On Seeing and Being

Sunset Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon ©Lynne Buchanan
All Rights Reserved, Watermarked by Digimarc

The moment I learned to truly see on my cross-country journey this past fall was in the presence of this amazing group of people I met at Bryce Canyon.  Many of the participants were blind or visually impaired, even the founder of the organization who was from New York.  They had hired a tour company from St. George to experience the geological wonders of the landscape with a couple of guides in tow to point out things they might want to notice.  Happily, the governor of Utah had decided to open Bryce at 3 pm that day, following the National Park closures caused by the government shutdown, and we were all ecstatic that we were able to stand on this precipice overlooking a vast expanse of hoodoos and other strange formations. 

It was an odd experience witnessing this seemingly miraculous landscape that I thought had to “be seen to be believed” with a group of blind people.  What was before my eyes was so strange and open to interpretation.   Some hoodoos looked like animals, others like castles, and the clouds added a whole other layer of complexity.  I knew no two people with 20/20 vision would see the same thing, so I was sure the people around me were perceiving the scene very differently than I was.  Frankly, I wasn’t even sure they were actually seeing anything at first.  I thought how nice it was that someone had thought to bring them there, so that they could still experience the wonders of the world secondhand, though I was sure I was seeing it more completely.  I still didn’t get it.

As I was making photographs, I heard the guides tell them about the various colors the setting sun was painting the rocks, the particular forms before us, the sweep of the clouds, and they would nod and say, “Yes, I see that.”  I was a bit perplexed but gave them the benefit of the doubt.  Then someone would mention an aspect of the light or how a hazy form was melting into something else.   Standing on the precipice, I heard one man say he felt the vastness and commented how small it made him feel.  I realized that though their eyes would never achieve the perfect focus my lens was capable of at the right ISO, F-Stop, Aperture, and focal point using Live View, they were seeing with their whole beings.  They were seeing the connections beneath the surface of things, which has long been the goal of my photography but which has always been a bit elusive.  They didn’t need “Live View” to understand what was being rendered before their eyes.  They were seeing their place in the universe as they felt their way into the landscape.   

This, I suddenly knew, was the whole purpose of art.  I began to squint my eyes and intentionally blur my vision, so I could see tonal values.  I closed my eyes all the way and felt the breeze, the heat of the last rays of sun cutting through the cool air.  I listened to the sounds all around me and when I opened my eyes again, I saw the scene as if I was seeing the world for the first time.  It was so breathtaking in its “completeness” that I had to remind myself to breathe.  The details were almost too much to take in.  I knew my camera could never capture them all yet they were still all there in the image I made, because I was all there when I made it thanks to my “non-seeing” guides who taught me the true meaning of perception.

The Group from Echevarria Travel ©Lynne Buchanan

About the group I was blessed to meet:

Cheryl Echevarria, the founder of the travel agency, lost her eyesight to diabetic retinopathy in 2001.  After a kidney transplant and battling her illness for ten years, she decided to become a travel agent.  In 2009, she and her husband Nelson founded Echevarria Travel.  An article on this amazing woman is included in the April 2012 edition of the Braille Monitor.  For more information on the travel agency, which specializes in independent travel for all, especially the blind and disabled, visit