Evgen Bavčar is a photographer from Slovenia who lost both his eyes in accidents by the age of 12. He develops his photographs on contact sheets with the assistance of people who “serve as mediators between the contacts and [his] own inner reality.” The first picture he ever took was of a girl he loved; he realized then that: “I secretly discovered I could possess something that I could not see…”
His images are quite surreal, and he himself states that he takes influence from Man Ray and Malevich, using photography as a conceptual pictorial language rather than to show slices of reality.
The work here that truly deals with the photographer’s blindness is the image of the nude with hands, while elsewhere Bavčar shows his hands touching items like statues and artefacts, even street performers.
The hands work as the eyes of the artist, seeing an object by feeling its contours to discern its shape form and texture; but to my mind in many of the images they also manifest the idea of possessing something – in their multitude, the hands overpower the object they are ‘seeing’ – the colonialist idea of possession through visualization, here doubly expressed though the photographic image and the hands.
Some of his quotations are perhaps (for me) even more interesting and thought-provoking than his work:
“The pleasure I felt [when I took my first photograph] resulted from my having stolen and captured on film something that did not belong to me. It was the secret discovery of being able to possess something I could not look at.” This reclaiming of territory that is forbidden by dint of not being able to see; the pleasure that possession of forbidden fruit brings, even if one is unable to indulge in it!
“What I mean by the desire for images is that when we imagine things, we exist. I can’t belong to this world if I can’t imagine it in my own way. When a blind person says ‘I imagine’, it means he too has an inner representation of external realities.” This is perfectly illustrated by Sophie Calle’s work Les Aveugles.
“Traditional photographers are the ones who are really a little bit blind from being constantly bombarded with images. I sometimes ask them what they see, but it’s hard for them to tell me. It’s very difficult for them to find genuine images, beyond clichés. It’s the world that’s blind: there are too many images, a kind of pollution.” This idea that we are so caught up in a torrent of visual imagery we cannot create or imagine anything new. Blind photographers then are truly free.
“Having a need for images amounts to creating an internal mirror, in other words, a speculum mundi which expresses our attitude towards the reality that lies outside our body. The desire for images is consequently the work of our interior which consists of creating, based on each one of our valid points of view, a possible and acceptable object for our memory. We can only see what we know: there is no vision beyond my knowledge. The desire for images resides in the anticipation of our memory and in the optic instinct which seeks to appropriate the world’s splendor – its light and darkness.” This is like Foucault’s (1972) assertion that nothing has any meaning outside discourse– knowledge is discourse, and I cannot see beyond the objects of my knowledge. This may explain why many of Bavčar’s images are ethereal reconstructions from his childhood memories of Slovenia: