If you boil a potato long enough; it will become soft. Boil an egg long enough and it will become hard. What’s the point? It doesn’t matter what or who you are, everyone has similar attributes but it is how you react to the situation you are put in. That isn’t something I came up with but it is a really bad attempt at a paraphrase. The point is all of us have something we need to overcome no matter what our situation is. Even if we don’t notice it, there is probably something there. The ultimate question is how are we going to deal with it?
Over the past ten days, I have had one of those streaks where I have had more doctor appointments than I would really have liked but they were necessary so there I was. Although I knew what some of the results were beforehand, every one of them presented me with something fairly new.
After 9 years of being in the military and being around things that go “BOOM” I have now lost enough hearing to where I get to wear hearing aids. The nerve damage in my legs is progressing to where my hips are becoming involved. The cortisone injections in my shoulders just aren’t as effective anymore (torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders). And then there are a couple of other things as well.
I’m not saying all of this to garner sympathy, they are a simple fact. These are not things that will stop me in life however they do present new challenges for me. Like all of you, I have the same makeup but I now need to adjust even more.
Even knowing most of these things were going to occur it didn’t help me mentally. They may seem small but in 10 days hearing that you now have 6 new or advancing conditions just plays with your mind. So how did I handle these changes? Well: at the end of it I pouted quite a bit for a day or two. It was a lot to take in.
If you are fortunate that you don’t have to deal with any physical issues I am extremely happy for you. I am always curious how people would respond if they actually had to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”
In my first Analog [dis?]ability article on May 17th 2018, I spoke about photography as a tool for healing and mentioned that I have a problem with a neuropathy in all four limbs. To expand a little: I am to the point where if I am not wearing braces on both legs I am the guy who will trip over a crack in the floor. Even carpet reaches up to trip me. In short: my feet don’t lift up high enough in a normal walk to prevent me from tripping and doing a face plant. The neuropathy continues to move up my legs. I am losing muscle mass and nerve function. My hands and arms: that is a chapter in itself. Even though my eyesight is lousy without my glasses, I still have my sight.
Yet: I am incredibly grateful (minus the pain) that I still have all four limbs, ten fingers, ten toes and my sight.
Other people’s shoes
There’s no question: I have had to adapt where and how I shoot. Every time I want to go out to a specific location I have to stop and research. Things like what the terrain is like, how far is the shoot from the road, what temperatures I can expect in each season, planning is involved in everything I do.
No longer do I just throw everything in the truck and head out.
In the coming months, one of the challenges I am going to throw out there is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try to understand what others experience when it comes to photography with different challenges. Give it a try for 5, 10, or 30 minutes… or longer if you can.
Your first challenge is to try to replicate yours truly… (Don’t do them one at a time. You have to try to make all of these happen at one time. What fun would it be if it was one at a time?)
Hands: If you can find X-Large or even larger surgical type gloves and put on 2-3 pairs. This is the best way I have found to have someone experience lack of sensation that so many people experience. Once you have the gloves on and you have determined that your tactile senses are gone, you will want to operate your camera. Load film, load a memory card, focus, change f-stops, etc.… Shoot, develop, etc.… You get the idea.
Why? There are a lot of different diseases out there which affect the tactile abilities people have. You will be amazed at how difficult things are when you suddenly have no feeling in your fingertips/hands. Try to go as long as you can through the day with just basic chores.
Feet: This one can be a little more challenging but not impossible. Find a pair of boots (not shoes) that are a couple of sizes too big for you. If you are a man and wear a size 11 or 12 (or larger), good luck on finding a size 13-14; but do your best. Or try to figure out a way to get your feet in a situation where they are flopping around. The reason I say boots is they are traditionally more solid than running or walking shoes. They are less forgiving. Go out to uneven ground or your favorite trail and take a hike for about 20-30 minutes. Oh: make sure you take someone with you. It’s worth the laugh as well as you may need someone to carry you back.
