like each person to be free-it scares people, but it's what I prefer. Not depending on any group but rather providing each person with the tools to determine who they are on their own without depending on anyone

or even the Bible. Because people want to impose their way of thinking on me, according to their own beliefs. And, yes, it's wonderful that they've gotten over their addiction and replaced it with another that's less destructive, but that's not going to convince me. I know who I amo I respect their beliefs, but they're not going to convince me. I'm glad that those groups have helped so me people, but when someone needs me, I'm there for them, to substitute their addiction for another one called freedom, which means not depending on anyone. People don't dare do it, but it/s something I wish they could do. I've put it to work tor myself. Why? Because I relied on doctors and beca me dependent on them. And now I don't depend on anyone but myself, and like I say, I'm my own psychologist, my own doctor, and I'm thrilled even it I only live one more day, or who knows how long-I'm happy with what I've got. Even though I'm not a big fan of religion, sometimes I think that Christ could have had material things it he'd wanted to, but he didn't. Why? Because he didn't think they were necessary. Someone once said: "1 don't need much to live. In fact, I need very little, and the little I need I need so little I hardly need it at all." That's how Ilive. And the irony of it is that I write things tor a living. 193


And I have a lot of sayings and many things that I've made my own beca use I believe in them. For example here, on my Braille board where I write. I found out about Braille and people didn't think that I could learn to write anywhere here in the village. But one day I discovered there was a Braille library in Oaxaca and I thought, well, there must be someone who can teach it, In order to use the library, I had to know Braille, so I wrote to them. And a social worker carne with her assistant who was doing her social service and told me: welllet's see if you can learn from here, where you live. I told them I was definitely willing to try, and I wanted to learn fast beca use I'd already had ataste of it, but they insisted on going step by step, showing me sensitivity and all, and since they were teaching me, I adapted to their system. But I already had a highly developed sense of touch. I was bent on learning Braille so I threw myself into it, as long as they were willing to teach me, and I learned quickly. I learned in about four months, probably because I had a bit of experience before, like I said. I custamized my board here, so it would fit on top of the bed. I put twa legs on it and I tell you I keep it here for writing. They explained about the positioning of the dots and 194

how to combine them, and leven learned that quickly. To write, I set a sheet of paper on the board and use a ruler. "To the fool and the frivolous person, expectations seem suspect. But the wise person expects the unexpected." "There are two attitudes I disapprove of: the person who tramples on others, and those who let themselves be trampled an." "When the poet points out the moon, the idiot looks at his finger." (That's a little extreme, I admit, but it's true.) "lf I didn't understand what the soul is, I'd listen to music." "People live with one foot stuck in the past, the other extended inta the future." These are sayings I've heard, and maybe that's not exactly how they go, but I've adapted them, made them up. And like I say if I don't write them down, I have to keep them in my head, and I mull them over, and then I write them down when I think they're right and make sen se. I blend my thoughts in the same way that my life is a blend. I spent time reading books in the library beca use I like books by Rulfo, Juan Rulfo, for example, and also books like Romeo and Juliette, the lliad and the Odyssey. I realize they are points of view of individuals in their time, their era. And we can also write in our time, according to aur era. I wanted to live befare like other people live, giving advice and telling my sister "lead your life like this." But I know I can't change anyone, not even my sister. And that's when I decided that I didn't want anyone to depend on me, nor I on anyone else, that Iliked my freedom. That's why I'm against those psychologists who want to control their patients' lives, so much so that the patients become


dependent on them and always ask them their opinion. Why? Because they don't live their own lives, they live through someone else. And they can do that, I could do that: design each person a good life, but I don't want them to depend on me because I've got other things to think about, better things to do. Anyhow, that would be a waste of time, paying attention to them and surrounding myself with people, and I'm not the kind of person who likes to be surrounded by people. I could do it, but I wouldn't feel good about someone living according to what I say; rather I prefer that each person live according to their own rules and abilities. That's how I'd like everyone to live, but if they don't want to, well I can't do anything about it. This is the only way you can really live happily. You can live your life very happily, like me, and at my age I realize that I might be living for the first time. And I tell you, I don't know how much longer 1'11 live, maybe just a day, but the strength it's given me has invigorated my body. When we strengthen the spirit, the soul, we're not afraid of anything, not even death or what other people say about us, nothing. We're quite simply aware of ourselves and live comfortably in reality and in accordance with life. I can't explain it very well since I'm blind. And I've gone back to the beginnings of the evolution of the species on Earth, back to all those species that have populated our planet, right, and over the five billion years that the Earth has evolved, it's had so many inhabitants that only it knows how many. Right now it's us, in this moment in time in the Earth's

evolution. I'm merely open to life and the expectations of being human. I don't feel bad about being ill. I don't miss being able to see because I used to see before so when I want to remember a place, I simply recall it in my memory. It would be more difficult if I'd been born blind, I guess, because I don't know what concept of things a person born blind has. As I read in a book, it's difficult for someone who was born blind to then recuperate his vision because he discovers that he'd been imagining things in another way. He had imagined things to be different than they really are. He loses his sense of distance, the distance between things, dimensions. And I think there are a lot of things to think about, reflect on, write about-but only if someone were interested in reading them. If not, why would I go to all that trouble? Maybe if I could write knowing that someone would read it, but if not then it's better just to think it instead. I don't worry about my life anymore beca use I've already lived it. I know how people think and I'm not envious of anything. I concentrate on myself beca use I've accepted my situation, although I'm not resigned to it. That's the difference: others beco me resigned, but I don 't. I've accepted it. As I like to say: though I might be holding the snake by its head, I'd break its neck if it had one. Selected by Patricia Gola

