“I finally went blind when I was thirteen years old, and it was the loss of my sight that took me to places I might never have seen.”
Distortion of vision is a recurring theme in The Lantern, whether that is real or metaphorical blindness, or the fear and uncertainty of doubting what one sees. Visual illusions can be produced deliberately, as with a zoetrope, the cinematic cylinder that makes pictures appear to move, or the eyes can dissolve the world in common ways – by myopia, for example.
This mesmerizing abstract photograph is titled The Garden of Earthly Delights. It is by Leovi, a Spanish photographic artist whose work I have come to know and appreciate over the past few months. For me – though others may see very different images – there is a Pre-Raphaelite quality about this piece: rich Victorian stained glass windows; a silken flow of robes, draping into darkness. A woman is lying back in the top left quarter, and in the play of water and glassiness and light there are shades of Millais’ Ophelia drowned in the stream of flowers.
If the point of these abstracts is to induce a sense of infinite possibility in which the only boundary is the limit of the imagination, this one seems to me a perfect illustration of the imagination itself, and of the fearful distortions inherent in loss of sight. Because part of the draw of this picture is a powerful frisson of the unknown. Who has not, at some point, experienced a visual disturbance – whether an unexpected trick of the light, or a blind spot caused by staring too intently at a light or fixed point – and feared that something was wrong, that the effect might be permanent?
And here that is (though again, perhaps only to me, with my particular preoccupation) distilled into this beautiful but treacherous scene, with its underwater quality, cut off from salvation, as the river weeds wave and the world above of air and light is slipping away.
The second abstract makes me think of amber, and vintage perfume bottles from the Art Deco era; the possibilities that this image, in a form of synaesthesia, somehow holds an opulent scent. The colours are warm and subtle, the kind of shades that compare with blushful fruit: peach and apricot, raspberry and plum. What does it depict? I don’t know. Leovi never tells us, though he does occasionally give titles.
But these pictures make us think, and the very act of staring into their essence relates to the loss of sight - the examination of objects ever closer to the eye to search for meaning.