Why? When your feet stop working, you would be amazed at how much energy it takes out of you. What would normally be an enjoyable walk on a flat surface you will find yourself exhausted after a short period. When your feet don’t work properly, trying to walk on an uneven surface like rocks, a trail or even an uneven field is pretty dangerous. Take into account that the muscle and tendons in our ankles are no longer healthy so every step we are taking a chance on breaking something for no other reason than we stepped on something slightly uneven. Beware of extreme hip pain with this one…
Arms: This one is a little more difficult. Because of the falls and other injuries I have had in the past I now have torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders. Neither shoulder can be repaired. I have limited range of motion, and once I get past a certain point the pain will almost drop you to the ground (and I have a really high pain tolerance after all these years). Put both arms to your sides: you are only allowed to move them away from your body (outward to the side) about 7-8 inches. You get an allowance of moving them straight ahead by about 10”. Now, you can move your elbows any which way, shape and form. It’s the 7” and 10” that are important. Anything over about 3-4 pounds is almost impossible. Remember that you can’t reach behind you; you can’t reach to the floor. (Also remember that your grip is hindered as well. Imagine those gloves you have on covered in oil)
Why? When you have limited use of your arms, even bringing a camera to your eye to focus is a challenge. It means that you are learning to somehow keep you elbows right next to your body without ever “chicken winging” it. It is a great way to learn to use your body as a tripod; yet you learn to take your head to your camera. The hardest thing about this challenge is there is no way I can introduce the pain that comes along with every movement. I’m glad that I can’t…
Adapt, Overcome and Adjust
I mentioned that I have had to adapt the way I shoot, how I find where I am going and so many other things. Here are some of the things I have personally had to do. They don’t sound extreme, however, when you were shooting for almost 25 years without thinking twice, it has been a huge pain in the… well: wherever you have a pain.
Finding locations that no one else may notice: I have stopped looking for the shots and locations that everyone else is getting. I hope most of us are doing this already. Your eye really starts to train on things that no one else typically sees as you have to shoot closer to the road. Eventually, you will find yourself noticing that everything is a potential shot. This drives my family crazy as I am pointing out the shadows, lines and possible shots every time we go somewhere.
Be unique and challenge yourself.
Take yourself out of the comfort zone. If you have normally shot landscape, see what street photography does for you. How about trying some portraits? On my bad days, changing the style I have traditionally shot has opened up a lot of possibilities.
Start using a tripod if you don’t. Do you possibly need a lighter weight camera? I switched to an Intrepid 4×5 which is an incredible camera. What else is going to make that photo shoot easier?
Stop watching gear reviews on YouTube, and find what works for your specific needs. When you start losing abilities people who are doing gear reviews aren’t thinking about those issues.
If you have to switch gear or buy new gear as I did: do a lot of research. Don’t be afraid to ask others questions about the gear you are looking at. If you are possibly switching to Digital, there are a lot of companies out there you can rent from. It is cheaper than buying a camera to realize it just isn’t going to work for you.
I need someone to help me drive long distances now. I just can’t do them anymore. This one really throws a major problem into any thought of that Great Photo Tour.
One way those long photo tours/trips can take place when I don’t have someone to tag along, and I’m pretty sure every country has them: the train system. Here in the States Amtrak has some great deals that you can get.
- Medications: It doesn’t matter how long or short of a time period I’m going for, they are going with me.
- First aid: I have a different kit than most people. I have specific needs.
- Someone ALWAYS knows where I am going; when I get there as well as when I leave.
- I always scope out the area I am going first. Temperatures, ground cover, accessibility and anything else I can think of.
- Where’s the nearest hospital? (This one sucks just thinking about it)
- Is my phone going to work where I am going?
Most of these items are things I hope anyone does. At least to some degree no matter what your situation is or who you are. The thing is: I don’t really have a choice, these are mandatory.
This might sound a lot like complaining but I’m not. I am honestly grateful for each photography trip I can make, and grateful that I am still able to make photographs in spite of ongoing and increasing physical impediment. If you are in a similar position to mine, perhaps this article will work more as an inspiration than a moan. You tell me.
In spite of everything I am going through, I can still take an active part in pursuing one of my life’s greatest loves, as I hope these photographs help demonstrate. I’ve tried to provide some notes about how I captured each in the context of that ‘planning’ above.
Yes, every year that passes requires me to re-evaluate and adjust based on my changing needs. Yes, there are times when I have to adjust month-to-month but however painful things are, or as difficult as it becomes, I have yet to find a reason to let this… well, crap, stop me from going out. Mentally that was not an easy thing to do. It was much easier to sit back and throw a pity party for myself. I get it. I really do.
I hope you will accept this first challenge and keep in mind why you are doing it. Maybe; just maybe you can help someone who has given up OR wants to shoot but is afraid something like this is stopping them.
Share your knowledge, story or project
At the heart of EMULSIVE is the concept of helping promote the transfer of knowledge across the film photography community. You can support this goal by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this personal passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and giving as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.