Experiments in Seeing
There's an essay in my book Asking titled "It Must Have Been Weird" which quotes Andy Warhol and which I've been thinking about a lot the past few weeks. In the essay, I say, (yes, bit weird to quote oneself), "How do we see? That's a small question that's interested me ever since I can remember. And it gets more and more complicated all the time."
It still does, and it goes on being complicated.
Andy Warhol's words:
I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don't know how far you could really see. I think about all the people before eyeglasses were invented. It must have been weird because everyone was seeing in different ways according to how bad their eyes were. Now, eyeglasses standardize everyone's vision to 20-20. That's an example of everyone becoming more alike. Everyone could be seeing at different levels if it weren't for glasses.
I recently got new glasses and my prescription has changed both near and far, but only a little. Still, it's a huge adjustment. At the beginning I was overthinking it all, and then I had to just tell myself, let your brain figure it out. And mainly it has. The shape of the lens is bigger and different from my previous lens and that changes things. The tinting isn't the same as my previous pair so when I'm outdoors, my vision is also different. Reading is noticeably sharper.
So when I made my initial eye appointment I was asked if I also wanted to be fitted for contact lenses. I've been asked for years and always say no, but this time I said yes. The backstory to all this is that I've been wearing eyeglasses since grade 3. (And probably should have been earlier but managed to fake the test they used to give at school). In grade 9 I got contact lenses and wore them until we had our daughter. Apparently this is a common story: she was a few months old, I was (obv) tired, not blinking properly even, and in the middle of the night or early morning, bleary-eyed me caught one of her razor-sharp baby fingernails in the eye. Scratched my cornea very badly etc etc. I, along with Rob and baby C, was in Emergency where the eye specialist was for days it seemed. Return visits. I wore an eyepatch for weeks. I hardly remember it all, really. But the long and short of it is that I pretty much gave up on contact lenses after that. My eyes were dry, the lenses were uncomfortable and expensive, and I had other things on my mind.
But. I've always pretty much disliked wearing glasses. I feel like I'm behind a window all the time. A friend and I have joked about how when you wear a hat, you feel like you're wearing a disguise, because you're hiding behind all these layers, maybe. Also, you see differently. I know that's obvious but I'd sort of forgotten how differently.
So yes, I was fitted for contacts, still working out the prescription though (because gone are the halcyon days of single vision). Part of me feels all vain and silly for succumbing to the lenses at my age. But at the same time – this amazing feeling of freedom! No heavy object on my face! And I can see in ways that I haven't seen for ages. For one thing, I can (sort of) see myself! And wow that grey streak at my part is more pronounced than I thought! Other things: I can see my eyes. Because you can never really see them through your glasses, and my vision is so bad I otherwise have to get right up to the mirror, which doesn't really work either.
I probably won't wear them more than once or twice a week, but I'm happy to have the option.
Other small miracles: selfies without glasses means not worrying about where the glare is in the lens, or other strange reflections.
The whole process though has got me thinking about photographs, lenses, how we see, all over again. I'm at the point where I'll be needing a new camera soon. My Nikon D80 DSLR was one of the first ones out there (2006!) and they only have so many clicks in them. The money involved is of course holding me back but part of it is also that I'll have to learn to see again through new equipment. It's an exciting prospect, but also a bit scary.
I was also thinking about Instagram (the above selfies are filtered via IG) and how what we see on our phones is probably more uniform than other places. Our computer screens are so varied, and so when I post a photo or work on processing it on my iMac, this doesn't mean other people see the image as I see it.
As for seeing paintings on the internet, a lot of museums are digitizing their collection – so at least the viewer is getting the closest possible version of an image. (If you google a particular image it's amazing how many variations in colour and tone you get).