petemonk.com

petemonk.com

LEFT WITH NO CHOICE

 

I'm not a fantastic photographer, but supportive folks often tell me they see a talent for framing and picking a shot. Often such comments are accompanied by the mild complaint that they would love to have the same ability, especially as I rarely resort to cropping an image; I attempt to shoot a 'complete' picture.

A number of years ago, I was forced to literally change my view on life, and it appears to have had a significant effect on my ability as a photographer.

Photography, as with many pursuits in life, can be a tussle of varying proportions between artistic and technical matters. I tend to be an analytical person, though the artistic is strong too. I can get rather technically-oriented with f-stops, depth of field, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, lighting - and pride myself on my competency with these aspects. At the same time, I'm looking for the composition, the art in the shot. Sometimes too technical means I turn out a Japanese car: well-constructed but lacking a touch of elan, soul, emotional expression. Or, conversely, too arty and I'll frame a great shot that I'll never get again. Beautiful but technically dodgy, like an Alfa Romeo.

There's a lot going in a brain, clearly. Generally, our left brain is the process centre for logic, reasoning, mathematics, science. It is where we develop facts, rules and strategies. Our tendency, then, is for the right hemisphere to be the generator of imagination, shapes, symbols and spatial interpretation. It's true for most people that this is where we explore possibilities, estimate and explore concepts rather than be exact. It is the creativity centre of the brain.

Human beings are cross-wired in the brain department to the body. The left hemisphere of the brain mostly controls our right side, the right the left. There is no conclusive evidence as to why, merely theories. One I like is that by crossing over it creates somewhat of an automatic aid to the balance system to reduce the tax on the brain to do all the hard work. An elegant solution if correct.

Thinking about the eye, this of course means that the left hemisphere is wired to the right eye, and vice versa. That's bi-directional. Light signals received by the left eye concentrate in a nerve bundle which flows to the right hemisphere processing centre at the back of the brain. It's interesting, too, that the lens of the eye is already creating on the retina an image that's upside down and mirror image (remember pinhole camera experiments as a kid?). So there's a double-switch which occurs.

Beyond the eye, if you're right handed, that's being controlled by the left side of your brain. Generally then, if you're right handed, you're right eye dominant. It's not always the case though, and this is the interesting situation in which I find myself. 

What do we mean by 'dominant' and why? Like a hand or a foot, we rely on one of any two things we have to be the 'authority' on certain things, such as kicking, or writing. With our eyes, we must rely on one to provide the most pinpoint, precise information to be accurate in many tasks, such as taking aim. 

In 1996 I had an accident, spraying, under some pressure, a cocktail of sulphuric acid and silicon into my eyes. Don't ask how or why, just accept it as plain dumb; lifelong experience acquired just after I needed it.

It was a neat trick. The sulphuric acid burnt off the epithelium, allowing the silicon to fuse directly to the raw, exposed cornea. After two weeks of having my eyeballs scraped daily, my vision returned sufficiently in my left eye. In time, it returned almost to normal, with slight ghosting. My right, however, was left with significant scarring and has remained so, designating me legally blind in that eye to this day.

Photography to that point was a right-right pattern. Right hand use of the camera coming easy as a right-hander; right eye on the viewfinder. That's how cameras are built, I guess.

Now, I was left with no choice but to stick my left eye on it. It felt weird at first, and I became immediately annoyed by the smudge I left on the LCD display. The other thing I noticed almost immediately, is that my photos got better, to the point where I would often surprise myself. I'd frame, think about and set the technical aspects, and shoot. Later, I'd be intrigued by what I'd taken. After a short while, I also began to notice that my identification of interesting things got a bit better, too. Further, I discovered that I got faster, even subconscious in identifying what I wanted to shoot. So, artistically, in a short space of time, my photography had come on leaps and bounds. Just what was going on?

Funnily enough, with both eyes open, I could see OK. I discovered I am left eye dominant. Closing or opening my damaged right eye affects only my peripheral vision, nothing else.

As an aside, if you're not sure which of your eyes is dominant, a simple test is to stick your thumb out in front of you. Focus on it, both eyes open, then close your right eye. If your thumb moved its position slightly, you're right eye dominant. Do the double-check: open both again, then close your left eye. Your thumb should have retained its location. There's another interesting test here. (BTW, I see the dancer spinning clockwise, but can get her to move the other direction with concentration). 

For me, I'm sure there are a few things going on. First, I'm composing my images using my dominant eye. Previously, I likely had my left dominant eye, with the right, roving around the subject, then being cast aside when I went to viewfinder with my right. Secondly, my left eye must now have even more dominance, in the sense that the haze I see from my right is of lesser effect and influence than before. 

These days I don't mind the smeary marks on the LCD screen.

 

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