Article Date: 1/1/2010

Portraits of AMD
reflections
THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Portraits of AMD

How do we see? Do we all see the same? And if not, how do others view the world?

ADAM HAHN, LONDON

When my grandmother passed away in 2006, I had already been investigating vision issues and I researched specifically age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which she had suffered towards the end of her life. This work eventually led to my series of portraits which were on display in New York in September, in conjunction with AMD Week, the AMD Alliance International and Lighthouse.

I was not aware at the time that AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the United Kingdom and yet so little is known or heard about it. The visual representations in the text-books, on the whole, presented AMD as a black/grey hole in the center of one's field of vision and I wanted to challenge medical journals. They were all too scientific and lacked any human content. I wanted to investigate what it was that people with AMD actually saw. Was it a concentrated black mass, or something else?

I soon contacted Prof. Pete Coffey who heads The London Project at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, who gave me the scientific grounding necessary to understand the condition and what the sufferers of AMD actually see.

He introduced me to a patient who became the first of more than 20 sitters, Dennis Lewis.

A common trait with every person I met was how lonely and often isolated they felt. Not speaking to their families and loved ones as to what they could or could not see was common with every person I met – and was true also with my grandmother.

They do not wish to worry their families or admit that they can no longer do certain things, or recognize friends or family in the street. It was sometimes difficult to comprehend the lives people led, how their peripheral vision, that we take for granted, became their lifeline. I wanted the work to give my sitters a voice, a platform with an accurate portrayal of what it is like to have AMD

On meeting each sitter I kept the lighting conditions and the distance between us as constant as possible throughout and asked what they saw of me. Asking for a detailed description of where information within their field of vision came into focus, or what was in the void is not something they were used to being asked and many sitters found it difficult to describe what they could see.

At each sitting I took a series of photographs and then manipulated a chosen photograph to the level of vision described by the sitter.

With all the information gained from each sitting and a manipulated photograph, I began the deductive process in painting each portrait. Each portrait is unique to the individual representing the level of sight experienced by each sitter.

The project would only have been possible due to the co-operation and belief of the sitters and it was their reaction to the work, when viewed at the first opening of the exhibition, that gave the portraits the necessary validation. Every sitter said I had accurately portrayed their vision. OM

Mr. Hahn is an award-winning portrait artist based in London.


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643–8139, OR -KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR, PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2010