Seeing in Isolation 2

In a bright room a woman in a red top stands behind an item of furniture covered by a white sheet.

In the time of the Coronavirus pandemic second lockdown I had to move. This photograph was made shortly after I had decided not to adapt my home for further sight loss, but instead to return to where I had been living for eight years to be nearer my eye care.


These timed self-portraits were a leap into the unknown. As a child I learnt that a friend of my English grandfather used to take the family photographs my mother would send from South Africa and scratch out my face with a ballpoint pen. She only wished to see beautiful people. A round-faced girl peering from behind glasses with thick lenses was not a pretty sight. This left an indelible impression on me and has influenced my approach to photographing in an attempt to be sensitive to how people are judged by their appearance.

I decided to turn the gaze on myself in April 2020 as part of my commission with Multistory to explore my ongoing sight loss. This included showing my night and morning medication ritual, a necessity in monitoring the high eye pressure due to glaucoma. I wished to convey how the world draws in and becomes dark, though it might be a glorious sunny day or a brightly lit room.

A woman in dark clothes steps through a door down into a kitchen. Her right hand touches a sideboard, a folded stepladder leans on the wall.

This was my first attempt at a timed self-portrait. I wanted to show how I locate things by touch and navigate an interior. Many period houses in England have dimly lit interiors. I find it easier to switch off my seeing and rely on my feet and fingers.

A woman stands at a sink looking out of a window into the night. Water from the tap runs over her right hand, her left rests on a cloth.

It took me nearly three hours to do this self-portrait. I placed myself at the kitchen sink in the space between the corner of the wall and the window frame to see if I could maximise the reflection and still convey the feeling of running water through my fingertips.

A nude woman stands with her back to the camera. Her front and face are reflected in a window against the night sky.

The pink moon in April 2020 was bright enough for me to use the soft light and photograph myself looking out from my loft room at trees beyond. It was in the early hours of the morning and, except for the call of an owl, there was no other sound.

So much of my seeing is fragmented and internalised nowadays. Crucially, with sight loss comes a sense of isolation. I am learning a great deal making these self-portraits about how I navigate space; how I can't see the lens but have a sense of the camera's presence, comforting, like an old friend; and how I try and frame and define what I can see.

I have been told by people who have lost all functioning sight that visual memory fades without daily reference. Days like those when I photographed myself on the golf course may in time turn into sensations. I am training my mind to store what images it can; and in this instance, by using myself I am intent on capturing my facial expressions, body shape and posture for the future. This way of working is part of a wider exploration of whether people with limited or no sight in time draw on a combination of immediate sensations and the imagined from past experience.

A woman in profile sits on the edge of a bed, her head titled back to squeeze a drop from an ampoule into one eye.

Due to the glaucoma I have to administer eye drops morning and evening to avoid an increase in eye pressure. This was made in the morning. I wanted to include the rainbows from a large crystal I had in the window.

A woman in profile sits on the edge of a bed, her head titled back to squeeze drops from a white bottle into one eye.

High inter-ocular pressure is not something I can feel, but the damage to my retina is irreversible. This was made in the evening before going to bed.

A woman dressed in black sits at a kitchen table in a dark room, gazing upwards as if lost in thought.

The pragmatist in me likes to think ahead to ensure I can retain as much of my independence as possible. Part of this series is to feel for myself what it may be like in the future to live in darkness.

A woman runs barefoot on a manicured golf course with a look of joy on her face. Sunglasses on a strap bob around her neck.

The thought of running barefoot on freshly mown grass compelled me to photograph myself with the golf course bunkers. I wanted to feel like I could take off down the hill.

© Karren Visser. Seeing in Isolation, produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.