Triads of Trust I: Imageless Trust
by Gerald Pirner, photographer
The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas has a blind man walk down the street at night with a torch, and, when asked why he, as a blind man, is carrying a torch when he can’t see anything, he has him answer: so that he can be seen.
The photographic method of light painting equips a blind person with a torch to render people visible out of the darkness. With the light in one hand and the other hand touching the model’s body, a very special kind of relationship develops between the two, which has little to do with conventional portrait photography of sighted people.
Such a relationship is founded on something unspoken, it is founded on a trust that seems to develop in the moment, since it is portrait sessions with a blind photographer that are advertised. In conversations with the women, and at the beginning it is exclusively women who want to be photographed by the blind photographer, it turns out that many of the women have problems having their portraits taken by sighted photographers, or even refrain from doing so altogether.
So what happens in such a moment of the emergence of trust, a moment of imageless communication, whose core is precisely this imagelessness, because the whole scene unfolds in darkness, none of the participants can see anything here, especially since the blind photographer always has his models close their eyes first.
Beyond, perhaps also behind the image, a reflection seems to emerge, a reflection that gives rise to trust itself, a reflection that has nothing to do with visuality, but which feeds all the more on the sensing of an emerging closeness.
A hand comes out of the darkness, palpably approaches the model and a voice says what the hand, and the light in the other hand, will do and the model allows all this, surrenders to the hand and the actions of a stranger. In this haptic-tactile reflection, in which the model feels themselves against the photographer’s body, the photographer’s voice contributes to a completely different kind of mirroring emerging in the model’s mental image.
Between touch and voice, therefore, a space is created for the model that is perceived by sighted people as something in which and from which a different imagination, a different kind of imaginative power develops: a space is created in physical proximity to the blind person, into which sighted people also enter in order to live a resonance that wants to take the place of visual reflection.
Where there is no longer any visual image to be seen, the human being opens up in order to allow a new image to emerge from within themselves in the reflection of a visually incalculable proximity. The blind person, for his part, enters into this relationship completely without preconception, carried, of course, by an image of the production of the image, which he will develop in accordance with a composition. The mutual vulnerability, which on top of everything else is put to the test by the fact that the blind man has to touch the model with his hand in order to feel them, to sense them, not to touch them.
A certain level of trust arises, which grows out of the imageless powerlessness, which wants to find and sense a situation of encounter with the absolutely different, something utterly, imagelessly foreign.
The trust of the sighted towards the blind man arises from the very knowledge of this perpetual vulnerability of the blind man, whom no image protects, with which he is able to hide himself from all seeing, behind an image as a visible wall against the other, supported by his eyes. Indeed, the eyes of a sighted person protect not only through their sight, above all they also protect through the ability of the eyes to put other sighted people in their place and to keep them there.
Perhaps blind trust is a trust in a world behind the image, just as there must be a world behind the mirror to which the foreign in our own self could aspire so that it might become visible from an imagelessness, can become image from imagelessness.
In blind photography, trust develops between two people, an opening up of the model and a blind person who within himself sees a completely different image arising, an image that has nothing to do with optics. A blind person’s image is fed by sense, smell and by what they hear. And yet: where the separating power of the image is absent, perhaps something unfolds out of the other and its trace that no longer wants to lose itself in the image, that only wants to entrust itself to a closeness – even if only brief – of the imageless in order to be able to see itself in its own foreign image, in a black mirror, so to speak, that leads the gaze behind itself.
The trust of the sighted towards a blind person in photography consists of the risk of wanting to engage with a completely different image of themselves.
The model does not want to see themselves, they want to see a documentation of the relationship that arises in the photography with a blind person. They want an image without distance, an image that arises from a trusting submission to themselves, that can arise in the absence of visual control. And the image that emerges is ultimately only a document of a trusting relationship, no matter how brief, a relationship with one who does not see the other. Sighted people trustingly see the blind person, as a photographer, as a new path to their own image, wanting to recognise in it what is unseen in themselves.
The basis of this kind of relationship of trust is an aversion to the image, an aversion to the power structure carried by the image, the hierarchy between photographer and model that is always at work, it is perhaps a reversal of such a relationship, where at the end there is a model who describes the image created of themselves to the photographer, who, though he created it, does not see its result, created it unseen, formed it in line with an inner image.
Not simply trust, then, but rather a doubled trust: the model’s trust in an imageless, unassured closeness to themselves that is not disturbed by any image, not even by an imagination of a sighted person, and the trust of a blind person to whom the images are described in such a way that he can recognise such trust in the description of his image that he is able to further develop his images in the image.