Funhouse mirror

The Tyranny
of Photographs

by Alyce Wilson

The blotches in my eyesight have improved my vision. My hearing and my sense of smell, as well. The black, blurry "floaters" appeared in my left eye about a year and a half ago, and ever since then I've been seeing in a new way.

In his series of books on shamanism, Carlos Castenada talks about the importance of blurring the vision -- or other techniques such as taking fleeting sideways glimpses at an object - to throw us out of our normal mindset and our static view of reality.

My eyeblotches flick across objects, forcing me to view them longer before I can be sure what they are. The blotches play games in the corners of my sightfield, letting me see full-fleshed images of people or animals, who are gone once I turn my head.

Simultaneously, my hearing and sense of smell have increased. I can smell a scented candle through a closed door, and I can hear the multiple layers of sound in music. I have been listening raptly to the radio for the high-pitched sounds - windchimes, multiple voice tracks, and layering - I'd never noticed before.

With these new senses, I can see through the tyranny of photographs.

Recently, I received a roll of photographs and realized nearly every person looked either bloated, yellowed, flushed or distorted. Not one of them looked the way I see them, or even the way they looked to me when I snapped the picture. Granted, these were snapshots taken with a cheap camera. But I'd had this camera for nearly a decade and could not remember looking at any other rolls with such clarity.

The next roll came back the same, and after noticing the distortions in my friends' images, it was easier to forgive the ugly shot of myself.

"Is this really how I look?" I would have asked myself in the past. The answer, I now realized, was clearly no.

You might counter that a professional photographer can create a flattering portrait. She can, but only because she has the proper equipment - lenses, lights and filters - to fool the eye into seeing the way we normally do.

We don't see with light, like the camera does. We don't even see with our eyes.

When you look at someone you love, you see an image suffused with all of the wonderful things you think about them. It is as if they are bathed in a golden glow that reaches out, touches and uplifts you. It doesn't matter if he is short or if she limps. You know you are looking at a divine being, a portion of the celestial whole.

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