[George Covington is a local photographer, columnist and celebrity whom people from all walks of life treasure as an inspiration. Born legally blind, with less than ten percent of normal vision, George first achieved national attention for using photography as a seeing tool. Read more of his thoughts at the Alpine Avalanche.]
Most people see to photograph. I have to photograph to see. I use the wonderful world of digital imagery to capture the faces that otherwise appear to me as a blur. My techniques are simple and easy to understand and could be used by millions of Americans with a severe visual impairment.
Although I was born with only around 10 percent of normal vision, my mobility skills were almost on the level with normally sighted children. More than thirty years ago, that small amount of vision began to slowly dwindle. I haven’t seen the large E on an eye chart in 20 years. Luckily, digital photography has allowed me to manipulate images so that I can still make out faces.
To understand how my techniques work, you must understand the nature of a photograph. A photograph is not reality, but an abstraction of reality. Millions of colors, tones, textures, and distances are reduced to a two-dimensional recreation of the world around us. These sometimes visually confusing elements are reduced to a few shades of grey in a normal black and white print. The compression of distance onto a single plane also reduces the confusion.
As my eyesight began to fail, I discovered that I could see detail in the human face in a black and white photograph better than I could see those features only a few feet away. The photograph was a high contrast abstraction of reality. I discovered that by increasing an image to a high contrast representation, I could see things that were otherwise a blur.
In the past ten years my eyesight has reached a point where I must render my portraits as photo/sketches.
I constantly carry a ten mega-pixel canon digital camera. Using a magnifying lens on the camera’s LED screen I attempt to frame my subject while cracking a few jokes that I hope will engender a genuine smile. Later I will download the images onto my large screen iMac. Using Adobe Photoshop, I will turn the full color images into black and white sketches. These high contrast sketches allow me to see faces that I would otherwise see as obscure blurs.
It has been pointed out that most of my portraits are of women. OK, I would rather see the face of an attractive woman than the face of an ugly man (ugly or not). Actually, only about 4/5 of my portraits are females. The rest are of puppies, kittens, graveyards, adobe ruins, and men.
Below are the photos and photo/sketches of a very attractive woman. I have been photographing Dona Roman, director of SRSU’s theatre program, for more than ten years, and have never gotten a bad portrait. I have photographed Anna Marie Rodriguez for six years and have gotten some of my favorite portraits from her photo/sketches. Ricardo Maestas photographs well.
I may collide with a fire hydrant, an ill-placed bench, or an uncanny hole, but as long as I can see to photograph, I’ll never be blind.