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Marco Antonio Cruz. Hospital Mdica Sur. Ciudad de Mxico, 1998.

Marco Antonio Cruz. Escuela de Dbiles Visuales y Ciegos. Xalapa, Ver., 1998. >
LA PARBOLA DE LOS CIEGOS
Esta pintura terrible pero grandiosa
la parbola de los ciegos
sin un rojo
en la composicin muestra un grupo
de mendigos en diagonal hacia abajo
guindose uno al otro
en un costado
de la tela
para tropezar al fin con un pantano
donde acaban el cuadro
y la composicin
no se observa
IX
ningn vidente los rasgos
descuidados del in-
digente con sus pocas
lastimosas pertenencias una tina
de lavar en una cabaa
campesina y la aguja de una iglesia
las caras estn alzadas
como hacia la luz
no hay ningn detalle extrao
a la composicin cada uno
sigue al otro bastn en
mano triunfante hacia el desastre
Traduccin: Patricia Gola
William Carlos Williams, Pictures from Brueghel and other poems, New Directions Books, 1967.
8
Stphane Coutelle. Autorretrato 46, 1989.
Katya Brailovsky. Sin ttulo, '998.
La gallina ciega
v
EVGEN BAVCAR:
EL DESEO DE IMAGEN
Benjamn 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 cartn con muecas
La dama con corazones
La niita vendedora
La chimenea
El rbol
La mirada del agua
Barcelona
El rbol con golondrinas
La puerta con golondrinas
La bicicleta con golondrinas
Mueca de trapo con cuna
El tiempo al galope
Imgenes de Venecia
Mscaras en Venecia
Pampeya
Npoles, La cabeza de Calgula
Obra de Miguel ngel con autgrafo
El Moiss de Miguel ngel con autgrafo
Denis Rache
Berln. El ngel con nubes
Barcelona
Pars con gato
Pars. La Torre Eiffel
Vronique y el pato
Pgina anterior: El oso de Berln y niitas
El gallo con reloj
Retrato de Vronique
La muchacha con el corazn
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
3
5
7
9
' ~ , ' I
: I , , ~
.. ~
Otra puerta metlica blanca de
una sola hoja. Una escalera y una
ventana de herrera. Un tanque
de gas.
Otra vez el mismo rincn vaco
donde se distingue un poco ms
la bocina de la foto anterior.
El mismo muro, en el que ahora
se muestran, la cama cubierta por
un edredn azul, una almohada
con holanes y otra repisa de
madera sobre la que se apilan
discos compactos y cassetes.
2
4
6
8
10
Una puerta metlica blanca,
de dos hojas, entreabierta.
Un refrigerador sobre el que
descansan un paquete de
servilletas, una lata de cerveza,
un horno elctrico y unos
trapos rojos.
..
El muro vecino donde se
encuentra, sobre otra repisa de
madera, el aparato de sonido,
sus cables y su enchufe.
Marco Antonio Cruz. Porf irio Moreno Martnez en su cuarto. San Bartolo Coyotepec, 14 de marzo de 1998.
'9 Las excusas estn basta la Plaza de la Ciu adela. Como de costumbre, despertaba la
registradas en el informe curiosidad de quienes se cruzaban en su caminata. r,as personas se pre-
del da que l sargento
James Olse tuvo que guntaban por lo inusitado de la situacin de aquel ciego que portaBa
entregar al' final de su '. una _ cmara de foto. De cuando en cuando se detena, levantaba la
jornada. . . -'
\', cmaIa y!omaba una foto del espacio urbano de la ciudad. Luego pio-
2O,Flo Fox segUa su camino. ese mismo. dIale explic a ciertas gentes algunas de
i:..,tamara Kodak Instamatic. ,', .' .