195


You Never See More than when You Can't See Anything at AII Mario Bellatín

Every day a few years ago, aman' with a white cane and a seeing-eye dog entered the subway station at 14th Street in Manhattan. Oddly enough, besides his cane and dog he also had a camera 2 slung around his neck. Sometimes he'd have that dais newspaper folded and tucked under his armo He'd descend the stairs to the platform, wait for the train and then take the seat reserved for the handicapped . • One morning a police officer1 sporting a blue uniform-who was familiar with blindness because his mother had lost her eyesight years befo re in an accident4-decided to follow the man with the camera, the same man who passed by every morning like dockwork, his cane leading the way. The officer watched him enter the subway station and followed him as he went down the stairs. He got on the same train . The blind man took his seat and then, minutes later, opened the New York Times. This was enough to make the policeman rush him, cuff him and call for back up with his walkie talkie. The dog barked, but didn't attack the officer. Before the man was able to produce his card officially identifying him as blind, the policeman had already accused him of mocking other people's disabilities and taking advantage of the good faith of trusting citizens. So yiolent was the apprehension that it seemed like the policeman wanted to make this impostor pay for the dark world in which his mother had ended up living. Terrified, the blind man, now immobilized on the ground, managed to sputter out that he had 196

been checking the newspaper listings because he wanted to take his girlfriend to the movies. • On Sunday afternoons, it's common to see street performers improvising in Washington Square. Usually after about three o'dock a woman 6 would go mime for an hour and then collect the money left by passers-by in a hat she'd placed at her feet. The woman was always accompanied by a blind man who carried a camera 7 around his neck . They visited the park with a seeingeye dog, a Golden Retriever. This particular breed of dog once trained never strays from its masters side for a momento This dog was no exception, following the man loyally while he took photos of the woman as she mimed. On more than one occasion, the photographer brought along a bottle in a paper bago He'd then alternate taking photos with drinking hearty swigs of vodka. The couple were friends with other buskers and a few drug dealers who pretty much lived in the park8 • • One hot and humid night on the outskirts of Bangkok, in brothels full of young girls much like those that fill the city center, a group of European tourists was looking for action. These men had eagerly paid the fare all the way to Thailand, enticed by the idea of sexual encounters with oriental children. At the back of a large room, a man in dark glasses secretly took photos of the goings-on 9 • Because the light was dim, he couldn't see exactly what was happening around him, but he could hear music'o, laughter and the dinking of glasses and


bottles. He was just barely able to make out bits and pieces of conversations in German and Thai. Now and again a waiter, who helped him make sure no one noticed him, served him rice with coconut mil k to accompany the beer he was drinking". The photographer would only find out what had happened the night befo re when, in the light of the next day, he saw the photos he'd taken. • There are still some places left in the world that have managed to remain unspoiled by human hands. Perhaps one of the most amazing is the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest12 where vast areas of the environment have maintained their natural balance for several hundred years. This region is perhaps one of the few virgin land sanctuaries on the planet today. One morning in April, birds, monkeys and wild cats inhabitating the region fled in terror at the sound of a motorboat approaching on one of the large rivers lJ • The craft carried a group of travelers who were deeply moved by the thought of exploration. One of them was aman clenching a camera'· , his thoughts lost in the jungle undergrowth. Just a few days earlier, he'd told his friends about his dream of turning the region into a wildlife refuge, setting a precedent for first-world countries to follow. The seeing-eye dog that usually accompanied him was no longer at his side; it had jumped overboard while the man sailed on one of the lakes around Austin . Rather, he had a pair of Jack Rousell Terriers'5 with him that he'd bought in a store in Brooklyn. Nor was his wife with him, the mime from Washington Square with whom he liked to go see movies, or whom

he consoled while she vainly awaited her agent's call about a role she'd auditioned for. In her stead her was a young painter'~hom

the blind photographer had married on the spur of the moment in Las Vegas. • During one of his visits to Mexico, the man with the cane and the camera slung around his neck walked from the former San Jeronimo Convent to the Plaza de la Ciudadela under such an intense sun that he couldn't see anything at all. As always, he peaked the curiosity of those who crossed his path beca use, after all, it wasn't common for a blind man to carry a camera . From time to time he'd stop, raise his camera and snap a shot of the urban scape. Then he'd be on his way again. That particular day he spoke to some people about his blindness. He said he could see a bit, but it was like looking through a periscope, and even then the light conditions had to be just right. Because of this, he had to reduce reality to compressed expressions-like photos or videos-in order to appreciate it in its entirety. He talked about the notion of photography as a prosthesis: only through virtual images could he be part of the world. He experienced an inverse process to that of the rest of us who 197


