I don't know how many times I've been asked that question. Although admittedly, it hasn't been phrased in exactly that way. Even if the intonation seems to lead down that path. Most Irish people I've met so far, are too subtly vague to come straight out and ask me just like that. So, they usually ask me questions like, "So, you're doing what exactly, and why?". Or, "Uhuh. So you're cycling Ireland. What do you hope to accomplish?" Or, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but WHY????" I've had one fellow tell me the "Hay in your loft has gone mouldy" (or something like that). I've had people say straight out "You're just daft, that's it, right?" I've had more than one person say to me, "If you're a photographer and you can't see your photos must be shite". And admittedly, there's a little sneaking suspicion floating around in my brain that says they might just be right.
But to be honest, I know they're not, and in their inimitable, good natured, joshing way, they're just taking the mickey out of me. Having a little bit of craic in my honour.
I think it's about time that I explained exactly why I'm doing this circumnavigation of Ireland. First of all, if anyone has read the rest of my website, they'll know that I'm suffering from an eye disease/disorder called keratoconus/corneal ectasia. If you don't know that, and are only here for the cool photographs, that's great, but stop. Read the "About Us" page and then come back here. I'll wait. If you already have, great.
Oh good, you're back. So now that you've all familiarised yourselves with my condition, let's carry on.
So, why exactly am I doing this? After all, having keratoconus is not enough of a reason to leave my family behind and travel close on 3000km around Ireland with a camera. Or is it?
To give you a better idea, I'd like to include a letter that one of my daughter's wrote to me. Her name is Yehudis. And she's one heck of an amazingly great young lady (and no, I'm not biased. And even if I am, everyone else agrees). She traveled with me to Ireland for my first surgery at the Wellington Eye Clinic in 2013.
The following are her words. Unabridged.
I was with you for your first surgery in Ireland and I got to witness the change in you. From using your camera as a guide to see the world your eyes were failing to let you see, to using your camera to show the world what their eyes were refusing to see. Because you wanted to view the world the way it is and now you want the world to recognize its own beauty.
While shapes may change, the vibrant colors of the world never faded from your eyes. Who would've guessed that by sparking this tiny flame and starting photography when your vision was failing; would've ignited this passion for it even long after your eyes had been fixed. It's the kind of passion you don't just let go, you hold onto it tightly and see where the ride takes you. Because you wanted to share with the world how you see it. The unlimited possibilities, endless streams of colors. You wanted to find something, that people take for granted, something that people walk by without a second glance; and you wanted to show the world how beautiful it really is.
You see, when I first started losing my sight, I wasn't just scared, I was petrified. At first, I did what most people do when they face a personal sickness. They go through denial. Then they get angry. And then most people kind of just accept it as being inevitable and give up. But to be honest, I've never been one to give up. I refused to accept it. I decided that I would do everything in my power to not only find a way to get better, I would also find a way to give back. At first, I used photography as a means to an end. A way for me to record life around me. So that if I should lose my sight to an extent that I'd never be able to recognize my loved ones from further away than a few metres, or be able to read a book again, at least I would have recorded some moments that meant a lot to me, and I would be able to see them in my minds eye clearly, even if I couldn't see the photos that I'd taken.
After a while, photography became more than just a recording tool. It became a passion. And a crutch. Even though my eyesight was failing, people seemed to love my photos. They constantly told me that the photos brought out some real emotion that they could feel clearly. That the images I captured just feel so real. And I needed to hear that. I needed to feel that I was making a small difference in some peoples lives by showing them something that was getting harder and harder for me to see. In truth though, it felt like I was grasping at straws.
Of course, part of the journey was spending an inordinate amount of time researching my disease/disorder, and trying to winnow out the wheat from the chaff of disinformation that I found. To paraphrase what a Doctor had once said to me "Don't let the knowledge you get from the internet interfere with the experience I've gained over many years". Actually, I think it was more "Don't let my medical degree get in the way of your research".
I don't think anyone can understand the level of relief I felt when I found Dr Cummings and the Wellington Eye Clinic in Dublin Ireland. Especially after a failed first surgery at the hands of a doctor that I'll call "The butcher".
After reviewing all my previous eye scans, Dr Cummings told me that he felt that there was definitely something they could do to help me. Even if it took a number of surgeries to get there.
I knew, without a doubt, that I had found the right Doctor.
My first trip to Ireland was an interesting one. Taking the surgery component out of the picture for now, I could not see anything around me clearly. All I could see was a blurred, beautiful country. That I couldn't stop photographing. And the truth is, I really only got to enjoy Ireland quite a number of months later, after I'd gotten home, when I could finally edit my photographs from the trip. It was then that I saw the beauty that I'd missed when I was there.
Photography became even more than a passion. It became a driving force. To show the world the beauty and glory of what was right in front of them, but they were too numb, too complacent to appreciate. Or to enjoy.
And each surgery has not only helped me get closer to my goal of having normal vision, it has strengthened my belief that my role in life is to try and help others see beauty, where they just see the mundane.
So, again you may ask, "What the heck am I doing"? And I say that while recovering from my surgeries, and waiting for the next procedure, the least I can do is get out and not only talk to people about the eye disease, but to show them the world that they're missing right in front of their eyes. I have already met a taxi driver in Dublin with the same disease, and he had no idea what to do about it, or where to turn. I would like to think I was able to help him by steering him towards the Wellington Eye Clinic. I also met a wonderful couple in a caravan park who's son is autistic and had severe anxiety because his vision was failing. We spoke for awhile, and I'd like to think I helped them understand what their son was going through a little bit more. As devoted and loving parents, I know they only want the best for their dear son.
And if a picture paints a thousand words, I certainly hope that my photography can help people break free from the curse of "not seeing". Which is an age-old problem, part of the blight of being human.
After all, as it says in a verse in Chapter 115 of Psalms "They have eyes, but they do not see".