'. las caractersticas de su ceg:!lera. 'Habl ,ge su posibilidad de ver como-si
, lo hiciera a travs de un perisco,piO, pero aqullo slo poda ocurrir l;>ajo
determinadas_condiciones,de luz. Era por eso que necesitaba reducir la
realidad a expresiones con).primidas -criloiotografias o ,::ideos- pra
apreciar as esa recilidad e'll toda su. rri'agP1tUQ. Se Cliscuti la
idea del uso de la cbm prtesis'. Sl a travs de imgenes
-virtuales s-e poda :ser parte 'del Hapia que realizar un
inverso al del coni(lll de las personaS, quiees suelen buscar en la re
artiti!=ialla,ficdn de lo cotidiano.
Cmo nat,ral
slo a travs de' la' tcnica? De 'lg\:lien que' lo -que
dura un revelado' futogrfico parl saber a ciencia cierta cul -es su posi-
cin frente la historia fotgraf9s'
este inconsciente parece tr?sarse. en la necesidad de poseer ms y ms
o- Jealidades. En el 'Vicio de ' estar en tdos los sitios al mismo tiempo.
Quiz, a ttavs de este inconsciente tan particular, sea posible
-der ,el secreto de de ficcin pOI la que todos
, , ;r .

la cmara ha sido un instrumento que permite erotizar la vida.
Es una extensin de mi cuerpo, s, un instrumento para atraer otros cuerpos.
Paco Grande. Jessica. Espaa, 1968.'
Flo Fox. Aviadores de fo fortuna, 1980.
128
FOSFENOS
Gerardo Deni z
Mil 987 fue para m un ao muy cargado. De todo. Koshka lleg a vivir
conmigo . Rnika fue bautizada, y sus picos pardos aparecieron a media-
dos de ao. Empec a chapotear en lo que seran Amor y Oxidente y
Grosso modo. Mientras, por supuesto, me ganaba la vida con mi vergonzoso
oficio habitual. Conoc el tercer cuarteto de Revueltas, estuve en
Aguascalientes y, de regreso a fines de julio, me encerr en libros
nrdicos, a escribir groseras y conocer los horrores de la gramti-
ca irlandesa .
Una maana, al despertar, vi con el ojo derecho cosas inverosmiles.
Con luz intensa todo se esfumaba pero, como en diez das nada cambi,
visit al oculista y supe que tena una retina desprendida y desgarra-
da. Me operaron en la segunda mitad de agosto y de nuevo al empezar
octubre, aunque nunca qued bien del todo.
Recin vuelto de la anestesia, me fue encargado por telfono cierto
soneto. Olvido detalles, si bien al da siguiente estuvo hecho, desde
luego (tampoco era mi primera experiencia) de memoria. Mucho despus,
al ir a ser publicado, le aad agunas notas confesando cmo la fuerza
motriz para elaborarlo fue la lujuria, ese pecado autocataltico. De ah
que no quedase en soneto el asunto: durante los siguientes tres meses,
entre reposo en penumbra y ojos cerrados, fueron surgindome y con-
cretndose diecisiete textos a cul ms vil (me guardar de llamarlos
poemas), a los que se agreg todava otro ("Consulta") a principios de
diciembre, con los ojos recin abiertos de par en par. Los "Fosfenos" que
inician Grosso modo, publicado un ao despus.
Inmediatamente tras la operacin inicial, garabateaba yo telegramti-
camente mis ocurrencias. Enseguida abandon aquel papelito absurdo y
confi slo en al cabeza, la cual a veces sirve. Tiempo me sobraba . El
venidero fosfeno final, nmero 18, "Allanamiento de violeta", se torn
el eje del conjunto. (Ms tarde narr en detalle su gnesis y estruc-
tura, en un comentario detallado que conserva la CIA en mi expediente.)
Diciembre . Todo el mundo ha muerto -el maestro Juan D. Tercero,
Rodolfo Halffter, Coc- y yo, devuelto paso a paso a luz meridiana,
caligrafo a diario un par de fosfenos, antes fermentados slo mental-
mente. Casi nada que retocar luego (hoy, dos o tres palabras, para la
edicin pstuma) . Releo a Shakespeare, lo aprovecho en tres epgrafes
(Otelo, Romeo, Graciano).
