On Aphantasia

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I have Aphantasia (Zeman et al., 2015). This means that I do not have the ability to visualise. I cannot ‘see’ in visual imagery. I cannot picture objects, people or places in my ‘mind’s eye’ (whatever that is) in the same way that, apparently, most people can. Until relatively recently I assumed when people talked about ‘seeing’ things or ‘visualising’ they were just using a metaphor for thinking, or maybe conceptualising. However, it transpires that for an estimated 98% of the population, ‘visualisation’ does indeed mean ‘visualisation’, albeit at different degrees of clarity. The other 2%, like me, see… black! This is not necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing, but it is a thing. At the very least, it is one example of the natural variation between human brains, and how people perceive the world.

I have been called a ‘visual thinker’ more than once, because a lot of my academic work has involved, or been accompanied by, drawing, photography or other visual media. However, while I do not think in pictures, I do find it useful to think with pictures. Here, drawing could perhaps be understood as a kind of ‘extended cognition’ (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). My drawings etc are not reproductions of what I ‘see’ in my mind. Creating or using visuals helps me to think – extends my thinking – in ways which my brain does not otherwise allow.

References / resources:

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. analysis, 58(1), 7-19.

Zeman, A. Z., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. (2015). Lives without imagery-Congenital aphantasia.

There’s an interesting Podcast on Aphantasia here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000h0ff

An article on the ex-chief of Pixar and his Aphantasia: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47830256

The Aphantasia Network is here: https://aphantasia.com

Positive Negatives (part 2)

‘The act of creation saves us from despair – a phrase that keeps repeating in my head’ – Sullen Welsh Heart, Manic Street Preachers

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The Covid-19 imposed lockdown has meant that I cannot go out taking photographs as I usually would. However, it has given me a little more time for home developing. It is rare for me not to develop a film immediately, but sometimes life gets in the way and my need for timely completion of a project has to be put momentarily to one side.

One of the many things I like about film photography, as opposed to its digital equivalent, is that the act of creation is prolonged long beyond the moment of capture, particularly if you develop your own films. The processes involved in home development are, in themselves, something I find comforting and the relief when a string of negatives emerge complete from the tank is worth every second of carefully timed manipulation and attention.

I have not had much time recently to play with darkroom enlarging, so these are just home scanned negatives – but even this process is not without its surprises, and I quite enjoy seeing the dust and individual strands of hair that get tangled up in the process, adding character.

Here are a few recent photos. Ironically, I guess, even when I am free to roam, most of my photographs tend to depict isolation of one kind or other…

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New Visual Communication Article

I had an article published in Visual Communication but didn’t post about it online at the time due to the digital picket. It is about employing artistic responses to sensory data in order to resist established discourses. It has also got some pics in it.

Visualizing lived experience: mapping the soundscape of an after-school Minecraft club

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Abstract: This article demonstrates the power of employing alternative, interpretative analysis techniques in ethnographic work. The author argues for the role of sensory interpretation as a valid and necessary method of analytical enquiry, particularly to challenge existing dominant, primarily written discourses that often strive for unrealistic empirical objectivity. In order to make this argument, he demonstrates a combined sonic/visual, interpretative approach to analysis, developed to explore the lived experience of a group of children in an after-school club that took place in and around the world-building videogame Minecraft. Here, inspired by research which takes artistic and exploratory approaches towards knowing, the author employs interpretative drawing as an analytical move. Underpinned by the work of Deleuze and Guattari (see A Thousand Plateaus, 1987: 12), the author produces a visual ‘map’ of soundscape data as a means of exploring potentially side-lined aspects of lived experience, through a process of resemiotization. Developing this sonic/visual approach in context – a process that had an impact on both the analyst and the analysis – helped to shed new light on the site under investigation. As such, this article builds on other analyses of sound in children’s social and educational experience by proposing that interpretative, visual responses to soundscape data can add value to otherwise purely written, or purely sonic, accounts.

It’s here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1470357220904384 

Shout me if you don’t have access and want to read it.

Epilepsy Awareness Day

Today, as well as being day xxx of the global Coronovirus Pandemic, is Epilepsy Awareness Day. Epilepsy awareness has come into my life in a pretty significant way over the last couple of years.

A bit of context – at around 6 months old, last year, our daughter Orla started having seizures and was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy called West Syndrome. In short, Wests can be REALLY BAD. We will forever be indebted to the UKIST charity, as without their website we probably would not have recognised the type of seizures that Orla was having and she would not have got treatment so quickly. Wests is so rare that a number of medical professionals did not recognise her seizures and it was only because we were equipped with this knowledge that we were able or argue for the urgency of Orla’s need.

Epilepsy Awareness, you see, is vital.

