Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blurry Vision

 Blind Alley

One of the things lifelong wearers of corrective lenses learn early on is that good vision, like soft cheese, doesn’t last forever. Not only that, but corrected vision too has its expiration date and the cycle begins again from painfully sharp focus, to functional but transitory clearsightedness, to life literally going by in a blur.

 Dark Shadows

I got my first pair of eyeglasses at age 10, following a family tradition of nearsightedness often attributed to our noses always being in books, but probably due to some sort of past genetic commingling with bats, whose nocturnal ways and preference for black attire I also share. As a foursome in the 70s, we were unmistakably of the clan of dork, our eyeglasses the size and weight of snorkeling equipment. Over the years, styles changed and technological advancements allowed for lighter less obtrusive frames and eventually contact lenses that only fooled keen observers briefly. It’s not hard to recognize the strangely facially naked look of a former wearer of glasses; once bespectacled, always bespectacled. But throughout many changes of prescription strength and fashion statement, two dependable truths remained, as unalterable as the twin depressions on either side of the bridge of my nose – there’s nothing like a new pair of glasses to prove how much you’ve been needing them. And the day you get used to your new glasses, you are probably well on the way to needing new ones again. 


It seems to me that much the same can be said for less literal ways of perceiving the world. All of us at one time or another have moments of clarity that are in such stark opposition to the vagueness we’ve previously tolerated, our heads spin. We ask ourselves, not so much how we could have been so blind, but how we could have taken so long to correct it. And then with the passage of time, we once again become accustomed to what we see and how we see it, and think all is well, a sure sign that our vision needs some adjusting.  

Night Vision

In more ways than one, I’ve needed a prescription change for quite some time. In the literal sense, I know this because with more and more frequency, and fewer and fewer sputterings of exasperation, I seem to be taking my glasses OFF to see things. When the soft blur afforded by my naked eye is preferable to the view through the lens, the lens is obviously not doing its job. But on the more figurative side, if I, as an artist, am willing to put up with any kind of diminished capacity to sense and interpret the world around me, then I am probably not doing my job either.

Guiding Lights

My current glasses are of the perverse category known as “progressives” which is an optical phenomenon whereby someone who needs different glasses to see different distances can spend even more money on one pair of glasses with several focal points through which they can see all distances badly.  I’ve been tolerating this situation for years, but a few months ago I finally went to an eye doctor for a new prescription. And today I actually got around to ordering a new pair of glasses to fill this prescription. They are traditional bifocals, which means I will be given two choices for vision, near and far, and two choices of vantage point, bottom and top. I am greatly looking forward to not having to search around the entire undemarcated circle of the inside of my lenses, moving my head in the manner of a periscope, to find the one focal point that corresponds to the thing I am trying to look at. This sort of slowness once put entire species out of the evolutionary picture. For my part, I’d just like to be able to read a book and then look out the window without getting a migraine.

 Things are Looking Up

How odd that in an age where any image can be captured in or corrected into perfect focus, there is now a trend in photography towards the soft edges and distortions of toy cameras and cellphone captures. Certainly, the element of blurriness that would normally be considered a liability creates an interesting dreamlike effect in these images, intimate and unguarded, as if seen through the eyes of a nearsighted woman with her glasses off. As I wait for my new glasses to arrive, I remember every time I walked out of an optical shop seeing the world in almost unbearably sharp focus, my former all-embracing comfortable fuzziness replaced by stunning knife edge clarity, wondering both how I managed before without this crystal clear perspective and what I will now do with the responsibility of engaging a world I can no longer ignore. It is a moment of equal joy and sadness, and I can’t wait.


  1. Gabriella, what a great post! Wonderful words of wisdom. Like many I do wear glasses as well and know exactly what you are talking about in all senses. Have a great weekend. Thank you for your comments in One Photograph a Day always welcome.

  2. Hey, Luis, that was fast! It's funny, I had a whole other post I was going to write, but the film I was waiting for, which had the shots I wanted to use, was not ready yet at the camera store, so I had to continue on my errands and think of something else to write about...and there I am at the optical shop thinking...and this post started to write itself in my head! After that, it wasn't hard to find blurry photos in my files to illustrate my point. I love your blog - in fact, the second image (with the slanted angle) in this post probably owes a bit to your influence! All the best to you my friend.

  3. So true. I am at the stage of taking my glasses off so I can see better or writhing my head around like a snake after prey to get the right perspective. On vision, and on life.
    I love the photos you have illustrated this dilemma with, and hope your new glasses arrive soon. Thanks.

  4. Thanks, EC - it was fun bringing these photos back into circulation after having rejected them as imperfect. I guess everything has its purpose if you wait long and think hard enough!

    I will never forget the day I went to dinner with others "of a certain age" and we all went through our various newfound techniques to read the menus - including the snake move you mention! Um...waiter, what would YOU recommend? Welcome to middle age...

    Hope all is well with you.

  5. The great thing about people is that they can get used to anything. The horrifying thing about people is that they can get used to anything. The mind filters out the familiar. It takes a change in perspective (or pain) to experience a familiar thing anew. Much of the job of an artist is to reframe the familiar in a way that wards off the forgetting of ourselves.