Cunto ha sucedido desde agosto del ao pasado, 1986, cuando me elec-
trocut aquel anuncio de zapatos deportivos recin puesto en el metro .
Cunta materia por desgracia inventariada no ms sobre papel con tinta
de retina, la cual es, ya se sabe, una viscosa prolongacin cerebral
con sus bastones y conos ; desprendible aun sin jeopardo .
Marco Antonio Cruz. Sala de operaciones del Hospital Mdica Sur, 20 de noviembre de 1998.
Lola lvarez Bravo. Entre la luz y la sombra. Mxico, ca. 1945.
Marco Antonio Cruz. El ciego Marcelo Lpez con su esposa. Sierra Jurez, Oaxaca. 11 de marzo de 1998.
Marco Antonio Cruz. Fernando y Al berto v., ciegos por oncocercosis.
Comunidad Nuevo Brasil , Hui xtla, Chiapas. 19 de marzo de 1998.
Marco Antonio Cruz. La ciega Antonia Gmez Prez con su madre. Desplazadas zapat istas.
Chenalh, Chiapas. 25 de marzo de 1998.
Marco Antonio Cruz. Plantn de ciegos. Zcalo de la ciudad de Mxico, 18 de julio de 1993.
Marco Antonio Cruz. Doa Epitacia Gonzlez. Comunidad Nuevo Brasil , Hui xtla, Chiapas, 19 de marzo de 1998.
Marco Antonio Cruz. Don Luz, poeta y t rovador. San Cristbal de las Casas, Chiapas, 1993.
Eikoh Hosoe. Barakei N" 19. Del libro: Meta, 1961 .
144
IIORRon"sos ASESINATOS
COOlplidos por Cristbal Pflllcras (,JI Fuente Alvilla. provrnria ti,. 4Ibacetp., el
liia 4 dI' octubre dci :lito; habiendo encontrado un JO\'cn amaDce
bado con su di"l muerte l Y cuatro hijos. y l mismo se ahorc,
,:om,) lo VPr el lector .
,. ti "Lrl(l'O .dcrU:t.r"',
I"allre de
,. pido aultiho
quien si guI. el r amlnu .
Tambirn l. pul
n
tu ,1'1"
, .i.., \'erIJo encarn.o
me de un fue,le .. lo,
por .nallifestar los l.aSul
ma. horrendos 'I',l" sr b .... "t"
tn rftJfI'slros si,;lus J,J'Iii:t Ll os ..
qur .lemoflza
.. It}lo, nole,dos ,Jd .. .
Vi ... 'u frenle la .. 11,
aD jYeo noble J hizarru
Juntu I'on sq nohl. ' e!'ovosl
de quien fu': 1.1
r ... lo- ' - r,1 UII fURlCrl.lOAlIle
J .. ch"rU,f)'" '! j.lnlOo('_
b. et munclu
.. ud.des J pohlaci noe1.
\' luti.rne cualrn lllJu,
UM muy Ioerna edad
d mayor d .; diez .,"D,.
unen no llega
lA madre M di. ho. biJo.
que.., fI.,nab. (Mlor
!lema.iado ena uu J.en
te.ia eiertol .mores.
Jatrodueindos. ""tc jo. en
IW 'iU el'. rOIl araD
;"met"nrin
, su .",tida.
Tu.o no da" t;rlllbal
.. gl3 .,t'nr.on
que su eS(lu"l l;<tlfJrll!'
l. haoa lra i. in ..
Ouluri rln )' r.n.)Jadn
l lu t.jUI!'IJ
! 11 PI 't.".lld In rUt .,. .. ,ticra
lu .ida se I o""h".
