Susan Steen (2)

Steen

“While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.” ― Dorothea Lange

1987. Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Sitting at the concert, he asked her to hold his glasses so he could see the stage with his opera glasses. As any kid does, she pretended to put on the glasses, but unlike most kids, she, at 23, sat in amazement.

“Wow,” she said. “You can really see things through these!” Never could she remember having seen so clearly. He asked if she had ever had her eyes checked, which she hadn’t since she was a poor college girl. Details. That’s what she saw for the first time in who knows how long.

Lange was an amazing photographer who saw details with her camera that most of us miss with our naked eye, and her value of a photograph holds lessons for each of us. Who knows what details we’ve been missing!

We bought some really nice cookware early in our marriage. I was going to be a great cook. I didn’t become a great cook, though, so I started collecting cookbooks. I was going to be a great cook for sure with these amazing cookbooks I was picking up. If you see my husband, ask him about what a great cook I am.

I make an excellent parmesan chicken and my own version of green bean casserole, but the cookbooks and cookware did not magically turn me into an amazing cook. I spent more time learning to take photos than cook meals.

“You must have a great camera!” It’s funny how people assume if you take a great photo it must be because you have a great camera. It didn’t work with cookware or cookbooks, and it doesn’t work with cameras. Don’t get me wrong. Great cookware makes cooking easier for someone who has the vision to be a good cook to begin with, and a good camera is a tool for someone who knows how to take a good photo regardless of the camera quality.

Know what you are doing, and you will be able to make good use of the tools you’ve been given. My eyes are my best tools for taking good pictures.

In the Proust Questionnaire, Question 9 is posed Your idea of misery. For me, losing my vision would be high on the list of items I consider misery. Taking care of my eyes matters the way taking care of good cookware or great photography equipment matters. While you can replace a damaged pan or camera, purchasing new eyes (corneas) comes at a cost of $13,000-$27,000.

Beginning as a child, eyecare matters. In the United States and several other countries, eye ointment is used as soon as the baby is born. There is some question on the necessity of it today, but the idea behind it is to safeguard the baby’s eyes from certain diseases. What choices can you and I make for our children and ourselves, though, to protect this vital tool for sight?

For Children

  • Keep sharp toys out of babies’ hands;
  • Keep germy hands clean and away from eyes (think pink eye);
  • Make television watching something that happens with lights in the room turned on and the child sitting at least a few yards away from the screen;
  • Limit screen time;
  • Choose foods that will promote good eye health (spinach is actually better than carrots).

For Everyone

  • All of the above;
  • Don’t smoke;
  • Get plenty of sleep;
  • Wear sunglasses (and a hat);
  • Have your eyes examined every two years for vision and health;
  • Spend $10 on a pair of safety glasses instead of thousands to replace a cornea;
  • Don’t rub your eyes;
  • Blink.

I work in front of a screen much of the time. While I might blink my eyes when I am in a conversation, when I’m looking at a screen I don’t blink much, nor do you. The eye muscles work so hard to focus, the glands aren’t producing any lubricant, and eyes dry out. Over time, this is a real problem.

A rule of 20-20-20 is a good first step when you are working at the computer, which you might be right now. Every 20 minutes (set your stopwatch), look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Playing a video game, perusing social media? Set a timer and practice 20-20-20.  THIS is how we take care of our No. 1 tool for seeing the world. How are you doing on that?

It was the quote by Lange that brought me here — the details I see in photographs are things I might miss with the naked eye in a momentary glance. The texture in the feathers of the bird, the tears on the rim of an eyelid, or the shades of pink in the evening sunset — I want to see the details. Vision matters.

The same detail matters in my vision of life. When I do not pay attention to things which change, my vision stays mired in a view that is no longer helpful. As Helen Keller beautifully noted, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but not vision.”

Whether it is the two orbs in the sockets on my face or the mind that has every opportunity to see the good in the world, being able to see matters. I don’t want to miss the details because I didn’t take care of my vision, and I don’t want to have sight but no vision. I am so glad I looked through his glasses at that concert because it was only when I saw clearly that I realized how cloudy my view had been.

Recommended for you