John Hoerner – Blind Photographer

I have always seen myself as a visual person. Now, having lost most of my sight, I am more passionate than ever about my vision of the world around me.

Studying electronics at RMIT gave me a taste for technology and in 1960 John Hoerner Hi Fi Stereo opened as one of Melbourne’s first Stereo salons – cameras were never far away. 

My passion for cameras began with my exposure to my engineer father’s 1938 Voitlander ‘Brillant’ twin lens reflex, a camera which he carried with him on his many ocean voyages around the world as a a merchant marine engineer.

I became involved with the Melbourne fine art community in the early 70’s after a serious injury to my right hand and began painting as therapy and in 1973 opened John Hoerner Galleries and later Frame Maker studios.

An Olympus OM 2 SLR became the camera of of choice for a business trip to London in 1980. Over the intervening years a 35mm Olympus XA became my favorite pocket camera.

Our solar village development at Cape Otway in 1983 and a later move into the field of public relations with Alison’s Waters Group in 1990 led to the establishment of the Banksia Award winning Australian solarcar race – SunRace – aimed at promoting sustainable energy and transport technologies and raising awareness of greenhouse issues.

A Ricoh 35 mm GR1 became the pocket ‘events’ camera.

In 2003 SunRace – and life as I knew it – came to a sudden halt with 3 severe strokes.

When I woke up in St Vincents hospital I found I had suffered major brain damage and was almost totally blind – with only a kaleidoscopic 3 degree tunnel vision field of view – and very poor short term memory.

I could not imagine how I could ever do anything useful again – the neurologists prognosis for my long term improvement prospects at the time was simply – ‘dismal’.

However as I recovered in hospital for those many months my wonderful, caring wife Alison was never far from my side – her courage and tenacity gave me the strength that has brought me back into the world.

I slowly realised a lot of repair work would be needed if I was to get my brain working properly again. I did not know recovery would take years – and entail things like learning to read and think clearly again and how to scan my surroundings effectively. I had also lost all sense of direction.

By sheer good fortune I found I could see just enough of a digital camera screen to take photographs again. Here was a chance at second shot at life – Take 2 – and photography provided my brain with terrific stimulus.

Cameras have now become my ‘eyes’. My first digilal camera, a Ricoh GX, became my therapy – its wide lens could see what I could not – it was as if by some miracle I had my sight back.

As a teenager back in 1953 my very first ‘serious’ camera had been a tiny 16 mm Steky. In my continual search for the most suitable photographic equipment for my now limited vision a Ricoh GX 200 came next – a Fuji S100 FS followed, with a Canon G10 not far behind.
In 2010 I had my first photographic exhibition as a blind photographer – ‘Tunnel Vision Take 2 – People and Places through the lens of a blind photographer’ – at Kick Gallery in Northcote.
Later that year an unexpected date with prostate cancer and treatment at Peter Mac slowed my photographic pursuits down a bit – but just being alive and able to get on with life again was a marvelous reprieve.
The 2011 challenge has been a matter of getting to grips with the complexities of a Canon 7 DSLR – taking still more pics – and acquiring an irresistible new Olympus Pen P3 – pure ‘Brain Sport’.

Thanks to the generosity of my son Jake, the challenge for 2012 was an exhibition of my portraits on January 31 2012 at his new Kick Gallery contemporary art in Collingwood.

 ‘Out of Sight’  faces in the arts crowd through the lens of a blind photographer.     

Two years down the track and after dodging  few more health hiccups I decided it was no time to stop.

My 2014 exhibition was called ‘Proof Positive‘ – Life and lives through the lens of a blind photographer. My third show at Kick Gallery.

Since I lost my peripheral vision quite some years ago I have come to see life through the long lens of tunnel vision. My wonderful wife Alison takes me to many exciting events and guides me as I have also lost my sense of direction.

My camera lens allows me to see the landscape, the crowded gallery or the face across the room that I cannot otherwise see.

No longer can I seek out the environment of my choice but instead look for images that appeal to my aesthetic sense of the world within the environment in which I find myself.

What I am not is a studio photographer with much practiced skills, a paparazzi or a roving landscape photographer. My tiny Sony RX 100 is my current pocket camera.

I have become an Optical Opportunist – I look for that photographic Carpe Diem like opportunity and endeavor to ‘bottle the moment’.

As I reached my 75th year I am still making and taking images – and I am still here.

That to me is ‘Proof Positive’.         03 9820 9032


Leave a Reply