Book Review: The Blind Photographer

  By John Veldhoen

I am so proud that I was able to get behind this book long before I ever saw it. The Camera Store sells books, which is a bit of a marketing challenge, given our name, as you might imagine… When I order books, I read descriptions, and I become acquainted with presses, authors, editors, track records, details, but sometimes what finally comes to the shop is a little less, and sometimes, hopefully, a lot more than I expected. I’ve become familiar with the designer of The Blind Photographer, and Julian Rothenstein’s Redstone Press. I love the vibrant colour of his De-Stijl-y designs, and I have been in love with books, and page design all of my adult life, from David Carson’s wonky illegible type frenzy and Raygun magazine, to the eminent rationality of the statistician Edward Tufte’s work. I love books and magazines that play with form. This book is a little more restrained, but look at the multi-coloured braided headband, this small flourish, this detail calls out, it announces a personal love of the gift of sight, and so touchingly.

I sold a copy to a customer last weekend, and they wrote me in thanks, and surprised exclamation, supporting my description of the introduction by Candia McWilliam. There are insights in this book that have to bend the vision of a sighted photographer to the light of a new way of seeing, considering how to see without sight at all.

The book ends with a text by the Argentine novelist, poet, and short-story author Jorges Luis Borges. I came across Borges when I was very young, just before briefly meeting his acolyte and friend Alberto Manguel. Both encounters were extremely influential, and no fictional book has ever made a greater impression on me than Ficciones. Manguel would come to read for him, after Borges had become completely blind, and before Borges resigned from his position as the director of the national library (a move that was motivated by the re-election of a dictator, and not his “disability”). What is so striking to me is how illustrative this relationship is of the co-operation at the heart of the blind photographer’s work, and of how sight can have a surrogate. A person could write whole volumes on the history and purpose of photography and still never get to the heart of what this book expresses so warmly. The book Why Art Photography re-iterates a position of how “European post-war theory has been highly critical of bourgeois subjectivity, regarding it as created and complicit with consumer capitalism.” I say re-iterate because I have read this so often, it is a kind of persistent internal question in writing about photography, a nagging doubt concerning the question of media, or how it is internalized, or some people will say interpellated. What I like about The Blind Photographer is how self-assured and doubtless I feel about it. If there is a purpose to photographs, I can’t see one that is higher than what I have found in this book.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.