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About the Flaneur
I walk through my blindness the way I wander down streets in Paris: unfettered and alive, alert to the raw material of the senses. I am a flaneur. Come along with me. Just don’t try to take my arm, unless I ask. What’s a flaneur? Read the first post, Return of the Flaneur to Galerie Vivienne. After that, try Foot Rage and the Blind Flaneur. Then stay tuned.
Letting Go of Sight
I’ve canoed on Lake Superior for almost as many years as I’ve been losing eyesight. I return year after year like a migrating loon to learn the other side of a slow, uncertain process that we could call “going blind.” After 35 years with the lake as my teacher, I know what lies on the other side. I call it letting go of sight. Read Big Water. See more about the Great Lakes.
Not This PigIf there is an emerging genetic underclass, I could run for class president or class clown. Read more in Not This Pig (2003).
Media in Transition @ MiT
Disabled Americans today have to negotiate for the kinds of accommodations made for FDR, and the caveat “reasonable accommodation” is built into the law. President Franklin Roosevelt did not have to negotiate. He could summon vast resources of the federal government – money as well as brains – to accomplish the work of disability. And it was accomplished with such thoroughness and efficiency that its scale could be called the Accessibility-Industrial Complex had it been directed toward public accommodations and not solely the needs of a single man. Read FDR and the Hidden Work of Disability [MiT8 2013]
Shepard Fairey claimed that his posterization of a copyrighted AP news photo of Barack Obama was a transformative work protected by the fair use doctrine. In other words, it was a shape-shifter. I claim fair use, too, when I reproduce and transform copyrighted works into media formats that are accessible to me as a blind reader. Read Shape-Shifters in the Fair Use Lab [MiT6 2009]
The social engineers who created a system for licensing beggars in New York never imagined that a blind woman had culture or could make culture. She herself may not have imagined it, either. In the moment when Paul Strand photographed her surreptitiously on the street in 1916, he could not have expected that one day blind photographers would reverse the camera’s gaze. Read Curiosity & The Blind Photographer. [MiT5 2007]
Tag Archives: Paris
A street artist in Montmartre made this sketch of my father, Bob Willis, in 2005. It’s based on a photo taken after the war which is tagged “Paris 1945.” I carried that photo in my pocket until I found a suitable artist. The challenge now in Montmartre is choosing just one while evading a flock of noisy and aggressive competitors. In commissioning this drawing I was completing a circle for me and my dad. He had carried a wedding photo of my mother throughout the war, and in Montmartre he found a street artist who turned the image into an oil painting. The price Bob negotiated was two cartons of cigarettes and a chocolate bar. Continue reading
A blind flaneur wanders into some preposterous situations from time to time. With a website like this one, preposterous situations also find him. This morning I was thrilled by an invitation to be a judge at the Writers Get Violent boxing match on Thursday night in Paris. Alas, I am in the States today, and I don’t know how I could get it together to cross the pond just now. Break my heart!
Forever: I love the way this documentary is put together. Filmmaker Heddy Honnigmann brings patience and faith to the interviews, allowing her subjects long stretches of silence to gather their thoughts and emotions. She finds extraordinarily fresh ways to tell the stories of famous artists immortalized in the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Three blind film buffs listen to a movie with Simone Signoret and Judy Garland, collectively recreating the scene from what they hear. An illustrator describes his improbable path to rendering À la recherche du temps perdu into a graphic novel, and another pilgrim to Proust’s tomb speaks passionately, in untranslated Korean, about what the master meant to him. Perhaps most affecting of all is a quiet man explaining how he tries to bring the artistic sensibility of Modigliani to his own craft – embalming corpses for burial.
The BBC Radio 4 program about les bouquinistes aired this morning, and I am thrilled to be part of it! Many thanks to producer Geoff Bird for bringing me into the process, and for Phil who alerted me to the broadcast. Listen now. Or launch the audio player from the BBC Radio 4 web page.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every man has two countries, his own and France.” By France he surely meant Paris. I know the sentiment. Pursuing this dual citizenship of the heart is one of my life’s great passions , and it’s a leitmotif of this blog.