." .... allos .:1n ru"ladoJ
t,.nrnw"t m;ttrim.,nio
r.:, .... J .. l. ".1.01,,3
qul' al
dlntO rn , mi lIu Jur
'1'-' 'tdl..:1:ltlP.1
It .. illlu'I t3ml.u ll :!'Ieran
,d,), de mi UfJno5.
" . J'" ' l,,"s cltl ... Iu
51 t''itu (urra yrrfbd
tu ,j.h y 1=1 los h'juS
fU'II IH" !\" Iha :tcatur .
No h, "'rt .. ,.; mi
lu t', . oJ do' "O(:Ul)n
tUI ha f.lLa.: tu
fII 'e L., hecho 'r",cioo.
Todo COI.",t" d,r.1' .,1 pu'!b'"
Ja melllors ratal
J3 ,mhi cion m.nifle."
qu" tudos D'" mil.
EnrUrt''''I!O el fllII,idn
p.'" mu y .us dial
I bUSt:.1 JU .r.nquttd:t,j
fila .. ni' "nr., ... lr.,u 31"l(rll'
Gana". bien r.1 ,ullrnlo
por l. e.po"" ror los bijo
.rripro por r.1 mundo
con ",ud,o .r.n .u .rhilrio
Ur.ltrnlin1l hlter un ,.je
en Tul'Jra Albaccl
,,. 1,' 'Ino u"n r<
v "l1flv. tra .. 111'
U'J" 'us colo.lleria, '
1" r n pns;](la.
Cr.\tlh.d 'Iu ,. Jvr :llrs
VI )r 'tUI: 1'3"'3 en lIiU ro.. ,. .
nlllnp''; un portienn f.l,o.
, que bahoa , l. parIr ,l lr6o
b .. ru'n,'n olleura la nurht>
.in p.r;r.
. ; ' ,onlo I"ncpndl un. bUf!i .
'tu.- .."J,r le b3}:1 ri,lo
lomo el ( 3nlhl fon su mine
511 dorniciliO,
.. fui, en dormitorio
por \pr >u ",,,05n qu.r''''
un !Ji Jarro
qur. ,ltseAn,.:'mL1o 5f"'!:;lJi ....
LOi
nO lo 'pu- It.'s pIS,.
ne l prllgro d. 511S vid
.1 rdugo ".1' en .11 ca"
r.oge \In rucbill" d .... ,. di ' ..
(urinoo COnHI un l.ntI
di ., j n dn. euchillad ..
! ,. ,..rte r.1 rora.,.,
170
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
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.
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
Aligarh and the mosquito net
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
172
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
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 llmsgivers. 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 Benjamn Mayer Foulkes
174
"1 belong to a wretched generation
that has lost practically all of its
ideals by experiencing the aftermath
of World War 11. In Slovenia 1 was
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.
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 1 felt 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 Lpez 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
dmontes. 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
Garca 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 problem-
it'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
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176
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
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
Nipce, 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 self-
consciously as Ido. Some of them
even do it with the hope of seeing
again some day ... "
In contrast to the photographic
legacy of Nipce, 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 splendor-
its 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 memory-
and 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 case-
despite 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
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178
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
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 imagnaton in any
intellectual acto
Consdering the formal affinity
Bavcar shares with the subjects of
his pictures, t's not surprising that
digital photography interests him,
though he lacks the necessary
equipment to experiment wth it.
However-and paradoxcally for
someone who also defines himself as
a conceptual artist (a conceptual-
oneiric artist?)-the blind
photographer says that "for now, I
prefer the more material, tangible
and noble base of silver nitrate on
tradtional 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
exst, 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 left-
handed 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 moment-
photography conceived as the
photographer's immediate
reaction."
To be sure, Bavcar's photo-
graphy, whose uniqueness lies in its
simulation of transparency and
erasure rather than the photo-
graphic 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
180
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
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
clichs. 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 clichd 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 eye-
are 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
clichs 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
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182
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 (c/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
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 clich, 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, tactile-
indeed 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:
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184
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 les 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
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
any sighted person beca use, like
Bavcar, any sighted person can only
look from, and towards, the third
eye. What else could the
"shortcomings" and vacancy of our
"physical gaze"-as it lands upon
angels, swallows, winds, stairways,
trees, masks, waters, times, writings,
portraits, lights, images and other
blindnesses-be due to?