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are used to seeking a that, under normal conditions, is fictional version of difficult to satisfy. Before becoming ill, Flo Fox had studied psychology at daily life in artificial representations of it. a prestigious university in the south end of the city. She eventually • A person who can only understand the beca me a regular at leather bars, natural world by where some of the clientele even means of technique, enjoyed posing for her in kinky a person who must scenes. At that very moment, Flo Fox wait the time it takes had been developing the photos she'd taken the night before. She to develop a photograph in order opened the door in a state of to know precisely reverie-which was partly due to her illness and partly due to what his relationship to the world isconcentrating on her work-but this , didn't stop her from petting the what would their dogo No one could figure out why subconscious be the man with the camera shared a like? According to dark room with Flo Fox. It would be what other blind photographers have said, their psyche bases itself on too simple to answer that it was the need to create more and more beca use neither of them saw like the realities, on the obsession with being rest of us do. Rather, together in that everywhere at once. Maybe this small bathroom, they had discovered a special way of developing film. The peculiar subconscious is the key to incident in the subway led them to understanding the insatiable hunger for fiction we all have. talking about what people think of blind folk. It didn't occur to them • In the subway station, after the policeman had seen his I.D. card and that there are degrees of blindness, apologized 17 profusely, the man with so discovering that a blind person the camera went on his way. As he could see, even if it were just foggy patches or only at certain hours, did everyday, he headed to his friend could come as a tremendous shock. Flo Fox's apartment. He knocked severa I times, but she was busy in • That same day while he was on his the makeshift 9arkroom she'd set up way home, the photographer in her bathroom. When she finally popped into a photocopy store to answered the door, she stretched enlarge the photos he'd printed. He'd then stuck these to the floors out her hand to pet the seeing-eye and walls of his home. Thus visitors dogo She was completely blind-she could walk into a room completely had been born with impaired vision which had progressively worsened wallpapered-including the ceilingover time. Five years earlier, when with images of child prostitutes from Bangkok, or a kitchen covered with her condition was declared irreversible, Flo Fox started taking her buskers from Washington Square or camera to the city's heaviest S/M a bathroom plastered with the lush bars'8. Maybe she felt that not being vegetation of the Amazon Rainforest. able to see freed her from the guilt The photographer put up the copies associated with a natural curiosity so he could look at them at all times.


He believes he's one of the few photographers who never stops looking at his own work. He knows the idea's paradoxical, but he says you never see more than when you can't see anything at all. • On one of his last trips to Mexico City, the man with the camera asked an airport employee to do him the favor of pressing the button at customs for him. He got the green light and passed through without inspection. Showing his white cane, he then asked her to help him make a telephone call. The photographer arranged to meet someone an hour later at a restaurant on Durango Street '9 . Besides a small suitcase, he carried a small green plastic bago He entered the restaurant at the agreed time, feeling his way up the steps of the entran ce with his caneoAman waited for him at the counter and greeted him politely. The blind photographer handed him the bag and then left for a nearby hotel the airport taxi driver20 had recommended". The plastic bag contained a hundred thousand dollars in cash that someone in Europe had asked him to deliver in exchange for a ten percent commission. It started to rain. The photographer took out his camera and snapped a few shots which, the next day, would show him trees being lashed by the rain.

• James Olsen's mother was involved in a foorteen-car highway pile-up. s They had been thinking about seeing Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa. 6 The female mime was Jessica Lange, who beca me famous for her part in King Kong directed by Dino de Laurentiis. , At the time, Paco Grande had a Nikon F3 . • It's common to lind all kinds of drugs in this park, especially marijuana and hash. , Paco Grande did this on one of his trips around the world. 10 The place played an odd mix of traditional Tai music, specially arranged lor dancing. 11 The man was drinking Beck's. 12 They were somewhere in the District of Madre de Dios near the Brazilian border. " They crossed a river known by the native people as Puputuyu. ,. Paco Grande then owned a Hasselblad 500 Classic. 1S An American dog breed Irom the straighthaired Fox Terrier lamily. It was named after Reverend Jack Rousell who bred them as guard dogs for the church he was in charge of. " The painter was Lolo Miro Quesada, whose work dealt mainly with bullfighting scenes. 17The apologies are registered in the report that Sargeant James Olsen submitted at the end of his shift. 18 Flo Fox used a Kodak Instamatic camera. " The chosen restaurant was the Vips located on the corner 01 Durango and Salamanca in the Colonia Roma. 20 The photographer traveled in an airport taxi that charged him 75 pesos lor the ride. 21 The recommended hotel was the Roosevelt, located a lew blocks Irom the meeting place.

