A few months ago, I noticed the blog of Robert K.Rehmann, a photographer living in northern Italy. Intrigued by its title — The Quiet Photographer — and given my natural inclination toward quietude, I took time to explore. Eventually, I found Robert’s explanation for his title, with his own translation into English from his native Italian:
Why a quiet photographer? Because in a world where so many people are screaming, fighting with all instrument in order to impose their idea I just desire to speak about photography in a quiet way. Without imposing my idea.
For me to make photography goes behind the “click”. It means to communicate ideas, feelings. It means to look for something. For ideas, even through an open discussion with the ones who have different ideas. To make photography means also to have friends with the same interest. This is the reason for which this blog starts, in a quiet way.
In a recent entry, he posed an interesting question: “How about you? Have you ever experienced reliving a special moment through a photograph? Would you like to share it with us?”
Coincidentally, I’d recently made a trip into Houston for my semi-annual visit to the eye doctor. Although seven years have passed since the surgery that restored my vision, little had changed; I continue to enjoy 20/20 vision. When I read Robert’s question, the special moment that came to mind was that surgery, and the photos I remembered were a pair that I posted soon after. It was such fun to revisit the post, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share it as a response to Robert’s question, as well as a way of introducing you to The Quiet Photographer.
Perhaps because I dream so rarely, or at least remember so few dreams, frequent dreamers fascinate me.
When friends report extravagant, tangled threads of narrative woven through their nights, I press for details. One awakens suddenly, her heart pounding, barely a step ahead of the ax-murderer with a grudge. Another, constricted with horror by the sight of luggage-toting lizards at her door, thrashes awake, gasping for breath.
My mother once dreamed the Mayor had appointed her to be Keeper of the Kitties. Despite the honor of it all, the thought that she’d been charged with caring for hundreds of cats was for her a true nightmare: fully as distressing as the week she spent all night, every night, searching the aisles of supermarkets for a product she couldn’t find, couldn’t identify, and wasn’t sure she truly needed.
But the Queen of Dreamers — the one to whom her faithful readers turned for entertainment, bemusement, and enlightenment — was Bella Rum. Bella dreamed about house repairs, a variety of ex-Presidents, vampires, and the odd assassination attempt. Hollywood screen writers would kill for the opportunity to adapt her dreams for their plots.
Because we knew each other for so many years, and because Bella maintained such a dream-friendly blog, I didn’t think twice about leaving an off-handed comment on her blog about an odd dream of my own:
I had a Bella dream last night. Things have gotten very complicated (not bad, just complicated) with the process of moving toward my eye surgery, and last night, after fussing and fuming over several problems that have to be solved, I dreamed that I went blind. Just like that. Poof! Everything went black.
I woke up convinced I couldn’t see, until I realized that I could.
By morning, the dream had faded. Finding my way to the coffee maker, I added an extra cup to the pot and pondered the issues still waiting to be resolved. Loss of sight wasn’t on the list.
First on the list had been the need to move from contact lenses to glasses prior to surgery. I wasn’t pleased by the prospect, but I had no choice. As my ever-cheerful surgical assistant explained, my hard contact lenses had reshaped my eyes. To guarantee a perfect fit for implanted lenses, they had to be allowed to return to their natural state so that my new prescription would be accurate. Weekly appointments for measurements would be involved, in order to track my eyes’ progress.
When I asked how long the process would take, the assistant laughed her cheerful little laugh and said, “We don’t have a clue. When the technicians get the same results two or three weeks in a row, they’ll know your eyes have stopped changing, and you’ll be ready for surgery.”
After only a week, there was no question my eyes had begun changing. My new glasses became less useful by the day, and my world grew increasingly blurry. “Not to worry,” said the surgical staff. “It happens.”
Two months later, I was back to the ophthalmological equivalent of square one, with nice, naturally-shaped eyes. After the removal of the first cataract and the implantation of a near-vision lens in my left eye, I was relatively functional. I could work, use the computer, and read stop signs, but with one eye corrected for near vision and the other barely corrected at all, driving was difficult. “Not to worry,” said my surgeon. “Once you get your distance lens in your right eye, things will be better.”
And so it was. After a second blurry, post-surgery night, I awoke with no cataracts, new lenses, and perfect vision. I was ecstatic until mid-afternoon, when something like zero visibility fog rolled into my right eye. Astonished by the sudden loss of vision, I thought, “Is this what it’s like to go blind?” Then, I remembered the dream, and shuddered at the thought that it might have been a premonition.
Of course it wasn’t. Reasons for the sudden fogginess were simple enough: a little inflammation here, some post-surgical swelling there. A combination of antibiotic and steroid drops brought daily improvement until, for the first time in my life — including childhood — I had 20/20 vision.
“See?” my surgeon said. “I told you not to worry.”
In Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber tells the story of Rabbi Mendel, who boasted to his teacher, Rabbi Elimelekh, that “evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light.” “Yes,” said Rabbi Elimelekh, “in my youth, I saw that too. Later on, you don’t see these things any more.”
Perhaps. But when the day came for a greatly anticipated, long-scheduled, and oft-postponed trip to Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, I might as well have been seeing angels.
Everything in sight had been transformed into an astonishment and a marvel: great sweeps of basket-flowers along the ditches; patterned bricks in buildings; a miles-long view down Lavaca Bay; crisp, clear horizons; the vibrant, shimmering colors of businesses and billboards.
Traveling a randomly chosen Farm-to-Market road, I even found what I feared I had missed during my spring confinement: an extravagance of wildflowers. After stopping to photograph a field where swallows dipped and Gaillardia spread their rich, colorful blanket over the hills, I laughed with delight to see my first pair of images.
Thanks to my bad habit of leaving my camera in front of air-conditioning vents, I’d captured a perfect memento of my journey toward sight: one of the best before-and-after pairings in the world.
What was then…
Looking over the hills, some words of the Persian poet Rumi presented themselves as a perfect hinge between past and future.
your way begins
on the other side
become the sky
take an axe to the prison wall
walk out like someone
suddenly born into color
do it now
As for what came next, the not-knowing was the best part. Varnishing became easier and my house a little less dusty, but I didn’t keep my eyes at home. There were stars and dragonflies, hummingbirds and highways to be seen and experienced; words to read and words to write; births to celebrate and deaths to mourn; all within an ever-shortening span of allotted time.
The possibilities still fill me with a certain exuberance, not unlike that found in a video our town’s volunteer fire department helped to create in 2012. Though less elegant than Rumi’s poetry, it’s deeply human, and filled with happiness.
Both the video and my pair of before-and-after photos seem a perfect response to Robert’s question: they are, indeed, a way of reliving one of life’s special moments.
If all the days that come to pass
Are behind these walls,
I’ll be left at the end of things
In a world kept small.
Travel far from what I know,
I’ll be swept away.
I need to know I can be lost
And not afraid.
We’re gonna trip the light,
We’re gonna break the night,
And we’ll see with new eyes
When we trip the light.
Remember we’re lost together,
Remember we’re the same.
We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts,
We hold the flame.
We’re gonna trip the light…
I’ll find my way home
On the western wind,
To a place that was once my world,
Back from where I’ve been.
And in the morning light I’ll remember
As the sun will rise,
We are all the glowing embers
Of a distant fire…
We’re gonna trip the light…
Comments always are welcome.