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Developing From a Negative

Photo: Taelar Pollmann ⋅ The Sentry

A Blind Homunculus

In order to explain the ability to visualize inside one’s head there was once a belief that a small person or a “homunculus” lived inside the head and viewed the internal images in the same manner we watch movies in the theater.  This theory has long been debunked but if it was true my homunculus would be blind.

I made it through 25 years of life before I discovered that other people can truly see things inside their heads and the saying, “visualize in your head” was meant to be taken literally.  I, on the other hand, have no mind’s eyes.  I am unable to recall the visual side of memories or even conjure up the likeness of a good friend in my mind.

This is a condition referred to as aphantasia and I am an aphantasiac. It was first discovered in the 1880s but has remained largely unstudied until 2015 when a professor at the University of Exeter published a study on this phenomenon.

I recently used the analogy that my brain is like an analog camera with a broken shutter while everyone else is using the latest mirrorless technology to capture their lives.

This revelation gave a lot of clarity to my life. It explained instantly why I’ve preferred visual story telling to reading a book or why I can’t draw beyond basic stick figures.

I am not sad in any way to know that I have limitations that are out of my control.  In some ways, I believe this condition to be more of a superpower in relation to photography.  Since pursing this career in a serious manner I’ve heard from several people that, “You must see the world in a different way then the rest of us.  It is the only way to explain how you can be such a good photographer,” and now I have proof that I do indeed perceive the visual world in a different manner than most.

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