NOTES The man was Francisco (Paco) Grande, a Spanish photographer who moved to the United States when he was a teenager and later specialized in travel photography. 2 The camera was a Leica M2 which had a mechanism Francisco Grande used to measure light and distance without needing to see. , The police officer was James Olsen, who worked as a subway patrolman. 1

199


Paco Grande: Roaming Photographer with Cane Josué Ramírez

At fifty-five, Paco Grande sees himself as a nomadic photographer. It's genetic. His childhood, marked by exile, influenced his relationship with images as sensitive expressions of the world. The medical term for his form of blindness is pigmentary retinitis. As the retina's layers progressively die off and stop refracting light, one's field of vision eventually narrows, as if looking one were looking through a viewfinder. According to Paco Grande, "It's like having a disconnected television monitor in your eye." He feels that blindness is a stigmatized condition and that blind people should be considered as having "extravision" as their perception of the world becomes a paradox. Grande was born in Madrid in 1948. His father, Francisco Grande Covial, was an eminent physiologist who went into exile during the Franco regime. Grande then worked in Copenhagen with Nobel Prize winner Emil Krogh, one of the doctors who discovered B-complex vitamins. Grande first became interested in photography when he moved to the United States. He was only twelve when he saw The Family of Man and was impressed by pictures of Mexico and Peru that formed part of the exhibition. A few weeks later, his aunt-a nun who would live to be 102 years-old- gave him a camera as a presentoAfter that, he started taking photographs which were subsequently published in his school's newspaper. At that time, Paco Grande also had an 200

interest in sports-he played all kinds of ball games and took up wrestling . In fact, it was while playing ball games that he first noticed he had eye problems-even though he had good reflexes, he couldn't see the ball coming at him . Currently, Paco Grande and Jessica Lange are working on a memoir of their life together. During the 1960s in the United States, the draft turned young people into anonymous soldiers. Some protested but others, like Paco Grande, had no choice but to join the service. Regarding this situation, he sta tes: Going to Vietnam must have been such an experience! Such a shock. Luckily I was sent to Germany. Anyway, it was while I was in the army that my illness was finally diagnosed correctly. I was a soldier for two years. What did you do after the service? I returned to New York where I met Danny Seymour and we started a film company. The first movie we made was a short about rural life in Spain-it focused on the life of the Gypsies in Andalusia. We called it Flamencología (Flamencology). I started traveling with my friend and business partner, and the first place we went to was Morocco. By that time Jessica [Lange]-whom I'd met in 1968-and I were already together, and we traveled all over North America (including Mexico) and Europe. In Amsterdam, Danny and I filmed a street peddler. The film showed how people like him were social outcasts.


It was the age of rock and roll and hippies. One time when we were at a party and people were smoking marijuana, I turned to the guy bes id e me and asked, "Why don't you pass me the joint? You know I want to smoke, too." He said: "1 thought you didn't want any because when I offered it to you, you didn't take it." It could be said that New York is Paco Grande's second home. He met Andy Warhol and Jessica Lange there, two personalities surrounded by fame and glamor. However it wasn't the specter of their public image but rather mutual fondness and common tastes that fostered their friendship. New York then became a base of operations and production. I met Andy Warhol at the time, but I have to admit he was more an acquaintance than a friendo Warhol's work was different from mine-his was conceptual while mine was more documentary, although I did experiment somewhat, of course. I took several pictures of Warhol while he was installing a show in Minneapolis. After this, I got a job I really enjoyed: I taught a group of native kids who were in jail. They were from the Ojibwa tribe. The idea was to make a series of documentaries that would serve as a form of communication between the native communities in the northern United States. This material, along with the footage Jessica and I took during our various trips, was shot for the most part in black and white and is now at the University of Wisconsin. Around that time, I began a workshop in Minnesota on visual grammar. The theme was to purify the gaze, that is, to create an alternative image

against the bombardment of television images. We all know that television, as a producer and distributor of images, aliena tes uso But is it, by definitĂ­on, harmful? No, of course noto TV merely shows that images can be manipulated . So, during the course I gave on visual grammar, the teenagers and I started to experimento We were so successful that other colleges from a number of cities in different countries adopted our teaching and experimental methods, adapting them to their particular needs. We worked a lot with super-8 film. Our company's name was Film In the City. Shortly afterwards, I went to 201


Thailand where I started up the same project at a hostel somewhere in the Golden Triangle. Twenty years later, the thing's still running . My business partner, John Spies, is still there, and I go every year. So photography plays an important role in my life. However I must admit that as a medium of express ion it's burdened by the weight of its commercial applications. Just imagine how many people take pictures each day, and how many are taken daily around the world. You don't just need talent, taste or a diploma to take good photos anymore-it's more a matter of chanceo That's what photography is-a shot in the dark. Even more so when we consider that our visual education is based on television and advertising and that both impose their aesthetic on uso That's why it's essential for me to get out of here now and again, be a nomad, get away from cities. That's, I think, how I get rid of so many outside images. In order to create your own images, you have to go on a kind of retreat because in the city, you're subjected to outside images. Any kind of physical handicap sets us apart from others. Do you think blindness has marginalized you, Paco? No. During those years and the various significant instances I've told you about-significant to me, at least-my eyesight got worse. Luckily, it's been a slow process. But I have to admit that I think everyone else sees the same way I do-in fact, I'm always shocked that they don 't. Some surprises hurt, others don 't.

