Thursday, April 7, 2011

Floaters: Visual Disturbances

Floaters: Visual Disturbances


As some may already know by now, I've been covering HIV/AIDS for almost as long as I've been writing. HIV/AIDS is something I deeply care about, maybe because I've been introduced to the disease, maybe because of the wonderful people I've met on the way, or maybe both. During this past decade I've tried to document the reality of AIDS through those affected and infected by the pandemic. The truth is that we are ALL affected, one way or another, by HIV/AIDS. We don't have to have the virus to be affected. The virus touches us all, in different ways, I suppose. For me, I think it has been an uplifting experience, a reality check and a reminder that we, as humans, are, after all, mortal, but also that we can be spiritual, "more good" as mentions one of the characters of the fantastic Angels in America.

I've written and photographed the pandemic at a very small scale, compared with others. But the experience, again, has had a significant effect on me. I've written for publications. I also wrote a book on a long-term AIDS survivor and warrior. My wonderful friend, award-winning visual artist Kurt Weston. The book, a biography, is called Journeys Through Darkness and I'd like to share with you excerpts from Journeys (which, by the way, became my own journey, in some strange way), through this blog, especially when this year, 2011, we commemorate (I don't think we can really say... celebrate?) 30 years of AIDS. (but more on that later or in time).

For now, here is a short excerpt from Journeys Through Darkness. Hope you enjoy the read.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness


One of Weston’s winning entries welcomed us—Kurt, Terry and myself—as we first entered the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where the event took place. The featured photograph, Losing the Light, is part of Weston’s Blind Vision series of self-portraits capturing the artist’s vision of his blindness, showing people the physical and emotional impact that visual loss can have on an individual.
AIDS-related retinitis has left the photographer totally blind in his left eye and only with some limited peripheral vision in his right eye. Therefore, he cannot focus or see things clearly anymore. He can only make out tones of colors. He also experiences floaters, or what he describes as “pieces of cotton that are stuck in my eye and keep floating and flashing every time I move my eye.”
While searching for a way to represent this visual disturbance, Kurt Weston decided to use something obstructive in the photograph to block the viewers from seeing his face in the image. The result was a series of self-portraits known today as the Blind Vision series. He ended up taking each photograph in this series sitting behind a glass sprayed with foaming glass cleaner. He started by spraying the foam all over the glass, and then he wiped the foam away with his hand or sometimes just let it drip. He then pressed his face and hands against the glass, while taking the photographs through the glass, using a camera with a self-timer. “You see my hand pushing away the foam, which is what I would love to do,” he says explaining the technique. “I would like to be able to wipe away all that cotton that keeps floating in front of my eye and get a clear view of what I want to see out in the world.”          
On that early summer evening, the sunset light poured through the tall windows of the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts building, glowing onto Kurt Weston’s "Losing the Light" and bringing me even closer to the photograph. I could see the artist’s face and fingertips pressing against glass trying to push away the foam, but I couldn’t recognize him. I reached out and aligned my fingertips with the foamy imprints. And they almost overlapped, briefly pulling me inside the photograph, allowing me to see the world through the artist’s eyes, from within its blackness.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for too long because there were too many people around me, pulling me out of my reverie. Besides, we had to move farther to other images, sculptures and paintings in the gallery.   

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