Despite first impressions, Bavcar
does not represent the simple
inversion of a photographer's and
any sighted person's characteristic
function, but rather the opposite-
his or her total entrance into the
light. Why, then, do sighted people
feel uncomfortable when faced with
the image of someone else like
themselves? Precisely beca use of
the former. By contemplating
Bavcar and his work,
photographers and sighted people
contemplate nothing more than
their own selves, and what makes
this unbearable is that it consists of
the rediscovery-as here we are
dealing with something that could
only have been discovered
beforehand-of the fact that they
are originally and structurally blind.
As Bavcar says:
"If people are perplexed, it's because
their own relationship with blindness
comes into focus, and sometimes
their fear, in the sense of a castration
complex or an immediate
recollection of their own Oedipus
complex. From some people's point
of view, and this is something I've
confirmed through numerous
experiences which are shared by
many of my blind friends, I represent
a kind of Oedipus after the tact."
If to contemplate Bavcar's images
is to face an unbearable flash and a
blinding revelation, it his art isn't one
of light but of bedazzlement, this is
due to the fact that his iconography
does nothing more than reflect his
viewers' desire for images-and then
folds back in upon itself.
And if indeed one can only look
185
186
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
at me. The gaze is a response to a
certain gaze that has always-
though not since all eternity-
settled 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 television-
production 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" here-
that 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
Murgua Street, preparations are
under way for tonight's event, the
presentation of Graciela Iturbide's
Imgenes del espritu (Images of the
Spirit), copublished by Aperture and
Casa de las Imgenes. The seasoned
intimacy of this large eighteenth-
century home, bought and resto red
by painter Francisco Toledo and
named after the great photographer
Manuel lvarez Bravo, has been
transformed into a photography
center, welcoming the public into its
exhibition rooms, library and
darkroom. The central eye of lvarez
Bravo's famous photo "Parbola
ptica" 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 Lpez, 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 Rodrguez, an editor
at Casa de las Imgenes, 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 vila, thanks the author of
Juchitn de la mujeres (The Women's
Juchitn) 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 Lpez Austin reads part of
the epilogue omitted from the final
version of Imgenes del espritu.
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
Martnez, a friend of his from the
lvarez Bravo Photography Center,
he goes to pick up his belongings in
the Jorge Luis Borges Library which
he happens to runo The 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 Murgua 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
Coyoacn home being accomplices
to this-Manuel lvarez 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 Mrquez'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 lvarez 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
lvarez 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
190
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
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 (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 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 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 Martnez
192
Porfirio Moreno Martnez 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
Martnez has with the world is
through radio and reading and
writing Braille.
Photographer Marco Antonio
Cruz met Moreno Martnez in March
of 1998. The photographs
reproduced herein (pp. 102-106) are
the result of the long conversation
the two hado Intrigued by Cruz's
photos, Luna Crnea visited Moreno
Martnez 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
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 self-
consumed 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
194
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
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 Bellatn
196
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 officer
1
sporting a blue uniform-who was
familiar with blindness because his
mother had lost her eyesight years
befo re in an accident
4
-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
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 seeing-
eye 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 park
8

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 Rainforest
12
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

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 u se,
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
'I!
,1' jil
I I ~ ~ I I
",lMl'! '
I 1,: 'fl
198
are used to seeking a
fictional version of
daily life in artificial
representations of it.
A person who can
only understand the
natural world by
means of technique,
a person who must
wait the time it takes
to develop a
photograph in order
to know precisely
what his relationship
to the world is-
what would their
subconscious be
like? According to
what other blind photographers
have said, their psyche bases itself on
the need to create more and more
realities, on the obsession with being
everywhere at once. Maybe this
peculiar subconscious is the key to
understanding the insatiable hunger
for fiction we all have.