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From what you 've told me, do you consider yourself a roving photographer? The notion of travel has played a leading role in my life. I think I carry a nomadic gene. I travel through friends' experiences, for work or out of artistic and spiritual necessity. What do you see in photography? Photography shows me my surroundings, it helps me recognize things, see things. It's also an imitative thing. Above all, I love its element of surprise-when you take a shot of something, you never know if it'II turn out. Photography is something playful that allows you to interven e, interact with it and through it, like making a collage. What kind of experiments-have you done in your work? I've done several, like photocopying my work and adding texto There's poetry in photography. Better yet, I want to make rap photos. Rap music is something that fascinates me beca use it comes from street culture; you get interesting results by reprocessing the image, mixing it with language and making a collage. For example, I once made photocopies of some of my work and stuck them to curbs alongside crosswalks for people to look at while they waited to cross; I also stuck them to the vertical part of the hundred steps leading up to my apartment; in Peru, I wallpapered a whole room with the work I'd done over fifteen years in Thailand. Would you say that the camera is an extension of your body? That's a great way to put it. I


think of myself as a gun-slingeryou have to be fast with the camera and have good aim beca use there's always something around worth shooting. You end up saying-what a beautiful woman or what an interesting place, or something. The camera is a tool to eroticize life. Ves, it's an extension of my body, an instrument for attracting other bodies. In general, what do you think about photography books? I don't believe in books, they're very ostentatious. But I don't mean that in a derogatory way. In fact, at the moment Jessica and I are editing a book in the United States, an overview of our life together. I prefer the ephemeral, the hand -crafted. I mean I prefer hand-made artists' books. I've made curtains out of images that hang together, snaking chains of images. Both Yale and the University of Wisconsin have bought some of my artist's books. Is being a bl铆nd photographer a tragedy? I don't dramatize my visual isolation. My situation has something of Cantinflas or Charlot about it-I find it comical. I like not fitting in with the crowd, and I've often been told that blind photographers are one in a million . I see myself as the last amateur. What does it mean to be a professional photographer? A professional exists to sell the public what they want, what market demands dictate. But an amateur keeps doing what he or she likes to do best.

III!!I 11I I

11 路

--

---"~ -

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Flo Fox: from Negative to Positive

For Flo Fox, "passing from the negative to the positive" has been the result of her life's work, which is a model for blind and disabled people. She was born in Miami, Florida, blind in one eye, or as she likes to say, "uneven". After the death of her father when she was two, she and her mother moved to New York. Twelve years later her mother died. That's when her education really started-in the streets, that is. She was a wife and mother by eighteen and already separated at twenty-six she took up photography. Her main objective has been to capture with her lens "ironic reality" in the widest sense: a reality in which most of the actors are homeless and anonymous and the streets their stage. Her photographs have been published in Life, Modern Photography, Playboy, Der Spiegel,

and Photo Magazine among others, and she's mounted around twenty solo shows in New York, Paris and London. She says that photography is her nature. She jokes that, beca use of her blindness, her talent is innate as "1 never have to close one eye or convert the twodimensional things I see through my viewfinder into three dimensions." This is obvious in her work: the lens doesn't substitute the eye but rather takes on the qualities of an external organ. Her photographs (but not photography as a genre) express a generic point of view. For Fox, her photos are akin to a light source that illuminates the world for a split second, beca use she can "see more 204

details when she looks at a picture of her surroundings." However, the purpose of her realism isn't to catalogue past events, but rather to show her own point of view. Her work is an ongoing documentary begun in 1972. In many of the sixty thousand images she has captured, the world beco mes an improvisation and is rewritten in an urban language beca use, as she says, "I've had the freedom and good fortune to travel extensively." Her themes cover everything from urban scapes to nudes to photos whose objective is to make the world more accessible to disabled people. Even in her photos of penises, the elements are characteristic of the urban order of things: one of them becomes a hotdog, another sticks out of a computer screen and a third is shown being fingerprinted. Although a fighter by nature, she says that both her photography and her life "Iost focus" when in 1976 she was clinically diagnosed as blind due to multiple sclerosis. What has made her an example within the photographic community is her constant desire to show disabled people that it's not necessary to be physically perfect to enter the work force of a highly competitive society but rather to discover, through pure force of will, one's calling, creativity and sensibility. A few years ago, she refused to commit herself to a state hospital and after a long battle with the authorities, finally convinced them to provide her with a homecare worker. This and no


other is the message in the workshops she's led and in her conferences and statements to the press: "Whatever the effects of paralysis may be, Ideal with them in such a way as to remain active, taking the negative and converting it into a positive, in my life and in my work." Maya Coded, photographer and contributor to Luna C贸rnea, visited Flo Fox in New York last June and reports that "Flo lives in an enormous building for the blind and the disabled. The intercom panel and the elevator buttons are in Braille. There was a lot of activity while I was there: a security guard at the door, and all the people greeting one another, somehow recognizing each other by smell, warmth or sound. Flo lives in an apartment with high ceilings, mostly in darkness and shadows despite the large windows . When I opened the door, I saw her sitting at the opposite end in a fully equipped wheelchair. She's a wonderful woman, full of energy. Every room, hallway and closet is full of negatives, slide sheets, heaps of photos, but all very well organized. She has complete control over everything in the house-she knows exactly where things are and has an incredible memory. She receives numerous visitors and telephone calls and works by computer and Internet, carrying out a multitude of activities. She asked me if I liked pornographic photos, informing me that no man has ever entered

her apartment without having his penis photographed using settings in her home. We went up to the roof where I took her picture and then back in her apartment, she asked me to get out a slide sheet from under the table and one of her books from a shelf, while she herself pulled out a pornographic file from a drawer and some photocopies from another box. She gave me the material for Luna C贸rnea and before I left, showed me a photo that had appeared in the New York Times of her shovell ing cement onto a curb to make a rampo It's something she does on a regular basis, she told me, "beca use a city should think about all its citizens. If there's no ramp, I make one."