  6. Gabriella..
    this post is full of your humor and I am smiling.

    Today the calender arrived and I thank you for this very quick sending.
    It is a miracle how fast it arrived..
    You did a very good job and next year you can count me as your customer!
    The picture "Snowbound" is my favored...

    Sending my love!!!!!!!!!

  7. Salon Muses - you are so right. People are so drawn to, and accepting of, the familiar, they will put up with just about anything rather than take on something new and strange. I wonder how much is fear or distrust and how much simple laziness or lack of imagination? On the mild end of the spectrum it means you never quite get around to plastering that crack in your bathroom wall you walk by every day. On the more toxic side, it means you'd rather stay in a bad job or abusive relationship than take steps to remove yourself. Much food for thought here, thanks for your take on this!

  8. Monika dear, it makes me so happy to hear that the calendar arrived swiftly and safely! I am also glad the humor in my post made you smile. It's a gray stormy day here and you have now brought a little Greek sunshine into the room! Have a great weekend.

  9. G... your last sentence made me smile! I think that being nearsighted is kind of a gift... It helps me see things impressionistically (is that a word?) when painting. Traffic signs are another story.

    Beautiful images and wonderful words as always!

  10. Doug - you mean about the joy and sadness in one moment? I tend to get a lot of those - to the point those other one-sided moments are just plain boring! That either makes me complex or a little crazy, or both. See? There goes that "both" thing again!

    Funny you mention the connection of bad eyesight and impressionistic painting. A while back I read an article about certain famous artists with distinctive distorted styles or weird color palettes and they were able to trace these "choices" to medical conditions they each had that would make them see that way! How cool is that?

    Have a great weekend.

  11. I've been blessed (so far) and don't need glasses although everyone in my family does. I can imagine it would get irritating to have to rely on glasses or contacts to see clearly though. But the blurred edges of your photos have a certain mystique to them that is quite intriguing.

  12. Dear G/TT - such a great post. I enjoyed reading it and relating to it; being utterly frustrated at the deterioration in my sight in the last 12 months, from perfect to hopeless. I think I have a sweet spot about 1-4 metres away from me where I can see; everything else near or far or I need assistance with. Great analogies with life as well - moments of clarity, fuzziness and re-calibrating all the time. Thanks so much.

  13. TB - it was fun pulling together these blurry photos as a way of demonstrating what it's like to live with imperfect vision! Of course, the bad focus of these images had more to do with low light and slow shutter speed, but it does have a great look all the same. Thanks for stopping by! Hope your week goes well.

  14. Hi Fiona - thanks for the comment! It's funny how vision can suddenly decline. My eyes were always bad, but stayed at the same prescription for years and years, just a little help with distances needed. Then I hit a certain age and I needed help with near and far focus - same thing, all I had was one little mid-distance sweet spot as you say! I enjoyed drawing the parallels with life. Glad you enjoyed the post! Have a great week.

  15. dear Gabriella!
    that truism, you tried here!
    myopia, it is also my companion since age 11 ...
    since then, the changes were necessary at each stage of life ...

    I love these photos 'blurred', they are great!
    you illustrated perfectly the feelings we have,
    literally, several ways of viewing the same image .... I think we are privileged!?

    I always thought about painting a landscape myopic as a slide out of focus ... maybe still do ...

    seem to see the world, so blurred!
    good views with your bifocal ...

  16. Denise, thank you so much for your comment - I appreciate your perspective! I like the idea of doing a myopic painting. Go for it! Have a great week.

  17. I love the part you wrote about "...not so much how we could have been so blind, but how we could have taken so long to correct it."

    Ever feel that way about OTHER aspects of our life? I love that vision and perspective can become such strong metaphors, and sight really is just as emotional as it is physical. It was great to read a post about eyesight, completely with beautifully blurry pictures, and realize that it all has to do with perspective and how some people are fine with the limited one they have, and some people are more interested in, as you termed it, "progressive" perspective. Love it!

  18. Tracy - who would have thought some random musings on my deteriorating eyesight could be so full of metaphoric possibilities! It's so easy to walk around "not seeing," either because your eyes are bad or your gaze is turned inward or whatever - an oddly protected yet vulnerable state. As an artist I often capture or bring to light in new ways things no one else notices, yet I am often guilty of walking right by things or people right in front of my open eyes, yet for all purposes unseen. Such a strange ironic phenomenon! I'm glad you liked this post. Thanks for your comment.

  19. I love these pictures. You don't see their like very often nowadays, now that there's and "app" for everything. But you must not live in Baton Rouge if you're sad to see the summer go. I say good riddance.

  20. Greetings, Elliot. Thanks for your comment. I'm very much "old school" in my approach in terms of the uncorrected un-messed-around-with image. No apps for me!

    By the way, I've been down south this time of year and I can see how you might be glad to see summer pass. Oddly enough this first official weekend of fall it's been stupidly humid and hot up here! I am now totally with you on the "good riddance" thing! Be well.