A BLIND­NESS AT THE CEN­TRE OF SEE­ING

Geist - - Endnotes -

Teju Cole, pho­tog­ra­phy critic of the New York Times Mag­a­zine, and one of the most con­sis­tently in­ter­est­ing of con­tem­po­rary writ­ers, is an heir of sorts to James Bald­win, W. G. Se­bald and John Berger. Cole’s most re­cent book, Blind Spot (Ran­dom House), a generous hard­cover printed on glossy stock, presents Cole’s pho­to­graphs on recto pages, with brief, al­lu­sive es­says on the fac­ing verso page. The book’s ti­tle refers to an in­ci­dent in 2011, when Cole awoke to find him­self blind in one eye, the blind­ness caused by pa­pil­lophlebitis, or per­fo­ra­tions to his retina. “The pho­tog­ra­phy changed af­ter that. The look­ing changed.” Cole’s es­says do not speak di­rectly to the pho­to­graphs they ac­com­pany, but, over time, themes and pre­oc­cu­pa­tions grad­u­ally emerge, the prin­ci­pal among them be­ing the medium of pho­tog­ra­phy it­self. In the text ac­com­pa­ny­ing a pho­to­graph taken in São Paolo, Brazil, Cole de­scribes a mo­ment in which he “lost faith”: “The world was now a se­ries of in­ter­leaved ap­pari­tions. The thing was an im­age that could also bear an im­age. If one of the ben­e­fits of ir­re­li­gion was an ac­cep­tance of oth­ers, that ben­e­fit was strangely echoed in the vis­ual plane, which granted the things seen within the pho­to­graphic rec­tan­gle a rad­i­cal equal­ity.” Blind Spot in­cludes a map, and an in­dex that lo­cates the pho­to­graphs: cities from Yp­si­lanti to Seminyak to La­gos to New York (Van­cou­ver, the only Cana­dian lo­ca­tion, is rep­re­sented by a pair of pho­to­graphs). As Cole puts it in a post­script: “This book stands on its own. But it can also be seen as the fourth in a quar­tet of books about the limit of vi­sion.” —Michael Hay­ward

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