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Toun Ishii and the Enchanted Mountain

Toun Ishii was born in Hiro-shi, Tokyo, in 1943. He studied Business Administration at Hosei University and around 1970 started to photograph landscapes across Japan. In 1975 he became interested in taking pictures of Mount Fuji and since then the mountain has become his preferred subject. Seven years later when he decided to dedicate himself to photographing the mountain more intensively, he moved to a nearby city called Fujinomiya-shi, Shizuoka. With a view to representing light "from the heart," he set up the Toun Photography Office on the southwest side of Mount Fuji, today known as Atelier Toun. One of the employees at his father's wholesale fish business taught Toun photography. He got a camera for his twelfth birthday, but when he was nineteen his life changed radically. The medication he'd been given for asevere cold was toxic and eventually destroyed the mucous membrane in his eyes. Although he didn't lose his eyesight entirely, it clouded over and things became distorted. The disease which would slowly weaken his vis ion and finally leave him blind is called amblyopia, the first stages of amaurosis. During those years, Toun Ishii opened a small grocery sto re, got married and had three children. When he was thirty-nine, his sight worsened to such an extent that he had to be hospitalized and operated on a number of times. His wife couldn't attend to the sto re beca use she had to care for him 206

and it went under. In desperation, Toun Ishii contemplated drowning himself in a lake, but when he thought about the landscape around him and remembered Mount Fuji, decided not too From then on he dedicated himself to recording the mountain from different angles and at different times of the day. Ishii, accompanied by his wife Katuko, visited the mountain every day for six years. Katuko took readings with the light meter and followed Toun's instructions. He would calculate the shutter speed and decide on the number of shots, and was able to see the composition using a large magnifying glass. Toun Ishii exhibited in Tokyo for the first time at age forty-five. Seventy thousand people per week flocked to see his landscape showhis career as a professional photographer had begun. Unfortunately the gradual process of losing his eyesight continued until Toun had to abandon photography altogether. He worked for a short time as a farmer on the land belonging to his friend Kobayashi Yoshinobu, cultivated roses in a virgin plot lent to him by Ishikawa Hitoshi, and seeded pastures on a small piece of land provided by Fukazawa Yoshihiro. When Toun Ishii got a guidedog named Eileen who helped him recover his self-confidence, he once again started taking pictures of Mount Fuji. He remembered the exact spot and.angle and, what's more, he used the wind, weather


conditions, ambient humidity , the sound of birds chirping and the smell of flowers as references. Toun has published, among other printed matter and videos, a number of books on Mount Fuji, including Mount Fuji: Heart of the Mountain, Heart of the Flower; Fujisan: A Hundred New Japanese Scenes; and Mount Fuji and Me. In

these books, he shows that Fuji isn't just a mountain but rather a metaphor for creation where stunning aquatic, rocky and forested landscapes mingle. His tireless treks have led him over the same footpaths as those followed by long-ago pilgrims and samurais who, over thousands of years, built stone cabins and paths on the mountainside.

His work is dedicated to preserving this natural beauty so frequently pictured on postcards and calendars. In the epilogue to one of his books, Ishii writes, "Today I feel a sense of gratitude to everything I encounter. This feeling naturally extends to Mount Fuji, as well as the flowers and villages around it. It also goes to my beloved seeing-eye dog, Eileen and my camera which has served as my mechanical 'eyes' for so many years."

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Phosphenes Gerardo Deniz

1987 was a busy year for me-in every way. Koshka moved in with me, R煤nika was baptized, and halfway through the year Picos pardos appeared. I started to play around with what would become Amor y Oxiden te (Love and Oxident) and Grosso modo while, of course, making my living at my menial day jobo I heard Revueltas's third quartet for the first time, spent sorne time in Aguascalientes and when I returned at the end of July, delved into Nordic literature, wrote vulgar texts and learned the horrors of Irish grammar. Waking up one morning, I noticed I was seeing strange things with my right eye. They went away in intense light but as there was no change in ten days, I went to the eye doctor and was told I had a detached and torn retina. I was operated toward the end of August, and then again in October, but my vision never really returned to normal. Barely out of anesthesia, someone called to commission me to write a sonnet. I forget the details, but the next day it was finished-in my head, of course (after all, it wasn't the first time I'd written a sonnet). Just before publication, I added a few words confessing that the driving force for having written it was lust, that selffulfilling sin. To take it beyond the level of a mere sonnet, seventeen texts-each one more vile than the other, I hesitate to call them poems-took shape and were refined over the next three months of my repose in semi-darkness or

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with my eyes closed. To these a final one was added ("Consulta") at the beginning of December, but now with my eyes wide open. These were the "Fosfenos," the first part of Grosso modo, published a year later. Right after the first operation, I began jotting down all my ideas telegraphically. 500n I forgot about those ridiculous scraps of paper altogether and relied solely on memory, which actually works sometimes. I had time on my hands. The forthcoming and final phosphene, number eighteen, "Allanamiento de violeta", has beco me the nucleus of the collection . (Later, I gave a detailed description of its origin and structure to the ClA for their files.) December. Everyone has diedJuan D. Tercero, Rodolfo Halffter, Coc贸-but 1, returning little by little to the world of light, jot down in my journal every day a few phosphenes that I'd just thought of. Almost nothing has to be touched up (only a few words written today for the posthumous edition). I read 5hakespeare again (Othello, Romeo, and Graciano) and use him in three epigraphs. So much has happened since August last year-1986-when I was shocked by that new advertisement for running shoes recently put up in the subway. It's unfortunate that so much information is registered on paper with the ink of the retina which is, as we know, nothing more than a viscous mental extension composed of rods and eones that can be detached harmlessly.


