“I see! I see!” said the blind man, as he picked up his camera and saw.
The camera connects me to the facts of the world; otherwise, I am all in my head, dwelling on dreamy possibilities, blind to many, many things. Camera in hand, I leave the abstract and find detail. Camera in hand, I become inquisitive and optimistic, eager to see the world and, having photographed it, to show what I have seen.
A favorite reply of my father when he understood something was to say, “‘I See! I See!’ said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.” He loved plays on words. His way to see the world was to join the U.S. Navy. Me, I picked up a camera.
On personality tests, I am an extreme intuitive, someone who lives in his head, someone who would have finished his Ph.D. in philosophy after three years of graduate school if he had been more worldly and not so shy, guarded and disdainful of the world.
That changed when I picked up a camera and worked as a photo-journalist and writer for two weekly newspapers — The Rag and the Austin Sun — and served as photographer for the American Deaf Dance Company. Shy as I was, with the camera in hand I had a comfortable role in society that took me into the world to observe and report on public gatherings and meetings, colorful people on the street, musicians on stage, and unusual people who simply put themselves forward.
I learned to see.
Now you may think it is contradictory to see better by putting an object between our eyes and what we want to see. My own history suggests otherwise. I have worn glasses nearly every waking moment since I was seven years old. Without them I can only focus on objects five inches from my nose. The rest of the world is a blur without my glasses.
Yes, I can be skeptical about what I see through my glasses. I realize it has been mediated by lenses. But consider this: Even people who do not wear glasses see the world through lenses — the complicated organic lenses of their eyeballs. This has led many a philosopher to argue that what we see is not real. That is not what I argue. I say putting a camera’s lens in front of my glasses in front of my eyes produces images essentially as real, just as truthful, as those produced by naked eyes alone. That will be my Ph.D. dissertation if I ever write it.
Having seen the real world, I can tell you it is delightful. I still admire the photographers who first inspired me, including Edward Steichen, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Russell Lee, Ave Bonar, Dennis Carlyle Darling, and Charles Gatewood. Their images show us a world that is often beautiful, funny, ironic, witty, and playful. Oh, I know the world is battered and bruised, desperate for help, but it is also resplendent, glorious, and sometimes very quirky. I love photos that show what a delightfully odd place this is, how unexpectedly whimsical at times. This exhibit features some of my images made in this documentary tradition.
Danny N, Schweers photo exhibit "I See I See" at the Washington Printmakers Gallery with slide show, click HERE.
All photos Danny N. Schweers © 2016