Tuesday, 11 November 2014

November 11th 2014 - Armistice Day

I had the absolute privilege of working with a visually impaired photographer on Sunday, up at Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. Rosita McKenzie was one of the most inspiring people I have met. At the age of 11 she became blind almost overnight and now has absolutely no visual stimuli, although as she said she may be able to distinguish between bright sunlight and dark night, but now not sure whether that's just because it 'feels different'.

She came to Hadrian's Wall with me to record a short programme which will air in February on Radio 4. More on that nearer the time. What I came away with was a real understanding of her disability, her work and her way of connecting with the landscape.

I'll come back to this topic soon, but as this is Armistice Day, she mentioned to me when we met she had just returned from visiting the poppies at the Tower of London. Wishing to take a photograph which represented what she felt about her visit there, rather than just an image of a poppy, she had the scene described to her by one of the stewards. The steward mentioned that she was looking at one of the workers tables, complete with abandoned tools and water, adjacent to the sea of poppies.

"That's it, that's the image I want to take"

Rosita's inspiration for that image was her imagination and connection to the scene around her. Her connection was that these modern tools were as it were a ghost presence of the tools of war left by the troops who died on the battlefield. Those tools of different use 100 years apart were at some point in time held by living breathing people. 100 years ago that rifle, bayonet or helmet was a tool of a now long dead soldier, today at the tower, the workers tools are similarly abandoned, only the memory of the living breathing human beings who held either set of tools remains. But what she grasped was the human endeavour, now surrounded by poppies via an image which she captured above. And I think this is the most poignant image I've seen in context of its reason for capture.

I wonder how many people visiting the sea of poppies, especially sighted people thought in that way. How many grumbled at the fact that 'that table is spoiling my view'.

In the short time I spent in Rosita's company, I learnt a lot about myself, about connecting with the landscape and about how someone who is visually impaired sees with much more clarity than I ever could. Rosita is a remarkable woman and I am privileged to have met her.

More of her work can be found here : http://rositamckenzie.co.uk/