In the subway station, after the
policeman had seen his I.D. card and
apologized
17
profusely, the man with
the camera went on his way. As he
did everyday, he headed to his friend
Flo Fox's apartment. He knocked
severa I times, but she was busy in
the makeshift 9arkroom she'd set up
in her bathroom. When she finally
answered the door, she stretched
out her hand to pet the seeing-eye
dogo She was completely blind-she
had been born with impaired vision
which had progressively worsened
over time. Five years earlier, when
her condition was declared
irreversible, Flo Fox started taking her
camera to the city's heaviest S/M
bars'8. Maybe she felt that not being
able to see freed her from the guilt
associated with a natural curiosity
that, under normal conditions, is
difficult to satisfy. Before becoming
ill, Flo Fox had studied psychology at
a prestigious university in the south
end of the city. She eventually
beca me a regular at leather bars,
where some of the clientele even
enjoyed posing for her in kinky
scenes. At that very moment, Flo Fox
had been developing the photos
she'd taken the night before. She
opened the door in a state of
reverie-which was partly due to her
illness and partly due to
concentrating on her work-but this
, didn't stop her from petting the
dogo No one could figure out why
the man with the camera shared a
dark room with Flo Fox. It would be
too simple to answer that it was
beca use neither of them saw like the
rest of us do. Rather, together in that
small bathroom, they had discovered
a special way of developing film. The
incident in the subway led them to
talking about what people think of
blind folk. It didn't occur to them
that there are degrees of blindness,
so discovering that a blind person
could see, even if it were just foggy
patches or only at certain hours,
could come as a tremendous shock.
That same day while he was on his
way home, the photographer
popped into a photocopy store to
enlarge the photos he'd printed.
He'd then stuck these to the floors
and walls of his home. Thus visitors
could walk into a room completely
wallpapered-including the ceiling-
with images of child prostitutes from
Bangkok, or a kitchen covered with
buskers from Washington Square or
a bathroom plastered with the lush
vegetation of the Amazon Rainforest.
The photographer put up the copies
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 caneo Aman
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 driver
20
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.
NOTES
1 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.
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 straight-
haired 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.
199
Paco Grande: Roaming Photographer with Cane Josu Ramrez
200
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 presento After that,
he started taking photographs
which were subsequently published
in his school's newspaper. At that
time, Paco Grande also had an
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
Flamencologa (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 definiton,
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
202
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.
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-slinger-
you 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 blnd 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!! 11
I
I
I
11
~
--
203
Flo Fox: from Negative to Positive
204
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 two-
dimensional 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
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 hot-
dog, 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 Crnea, 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
Crnea 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."
205
Toun Ishii and the Enchanted Mountain
206
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
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 show-
his 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 guide-
dog 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; Fuji-
san: 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,
"T oday 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."
207
Phosphenes Gerardo Deniz
208
1987 was a busy year for me-in
every way. Koshka moved in with
me, Rnika 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 self-
fulfilling 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
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 died-
Juan D. Tercero, Rodolfo Halffter,
Coc-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.
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 lvarez Bravo, Jos
Hernndez-Claire, Jed Fielding,
Vernica Macas, 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,
Identity as a Mask
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
210
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.
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.
Josu Ramrez
The one who watches is momentarily
blind and cannot see himself.
Mara Zambrano
A photo of a blind child taken by
Lola 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
Which Night, What Day
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,
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212
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
lvarez 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 Chemstocles-the
novelized memoirs Jos Mara
Bojrquez 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
e x i c ~ 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 Stephen Kuusisto
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.
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
mano
"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
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214
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 qu 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 half-
aloud, and the sound of my voice-
a human voice-brings my seeing-
eye 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
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 CRNEA 18
Fotografa
narrativa

"'o fe
fa "ierda!