To our cautious relief, after two gruelling courses of steroids, numerous MRIs and EEGs, and other medication Orla has been seizure free for six months. She faces a number of challenges but the epilepsy was being held at bay…

… until Saturday, now 17 months old, in the midst of Covid-19, Orla started with a different form of seizure, every two hours, day and night. Twelve seizures per day.

As the brilliant epilepsy nurse said to me over the phone, “There probably isn’t a worse time for this to be happening”. Gulp.

However, we were given a face-to-face emergency appointment with her consultant yesterday. She’s amazing, our consultant. Incredibly clever AND kind.

The seizures that she is having now seem to be focal seizures, so not the same kind of epilepsy as before. She has been prescribed two types of medication to try, as well as having an emergency EEG this morning to try to find out more. Nowhere had the meds in stock yesterday so hoping they have them ready for today.

Again, thanks for being kind, people. I know everyone’s got their own personal issues they’re going through at the moment.

And I’m sure it doesn’t need saying but please stay at home in order to free up the NHS to provide all of its essential services in these exceptionally difficult times.

[Orla pictured yesterday.]

Update: Sadly Orla’s EEG results showed signs of the return of West’s Syndrome. She’s started another course of steroids today, meaning she is immunosupressed and therefore vulnerable to Coronavirus. We are all now self isolating for at least 12 weeks.

 

Positive Negatives (Part 1)

Just prior to his death from pancreatic cancer in August 2017, whist still in possession of just enough manual dexterity to manoeuvre small objects in his hands, my father in law loaded a black and white film into his 35mm camera for the final time and shot a roll of photographs of (and possibly for) my daughter, who was three at the time.

Some time after he died I took the roll to be developed, returning to the lab a couple of days later to find that he had sadly loaded the camera incorrectly and the reel of film remained unexposed. Disappointed, and consoled by the sympathetic sales assistant who at least didn’t charge me for the development, I nevertheless pledged to learn how to operate this camera – a classic Canon AE-1 SLR – and take a roll of photos of my daughter, in his memory.

A couple of years somehow passed and I finally found time to load up the camera to tentatively take some photos. My daughter, the original beloved subject, now almost five years old, was accompanied by my second daughter, born the year after my father in law’s death. This time, sending off my own (colour) film to be developed, I noted the excitement involved in awaiting processed photos and their accompanying negatives, a feeling of anticipation recognisable from my childhood but lost since the advent of instant digital photography.

My photos returned, a little out of focus and underexposed, but mercifully not blank. These pictures, at least for me, served as a small memento honouring my father in law’s intention, but also as a record of my two children now fixed in time on 35mm negative, in their materiality somehow distinct from the kind of daily digital photographs contained as data on my phone and shared liberally with family via email and on social media.

I noted that the quality of the image, composed of grain rather than pin sharp pixels, possessed a certain rich, evocative aura. The colours were rendered beautifully, in a way that initially, for me, evoked something of the past. Of course this association with the past only really arises because film photography, as a practice, is itself associated with history, superseded more recently for many by the ubiquity and convenience of digital.

Rather than being archaic, however, film generates particular visual renderings of the world that digital does not – unless through intentional post-processing. Through these photos I felt I had returned not only to a way of representing the world that I thought I had lost but also, somehow, had reconnected to a world in and of itself that I had forgotten ever existed.

Until the advent of digital we viewed the world, on paper and screen, through renderings made using light hitting physical film, rather than light and sensor technology. Our world’s transition from colour to black and white, with the birth of colour film, was perhaps less subtle and more blatant. But how, I wonder, has a transition from film to digital shifted how we perceive the world around us?

I can’t hope to fully answer this here, but it is a question that I now carry with me, as a result of this first (of many) reintroductions to film.

 

New project

I am working on a new research project, looking at meanings made around graffiti – more details here…

'live, love, graff...'

74229CEC-3478-47A1-9ED4-FE8F8834D43E [artist unknown] ‘Slow Graffiti’ is the website for a research project that intends to explore the socio-cultural meanings made around graffiti, created and located in one city. Whilst a range of studies examine graffiti as an (anti-) social cultural practice (Ross, 2016; Avramidis & Tsilimpounidi, 2016), there is limited work using new literacies (Street, 1997) as a lens for exploring streetart’s contribution to a city’s ‘textual landscape’ (Carrington, 2005). I position graffiti writing as a multimodal (Kress, 2009) literacy practice, situated within in a particular local and cultural context. Whilst recent work has encouraged taking a multimodal perpective on graffiti (Edwards-Vandenhoek, 2016) this has only been on the basis of the analysis of still photographic images, and therefore I intend to extend this approach to involve the voices and insights of other participants. Work which takes a new literacies approach to graffiti is sparse, the exceptions being DaSilva-Iddings, McCafferty, &…

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