Identity as a Mask

Through the door facing west, the glowing rays of the sunset mix with the shadows of the night spreading across a cloudless sky. The neon light scatters the gloom . My eyes adjust to the darkness and I try to make out an object Iying on the ground between two car bumpers, a gutter and the rough bark of an elm. It appears to be something it's noto The small object has lost its identity, which will only return with the light of day. I turn away from the window and go back to my desk. I look at the portraits of blind people scattered about; they smile or stare fixedly at who knows what. What do blind people envision, unseeing and aware that the photographer is viewing them through a mechanical device? Do they identify with the camera lens as if it were their own eye blindly watching them as they blindly watch an anonymous spectator? They are conscious of being observed, like women, children and teenagers are. Maybe in a photo taken without bias or pity, the myth of narcissism takes on an altogether new meaning. The photos spread before me under the lamp's white light were taken by Lola Álvarez Bravo, José Hernández-Claire, Jed Fielding, Verónica Macías, Sebastiao Salgado, Guillermo Zamora, Christer Str6mholm and Pedro Abascal. The subjects as well as the photographers share in an art form that's often forgotten and liule remembered. The portrait, as Pliny said nearly two thousand years ago,

is a word whose etymology is full of combat imagery-to take someone's portrait is to "reproduce on a shield the face of the person it has protected" (Art History Texts). Here as with a shield, photography doesn't just depict a face but also helps the owner of that face discover his or her identity in the image-our identity is our shield. Looking at these portraits, I discover an affinity between the representation of blind people's faces and masks in general. Faces are like masks. The etymology of each word helps illustrate this concept, explained here in as much detail as space permits. In Spanish, rostro (fa ce) can mean either a bird's beak or a person's face; the word mask is synonymous to persona, Latin for player's mask, derived from per, through, and sonare, sound . In any of the idioma tic variations of the word examined by Corominas in his remarkable / dictionary, mask is a word in which the idea of hidden or disguised identity figures prominently. In Jorge Luis Borges's "The Mirror and the Mask," a poet who possesses all the secrets of image and metaphor is commissioned by a High King to praise his deeds by writing three poems over a period of three years. In the second year, the poet is honored with a golden mask. When he returns the third 209


year wearing the mask, he looks like an entirely different persono The King comments, "Something other than time had furrowed his brow and transformed his features. His eyes seemed to be looking off into the distance, or as if blind." In his significant essay "Blindness," the Argentinean author hits the nail on the head with his statement that Homer's poetry is absolutely visual.

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In poetry, images are substantive, like any rhetorical device used in coded language (rhetoric, when exact, doesn't qualify). And what better example of coded language than photography, especially this gallery of blind people whose penetrating gaze uncovers the face that is identity and a mask with which fate has rewarded them. JosuĂŠ RamĂ­rez


Which Night, What Day

The one who watches is momentarily blind and cannot see himself.

MarĂ­a Zambrano A photo of a blind child taken by Lola Ă lvarez Bravo in Mexico City around 1945 is entitled "Entre la luz y la sombra" (Between Light and Shadows)-a title that in itself reveals a split. The image not only clearly captures the position of the light at a particular moment, but also balances on the line where the two opposites meet and will always meet as long as the sun's fire burns and the Earth continues to rota te. Both the devout face with its glaucous eyes and the gaze that desires to turn it into an icon are orbiting planets subject to the fatal and universal cycle of night and day. Not even the conceited memnonic device known as the camera can escape the tyranny of these cycles: the dawn's renewed glow and the cloak that falls at night. Fireworks, bonfires, flashes, neon lights will never be more than desperate clawing at the black wall of infinity. Blind or not, we all live in the amphibious and changeable kingdom of light and shadow. No photograph exists that has not passed through darkness-not even the most radiant image. No blind person is forever shut out from light, however narrow the crevice through which he or she peers. More often than not, photographs of blind people taken by sighted artists or photojournalists avoid the questions that blindness raises. Photographers' fascination for subjects who would appear to

represent their complete opposite usually resolves itself in the simple recognition of the misfortune suffered by this distrustful group of social outcasts, or rather in their time-honored status of sphinxes. On account of social biases and popular cultural stereotypes, the typical photographs of the homeless blind beggar, the sightless person who has lost his bearings and wanders aimlessly along the roadside, the victim resigned to life's hardships, serve only to confirm the strangeness and alien standing of individuals who, thus categorized, 211


