. . . the evolution of Stone-Age man entailed a gradual dominance of vision over the other senses . . . beneath our visual selves, beneath even the old Adam, lies buried that mammalian and pre-mammalian self, which feels and smells and intuitively or instinctively apprehends. When the dominating eyes are blunted, these “older” senses again become the masters, and to that extent a new persona is born.
— Patrick Trevor-Roper,
The World through Blunted Sight
Photographs, by their very nature, ask us to experience the world through someone else’s perceptual system, to consider it as seen with someone else’s eyes. In all cases, this assumes the filtration effect of the biases of the photographer. Yet what happens when we add to that analogue of personal vision, as Robert Stivers does, a specific perceptual handicap or flaw−the inability to focus?
Individually and as a group, Stivers’s images replicate the phenomena of myopia and hypermetropia−what we commonly call near and far-sightedness, respectively. The near-sighted person cannot focus on distant objects; the far-sighted one has the opposite problem. Affliction with one or another condition is common, and of course affects one’s performance as a visual artist: Holbein, El Greco, Monet and Modigliani are only a few of those whose work gives clues to possible optical problems.
Notably, both conditions alternately rule these photographs by Stivers; regardless of its apparent distance from us within the frame, only rarely does an object appear in sharp focus, and no foreground-background relationship suggests even the possibility of a progressive clarification. Since these are the basic visual cues by which we locate ourselves in physical space, the world according to Stivers is thus an anxious place in which the vision of all is impaired, and in which no one, introvert or extrovert, can immediately feel entirely comfortable or secure.