Media 2010

‘Digital Age Provides Sight for Blind Photographer’

THE inventive mind of John Hoerner once created custom Range Rovers for the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. In the 1980s, when current Melbourne Cup sponsor Emirate Airlines was merely a gleam in aviation’s eye, Mr Hoerner provided a set of the vehicles for the royals to use while falcon hunting.

The palace minders had noticed Mr Hoerner’s Schuler FFRR 5000, a high performance vehicle he had put on the Australian market during a period when he ran John Hoerner Galleries.

The restless Mr Hoerner had also opened a chain of print shops named Peach’s Galeries, went on to develop a 16-site solar village at Cape Otway and, in 1996, founded SunRace, the annual Australian solar car and electric vehicle event.

But life as Mr Hoerner knew it ended six years ago when he awoke with a splitting headache at his South Yarra apartment.

”It was about 2am,” he recalls. ”Never known pain like it. I’d been working ridiculous hours on the race: seven days a week, 14 hours a day.”

The pain came from a stroke, which was followed by two others that left him shattered and virtually blind.

”The blood supply had been cut off to a section of the optic nerve and I had lost all peripheral vision,” he says.

Mr Hoerner’s eyesight had been reduced to a pinprick of light; the sort of view of the world you get if you clench a hand and peer through the curled-up fingers. He says: ”When I was in the hospital, I thought I was going mad. My remaining vision was kaleidoscopic. I just got snippets – someone’s eye or ear or a leg – and it didn’t make sense. I was doing what everyone else does, looking around quickly, and the therapy people had to teach me to scan slowly so I could put the pieces together. The rest of my body was okay, although I could no longer write and, oddly, I couldn’t whistle. It devastated my mind.”

At that stage, Mr Hoerner and publicist wife Alison Waters, who slept beside his bed while he was in hospital, had been living in their apartment for more than 20 years, but he did not recognise it when they returned home. ”At first,” he says, ”when I walked into the room I would be convinced there were five walls. I couldn’t figure out where one wall finished and another started. To this day, if you asked me to draw a plan of this small apartment I could not do it, yet I used to have excellent spatial relations abilities. My vision is so limited that if I look at your shirt collar, I can’t see your face. If I look at one eye, I can’t see the other.”

It was cruel irony that sunlight, the magic energy bullet that Mr Hoerner had championed with his annual solar and electric vehicle event, had virtually become an enemy, the glare blocking out what little visual input he had.

”I was distraught,” he says. ”I had no idea what I would do.”

Salvation came via a friend and the rapidly evolving photographic technology: ”It was just after I got home from hospital and he brought along one of the then very new digital cameras. He suggested I fiddle around with it.”

Mr Hoerner turned it on, the digital screen lit up and, suddenly, he was readmitted to the world of sight.

”I couldn’t believe it. It was absolute bliss. The little screen could frame scenes that I could not see myself.”

Using the telescopic function, he could also home in on faces.

Typically, Mr Hoerner has embraced his new ”sixth sense” with such enthusiasm that he has become a budding photographer – a ”blind” photographer – and plans an exhibition in January at his son Jake’s Kick gallery in Northcote. And, oh yes, he can whistle again … and with good reason.

Photograph by Rebecca Hallas

‘Tunnel Vision – Take 2’       

People and Places Through the Lens of a Blind Photographer

‘The Exhibition You Have to See to Believe’

Suzanne Carbone January 20, 2010, The Age

JOHN Hoerner is having a photo exhibition and even before the opening-night crowd peruses his snaps, it’s guaranteed they’ll be impressed. John is blind. Three strokes left him with a pin-hole of vision but when he looked into the screen of a digital camera he saw more than his impairment allowed. The exhibition is called Tunnel Vision – Take 2 to reflect his second chance at life and opens tomorrow at Northcote’s Kick Gallery, where son Jake is director. The faces in the exhibition were snapped at arts functions and include John’s wife, Alison Waters, editor of the 101 Collins Strret Magazine, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Mirka Mora, Primrose Potter, Fred Schepisi and the late Dr Joseph Brown. John has also captured sights of the city, one of them quite symbolic.The snap of the CityLink sound tube is called Tunnel vision.

‘Blind Photographer Sees Best Through a Camera’

Julia Irwin, 22 January, 2010 Leader Newspapers

photograph by Adan Elwood

John Hoerner

VISION loss opened arts entrepreneur and electronics engineer John Hoerner’s eyes to digital photography. In 2003, a stroke robbed him of all but a pinhole of light through which to view the world but now the irrepressible Hoerner, 70, is about to have his first photographic exhibition at his son Jake’s Kick Gallery in Northcote.

“When someone walks into a room and stands in front of me, I have to choose which eye to look at. I only see snippets, an eye, an ear or a mouth,” Hoerner said.

But during rehabilitation, the South Yarra artist discovered that by looking into the screen of a digital camera he could increase his field of vision, seeing not only the face of the person in front of him but a whole room full of people.

“Digital cameras have given me back my vision. Picking up that camera for the first time was an unbelievably thrilling moment,” Hoerner said.

“Life is pretty damn good.”

The former gallery owner, framer and electronic engineer who designed high-performance Range Rovers and founded SunRace, Australia’s 2000km annual solar car race, has spent recent years honing his digital photography skills.

“I try very hard to get some sort of meaning into the shots,” he said.

Hoerner’s exhibition features atmospheric landscapes and a series of portraits of Melbourne arts identities such as Mirka Mora and Rick Amor and arts patrons such as Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and Dr Joseph Brown. His human subjects mostly look at ease, revealing their underlying mood and character and allowing Hoerner to get an intimate glimpse a fully sighted photographer may not get.

“My wife (Alison Waters) is active in arts publicity and when we go to openings she always says, ‘I’ve brought my photographer and by the way, he’s blind’,” Hoerner said.

photograph by Adan Elwood


‘Artistic Vision’

Genevieve Gannon, 21 January, 2010, Melbourne Weekly, The Age

Genevieve Gannon, 21 January, 2010, Melbourne Weekly, The Age


Photograph by Julie Bowyer

Leave a Reply