"REAL LIFE HAS SURFACE NOISE.”
BLINDNESS AND VISUAL IMPAIRMENT
Having a visual impairment is not something that I’ve tried to hide from others, it’s always been there so I’ve never known anything else. I was born blind in one eye and with a multitude of conditions in the other, see below. Comments, from those that feel that they had the right to bring it up are usually: ‘You don’t look blind’, ‘You don’t act like you have sight problems’, ‘Why are you wearing sunglasses on a dull day? To the more recent, from one or two work colleagues no less, ’Would you not be better just giving up work?’ and ‘Are you going to be able to do anything useful?’ The list goes on… Perhaps on the surface it looks like I’m coping but having serious sight issues is an ongoing, never-ending, and relentless lesson in adaptation. It’s an exhausting internal challenge every day.
I’ve recently undertaken a lot of reading and research into how other people deal with their visual impairment and have found that there are many who don’t consider their blindness a disability. Some have even described it as a gift, a blessing. For that I admire them and wish them well, however that’s not how I feel. I want to keep the vision I have, my life has been surrounded by visual culture: photography, record sleeve design, music graphics, live performances, graphic design and digital media design (websites, CD-ROM’s, remember them?), to no longer have access to this is not something I even want to consider.
As mentioned above I was born with sight issues but did my best to adapt. In my late twenties my sight went completely with a period of blindness. This carried through to my early thirties when I had exploratory surgery which wasn’t entirely successful. I am now registered blind. I have light perception only in one eye and after recent surgery the lens has detached and now floats around inside the eye, this has brought with it permanent double vision of light and shadow in my field of limited vision. The other eye has approximately 40% vision, no lens (Aphakia), macular oedema, a damaged retina, damaged iris and a permanently dilated pupil (Mydriasis). All of this adds up to having a very high sensitivity to light. A further issue is ‘after image’, where a partial image or shape in bright light stays in my visual field for longer than it should. This is in addition to the persistent visual noise that floats across my vision like grain on a VHS tape.
Attempting to hold an iPhone (my camera of choice) and a pocket magnifier in order to take images is an ongoing technical challenge and a physically uncomfortable process.
Photography and Digital Photographic Art and indeed the act of creating art is, for me a cathartic and essential practice that helps me to deal with, come to terms with and overcome the obvious lifelong limitations that my conditions have imposed upon me.
I have only recently been persuaded that I should make myself more known as a visually impaired artist as I have been told that my work and back story have inspired others to pursue creative outlets. One comment left about my work on a photography forum read ’Robert, I want to be you when I grow up…’ Humbling words.
THE C30 EDIT
I’m a Photographer and Digital Artist challenging pre-conceived notions of what those of us with visual impairments can achieve. I have been making photographs and creating art exclusively with mobile devices since 2012. In 2014/15 my solo exhibition ’Seeing The Unseen’ was the first show of its kind in Scotland to consist of work created entirely using an iPhone and iPad.
I devise and deliver mobile photography and digital art workshops and have led courses in Flower Photography, Location Photography, Creative Landscape Photography, Creative Post Processing, Building self esteem through creative self portraits and storytelling (workshops for primary school children) and A Mindful Approach To Mobile Photography.
My background is in the independent music industry. In 1982 I launched the Pleasantly Surprised cassette label and in 1985 the Cathexis Recordings record label. Releasing material from Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Test Dept, Primal Scream, Eric Random, Ludus, Billy MacKenzie, Virginia Astley, Modern English, Sonic Youth, Mark Stewart, Coil, Current 93, Dif Juz, Dance Chapter, The Wolfgang Press, Artery, Band of Holy Joy, Pink Industry, Fini Tribe and many, many more. There was also a period of being a DJ for Scottish pirate radio station ‘Radio Mercury’ and writing reviews and columns for several magazines including ‘Variant’ and ‘Music From The Empty Quarter.’
I produced several editions of ‘Total’ an audio / visual publication covering transgressive art, sound and media that included contributions from Coil, Derek Jarman, Malcolm Poynter, Robert Anton Wilson, Andrew Lagowski, Greater Than One, Boubonese Qualk, Flux, Nocturnal Emissions, Zoviet France and The Anti Group to highlight just a few. I curated 2 volumes of ‘solar: A Music Travelogue’ for the American Solielmoon Recordings label. These featured contributions from, amongst others: Paul Schütze, Tuu, Scanner, Dallas Simpson, Max Eastley, O Yuki Conjugate, Jorge Reyes and Rapoon,
I promoted live music events including the first live performance in Scotland from Test Dept at Sir Henry Wood Hall / Scottish National Orchestra Centre. For a few years I curated events for the New Visions International Film, Video and Media Festival including performances from Ambient masters Tuu and Sound Artist Max Eastley.
I devised the ‘drift’ Sound Art and Acoustic Ecology festivals for the arts organisation New Media Scotland which featured performances, talks and installations by (amongst many others) Max Eastley, David Toop, Dallas Simpson, Greg Wagstaff, John Levack Drever, Michael Prime and Kaffe Matthews. The festival extended to internet streaming of curated themed sound art programmes.
For over twenty years I was a freelance Graphic Designer within the arts sector in Scotland working with a broad range of clients including Pan African Arts, Scottish Academy of Asian Arts, Trongate 103, James Caird Scholarship Trust, Variant Magazine, Matters Magazine, Free Association Magazine, New Media Scotland, Glasgow School of Art, Scottish Sculpture Trust, Yorkhill Childrens Hospital / NHS Trust and D.O.R Records London.
For sixteen years I was based at Street Level Photoworks (a lens based media gallery) in Glasgow and worked with a large number of photographers and artists in prepping their work for exhibition, retouching prints and negatives, formatting work for print, designing exhibition catalogues and publications and maintaining the website. Many photographers left a lasting impression and some were inspirational.
Since 2016 I have been focused almost exclusively on creating my own photographic image based work. New and ongoing sight issues continue to force me to devise new methods of working and creating.