It’s been a while since I gave my TED talk about my work as a visually impaired filmmaker and still occasional photographer. and like most people who spend even a little time in front of the lens, I like to go back and review my performances. Call it ego. It’s OK. I do.
This time, though, I was reviewing my TED Talk because I needed to give myself a good kick in the pants. I’ve been working on The Palette Project for quite some time now, and I’ve seen it through its many evolutions. It’s certainly fulfilled every promise I make about storytelling – if you end your journey telling the same story you set out to tell, you’re doing it wrong. With that guideline in mind, I can safely say I’m doing it right. What began as a nine month project is now into its third year of shooting. what began as a documentary is now an ongoing series, with pitches underway to networks and online platforms. What was once going to end under the Northern Lights of Norway will, if all goes as planned, end up in the first blush of an Arctic sunrise after a winter of darkness (metaphor much?).
what needs to change the most, though, is my attitude about the basics of what I do. I needed a shoulder check from courage. Thankfully Toshiro Yamamoto helped me in that area.
While I strapped on the goPro in Australia, New Zealand and Israel, I was not the primary photog, nor should I have been. The work my colleague Bobby Kirk put in south of the equator and on the other side of the world was better than anything I could ever have shot myself, vision impairment or no vision impairment. When Alon Farrago took over the DP duties in Israel, I was thankful… still am… for every frame he shot. I like to shoot, but I love to edit, so this didn’t faze me much. Well, it fazed me a little.
I mean, here I’ve given this TED talk on being a visually impaired photographer. Not a director. Not a writer. A photographer. While I knew I spoke truth about how I still manage to find the shot, take the shot and keep the shot in order to tell a story, my actual shooting days have been limited. These words work, the ones in the TED talk. I’ve experienced it for myself on the high seas off the coast of Auckland and on the dusty outback trails of King’s Canyon. What was I so scared of?
turns out, I was pretty scared of failure. Of failing myself.
To cut to the chase, I forced myself to get out there again, and this time it was without a net. I’ve been promising to shoot the story of a blind black belt I know here in San Francisco for at least a year, and a year was far too long to wait this out any longer. I decided to put my money… or at least my memory cards… where my mouth is and shoot the heck out of his training sessions at the SF Judo Institute. No shooting partners, No backups. No safety net whatsoever. Just me and everything I’ve been promoting about how, if you love something enough, you’ll find a way.
Turns out, that was exactly what I needed.
The video below is the result of my first full on outing as a solo videographer since myeyesight went from a now cherished top line of the eye chart personalbest to this world of fogs and blurs, shapes and shadows, or what I sometimes call the murky middle between being fully sighted and totally blind. The finished video? It needs work. It has lumps, but it’s mien, and I own it. Every shot and every frame.
But what does it all mean?
What did I learn? It’s more a matter of what I re-learned.
Even with a visual impairment, the rule holds. Find the action and you know where the next shot will be, with the accompanying reaction. And the reaction, which then becomes its own action, leads to its own reaction, and forever on down the chain. One person grips his opponent’s shoulder. the next reaction will probably be someone being thrown to the mat. A judo master demonstrates a technique. The reaction will be the class echoing the technique, and the reaction to that will be the master’s follow up to the class’ action. As long as you follow each reaction to the previous action, you’ll never run out of shots. And I never did.
Life exists in the tight shots. that’s where the detail and the vibrancy lies.lie. understanding and meaning exists in the wide shot. Familiarity lives in the middle. Moving in and out of those perspectives creates the depth of a story. The camera is the best tool I’ve found to explore that depth.
Take the camera where the eye doesn’t go
And not just where my eye doesn’t go. Shoot from the ground. Shoot standing on a chair. Shoot over someone’s shoulder or from behind a heavy bag, the kind you use to practice kicks and punches. Life is about unusual perspectives and unique angles. So is shooting.
I didn’t hit all my marks. In the heat of the moment, of finding focus and not getting in the middle of a good takedown, I often forgot my own rules. I’m still learning, and kind of hope I always am. Still, the story is out there, and it’s mine. Pride? Well, at least pride of ownership. I can do this, and I want more. Would you trust me behind the lens with every story? I can’t give a definitive yes to that. What I can tell you is that I can use the tools I have to tell a story. I’ve called it the crayon box principle, and if you watched that TED Talk, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
so thank you, Toshiro. You were the story, and you let me be the storyteller.