By Touching a Rent. By Gerald Pirner

Gerald Pirner, essayist and photographer

For a blind person – or rather, for somebody who has gone blind – the absence of a visual image releases a flood of inner images which engulf all the senses at once. If a blind person touches an object, that touch is transformed into images which rise up inside him. The same happens with sound and smell: without a visual image, all the sensory experiences of the blind man overwhelm him with internal images, precisely because they are not held in check, or dominated, or domesticated by an external visual image which repulses them, conceals them behind itself. For its part, the inner image extends well beyond the eye’s visual image: it is born blindly of the body and grows for as long as the touch lasts.
As if it had eyes in every pore of its skin, the hand of the blind person looks at everything it touches. The “touching eye” encompasses everything that comes close to it: sounds, smells, the touch of an object, a person, being touched by others. But all this, through memory and reflecting on appearance, transforms that flood of images into a thick fabric, coagulates temporal appearance in the substance of the body, and transforms that very substance into imagination, where the blind person dwells as in a cocoon. And it is just this imagination which appears to the blind person as a still image that encloses him once again in himself, becoming as it were the other face of the protective cocoon: like a curtain that becomes a second skin. The inner, imaginary image of the blind person, and this alone, thus springs from all his senses and forms a tissue of images, conjured by those same senses, and which – through the attention paid to an individual sense – can be torn again, indeed must be torn, otherwise the blind person would find himself in an illusory, almost hallucinatory, world which could submerge him in somnabulism and render him totally unfit to cope with reality.
Back to the hand
A further, careful touch of the hand results in a rent in the fabric of inner and imaginary images – a rent which, despite everything, through touch conjures up more images which then try to repair the rent caused by the hand itself. To deal with this almost infinite experience of his own sensory perceptions, to interrupt and at the same time banish it, the photographer who has gone blind builds images from memory, from what he has seen, in order to change them into sensations. This gives rise to completely different worlds which he will undoubtedly have to let sighted people describe to him again, but which are reflected in his memory precisely because he knows them, because he himself has created them, and which he needs to recreate in real terms so that they do not elude him in his dreams or assail him on all sides. So, on the one hand, touch interrupts the image while, on the other, it continues the image with other means that serve to generate images completely different from the initial concept. From the blind person’s gaze on the world which he used to see there arises, through the exercise of touch, a sort of mirror world which allows the blind person’s sight to emerge from his sensations, his corporeity, in a way that is completely new and different. On the models he photographs, he allows his touch to become light. The lamp takes on the role of skin and, at the same time, paintbrush. But the worlds which the blind person builds are not merely intended as interior furnishing; they are worlds bedecked with images retrieved from memory, images that beset him in a fantastic manner and are often drawn from art history and cinema.
Poses and gestures appear from film scenes in Polanski, Pasolini, Buñuel or Herzog, images from Francis Bacon and Caravaggio, but included in a completely different context: the products of his obsessions, his nightmares, which gel anew in real images, in photographs, bent on holding back the flood of inner images. At the same time, a cabinet of mirrors is created, from which to release the memory of one’s own body as actor. Like the somnambulist prisoner in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, forced by a madman to plunder his dreams, the blind person freezes the images to render them harmless. The blind photographer does not see his photographs visually, he traces them in a mixture of staging and conceptual art, so that when they are described by sighted people, on the one hand his inner images are mirrored, but they can also extinguish themselves through a sort of duplication, as in a collision between matter and antimatter. The description of the photo, essential for his work, becomes the black fluid in which he immerses himself, as in Cocteau’s film where Orpheus encounters the weeping Death, played by a woman.

The second way: the emancipation of the blind skin from the gaze of the sighted

Because of the awkwardness of using touch to create images, whose beauty can be described again only by the sighted, the blind person withdraws completely into his touching and considers that touching something that always tears even what or who has already been touched. In the absence of an image, every touch of the hand on another’s body causes a rent, just as it does on himself; the tear occurs in his body, too. In the wake of this experience of contact without image, photographs are created which, in their fragmentation, trace the blind touch. We should focus now on the self-portrait because, in the act of self-touching, we apprehend the torn image once again, though in a completely different way, in the experience of the tearing self-touch.
So going blind can be understood as the blind person’s emancipation from the voracity of the seeing eye, and he himself can verify this by touching – a touch which, while feeling, becomes time and duration. In a show of his photographs at the Galerie FHoch3 in Berlino, the blind photographer exhibits self-portraits complete with texts – partly concepts underlying the images, partly poetic descriptions, partly accounts of how they came about which the photographer himself has recorded in his own voice and can be heard on a mobile phone via a QR code. We move from his first self-portrait in which he traces the process of his own blindness, caused by retinitus pigmentosa, through the reduction of the self-portrait to a single pose, until we come to the transformation into image of the concept of Christianity based on Nietzsche’s philosophy, via a film of Marin Scorsese’s and Kafka’s story, “Conversation with the Supplicant”: autobiography is intertwined with an aesthetic nourished by touch, no longer understood merely as tenderness, but as a tearing assault which rends the image of three-dimensionality so as to reduce it to the protective two-dimensionality of the photograph.