The Blind Photographer

The warmth of the sun on the left side of his face told him that at that time of day the scene was side lit. Familiar with the location having lived on this street for decades, he knew that it was a vacant lot with the bay bridge in the background. The excited voices of children at play located them perhaps five metres in front of him. He squatted down to a child’s height which he knew would frame them with the arch of the bridge behind them. Kodak, his service dog and constant companion settled in behind him, watching his back. Evan raised the camera to his left eye and squeezed the shutter release, hearing the satisfying snick of his rangefinder camera. Although he could no longer see, he still held the camera to his once-dominant eye, settled against his face. Old habits die hard and the familiar feel of the camera against his face served to precisely locate the direction and angle of the composition.

Evan Walker had been a celebrated Magnum photographer, published extensively in magazines in Europe and North America for over twenty years. His work was exhibited in galleries in major capital cities and his prints were in high demand. A rare eye disease took his vision, livelihood and his inspiration in four fast months.

Maxine, his editor, darkroom printer, friend and lover of many years helped him overcome ensuing depression. She encouraged Evan to walk the streets of their neighbourhood while she described new developments. Evan worked his memory of the buildings and streets, surprising both himself and Maxine with his accuracy of where they were and the buildings they were facing.

When training for Evan and his dog, whom he re-named Kodak, was completed they began to regularly patrol the streets as a team. Like most blind people, Evan’s remaining senses were boosted into overdrive.

It was Maxine who suggested that he start taking a camera on their walks. They agreed that he should continue to use the same 400 ISO film that he had used for decades (Evan was a film guy and didn’t care for digital). A 35 mm lens would be the best choice. His manual rangefinder had dials that he could adjust by feel, setting either aperture or shutter speed. Exposure would be taken care of in the semi-auto function. Maxine taped the lens to ensure focus from seven feet to infinity at f8.

Maxine developed the films and printed large proofs of selected edits. Together they discussed the photos. Maxine would guide his finger over the print describing the subject matter, texture, tone, quality of the light and the posture and expressions of people. Evan remembered every shot and he trusted Maxine’s judgement after their many years together. She was an exquisite printer, interpreting his images to capture the exact mood and feel that he wanted to convey; in fact, she printed far better that Evan could hope to. Armed with two dozen exhibition quality prints they visited a major gallery where Evan previously had been shown. The gallery owner was very receptive and excitedly offered to show Evan’s new “blind” work. They decided to name the exhibit Mindsight. The reviews were great and prints sold well.

After several frames of the kids at play, Evan continued down the street. Kodak, on the curb side, would nudge Evan if he got too near the road. An intoxicating scent of baked bread and cinnamon caressed Evan’s nose. The bakery! But not now, keep moving. Down to the next corner where legless “Sprinter” Bosco perched on his ancient roller board, dispensing jokes and good humour to all, and if you wanted to drop a few coins in that cup, you would be rewarded with a wink a big grin and maybe a quick one-liner that you could share at home with the family.

“Evan, my friend, you are almost as handsome as your dog! Hello, Kodak, I trust you’re enjoying taking Evan for his walk on this fine day? Any interesting stains on that fire hydrant?”

“It’s a fine day for sure, Sprinter, and here’s a print for you of the photo I took last week.”

Kodak gave Sprinter a lick and a dog smile.

On the next block, the coarser texture of the sidewalk began twenty paces from the intersection. There were fifteen additional paces to the clubhouse of the Dusty Riders Motorcycle Club. The sound of a bike getting tuned-up by the curb confirmed it. The DRs was an old club with old values and some even older members. Hardcore lifetime riders, all makes of motorcycle welcomed. No criminal dealings, no posturing, no ‘colours’, no gang bullshit, they were a loose group with a common love of motorcycles.

In the past, Evan had taken a fine photo of five DR’s sitting on the clubhouse stoop that was published in Rolling Stone. He gave them each a signed copy of the issue and an 8×10 print. He took photos of them with their bikes, working on bikes, sometimes laughing and other times sombre.

When he and Kodak first began to explore the streets alone, a DR wannabe member thought it would be cool to trip Evan on the sidewalk and maybe grab his camera too. He stuck his foot out- too soon. Kodak lunged between them and shoulder-blocked the punk onto his arse. Punk stands up and gets bitch-slapped hard, fore and backhand, by Vincent “Black Shadow” Lamour, a DR old- timer.

“You clean the toilet and take used engine oil to the recycle centre for the next six months if you want to hang around here. Garbage and kitchen duty too. Plus any other degrading chores we invent, punk. Never lay a hand on this man or anybody else around here.
My apologies for that asshole, Evan. I’d high five you but that didn’t work too good last time. Hugs, bro!” Crushing bear hug follows.

Heading back home on the other side of the street, Evan hoped to avoid “Agony” Annie who always hung out on the bench in front of the ice cream store. The very picture of negativity and doom: not a pleasant person to talk with. Too late, he realized as a waft of her cheap perfume announced her presence from half a block away. Evan paused to photograph the front of the vegetable stand with the ever-changing display and always smiling proprietor. Then onward into the fog of throat-gagging perfume.

“ Ah, Evan you poor bugger. To lose your eyesight must be devastating. It’s a wonder you haven’t gone mad,” screeches AA.

“Save your sympathy for others, Annie, I can see fine, just fine,” Evan replies.

 

 

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