appear to have no better reason for living than to exemplify human frailty and divine cruelty. Nevertheless, "the planet of the blind" as Stephen Kuusisto refers to it, is here among us, spread among thousands of fragile beings who are also tributaries of the light and shadows that blanket all of uso Since 1987, documentary photographer Marco Antonio Cruz has been traveling across the Mexican terrain of that very planet, crossing the border implied by Lola Álvarez Bravo's picture. The series on elderly people from Chiapas, Oaxaca and Mexico City presented on pages 136--1 39 testifies to his encounters with the blind, as do his photos appearing elsewhere in this issue. After reading Jacques Lusseyran's epilogue to Chemístocles-the 212

novelized memoirs José María Bojórquez Durazo pubtished independently in 1996 -, Cruz realized that sight is not the only way nor the best way to experience the world. His meetings and tours with the blind have taught him that behind the statistic of 275 840 "visually handicapped" individuals in Mexic~s calculated in 1985 by the National Institute of Geography and Informatics-, there are many hard but worthy lives, people with distinguishing traits, stories to tell and journeys that cannot be retraced. Alfonso Morales


Braille and the Reading Machines

If you're like most folks with good eyes, you've probably examined the Braille in hotel elevators. You may even have touched the raised dots signifying your floor and marveled at the capacity of the blind to travel and read in the dark. Who would imagine that Braille would be supplanted by machines? Who would guess that Braille is even now nearly extinct? Approximately ten percent of the blind read Braille today, a fact that has many blind advocates worried. Computerized reading machines are taking the place of Louis Braille's tactile reading system. Braille will soon be as foreign to the blind as hieroglyphs are to uso I have on my desk a machine called "The Reading Edge." It resembles a desktop copier, and it translates printed pages into synthetic speech. I need this gadget because I am a blind man who can't read Braille. Its voice is pure sci-fi, but I've grown immensely fond of its intonation. It reads robotically. It sweats through the prosody of George Herbert. Sometimes it spells words aloud if the software can't identify them. The truth is, synthetic reading is a trial. I must wait for the scanner to decode each page. This gives me time to wonder if I'm really reading at all. Many blind people argue that machine reading is really iIIiteracy: by relying on microchips or audiotape the blind become dependent. According to them, I'm illiterate. It makes no difference that my own written work has been translated into a dozen languages.

Stephen Kuusisto

Because my words are mediated, I'm nothing more than a helpless listener. Braille, on the other hand, gives the blind instant contact with language. No batteries are required. "Yes," says the machine man, "but Braille is manufactured by paid Braillists, and this takes time. I've already devoured this week's New Yorker. Did you see that piece by Calvin Trillin on fat-free truffles?" "You're a slave," says the Braille man o "Yes, I am," the machine man answers, "but I am a slave on his way to Balducci's for fat-free truffles. Come on, Fido." If I really think about it, between bites of my truffle, I must admit that I have great sympathy tor the Braille man's view. As a poet, I admire location and pressure in language. I love Kenneth Rexroth's translation of the ancient Chinese poet Tu Fu that reads in part: Soon now In the winter dawn I wi/l face My fortieth year. Borne headlong Towards the long shadows of sunset By the headstrong, stubborn moments, Life whirls post like drunken wildfire.

Given a choice, I would prefer to teel these words under my fingers. Without sight, only the flesh can assimilate the torque of Tu Fu's line, "Life whirls past like drunken wildfire." Unfortunately, I have to listen to poetry by means of silicon. And more and more blind people are just like me.Nowadays most blind children go to public 213


schools and don't learn Braille. In a digital age, why waste resources teaching something so outdated? Besides, Braille is cumbersome. An average Braille edition of a book looks like a sofa cushion. Compare that to a 3 1/2-inch floppy disk. Meanwhile, I switch the "Reading Edge" from English to Spanish and sean a poem by Pablo Neruda. The machine pinches its nose and reads: "Por quĂŠ yo vivo

desterrado / del esplendor de las naranjas?" "Why," asks Neruda, "do I live in exile / from the shine of the oranges?" "The Reading Edge" sounds like a tourist in Santiago. It pronounces the question with too much display. In the poem Neruda feels vaguely sorry for himself. like most writers he has spent too much time sitting indoors. "Me too, Pablo," I say halfaloud, and the sound of my voicea human voice-brings my seeingeye dog, Corky, to my side. Together we go outside and stand under a poplar. Corky explores the grass. I lean against the tree. Until I 214

have a command of Braille, I'm an eavesdropper, not a reader. I sit in the garden and finger a sleeve of fallen birch bark. Can I distinguish it from the bark of a holly tree? Can I distiguish one orange from another through acquisitive touching? To learn Braille in your forties you must refresh the very infancy of touching and recharge your hands. Braille can't be learned like Berlitz Spanish. You have to think with your skin. The poet Charles Olson imagined that our tissues and organs can think. Sitting beneath the trees 1'11 settle for one thinking index finger. I'm going to read Walt Whitman in the dark, without batteries. The New York Times Magazine, March 21, 1999.


LUNA CÓRNEA 18 Fotografía narrativa •

"' o fe fa "ierda! ~


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Las relaciones entre la fotografía y la ceguera suponen una paradoja, una confrontación entre el sentido de la vista y nuestra visión del mu...

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