April 23, 2012

WBRC Alumnus Interview: Charles Grover

Interview by Summer Beasley-Hoffman, WBRC Orientation and Mobility Specialist

Photograph titled 'Chihuly at Bellagio' by Charles Grover, WBRC Alumnus
captures the colorful sculpture of trumpet flower shaped blown glass lit
from behind displayed at the Belaggio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Charles Grover, WBRC Alumni has been an active photographer since the 1950's.  Although he became legally blind at the end of 1996 he has continued to photograph avidly and has shown his work in a variety of exhibits across the country including at the Chicago Guild for the Blind, Princeton University, and the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. 

1. Charlie, please tell us a little about yourself and what started your interest in photography.

In the mid-1950s, when I was in tech school in the air force, a fellow student who was a photography buff showed me how to develop and print pictures I had shot with my first camera, a simple 35mm. I did photography intermittently for decades, but there were long fallow periods.

When the vision got bad enough that I had to stop driving, I started walking a lot. The slower pace through the world and the more intimate contact with it, coupled with my preoccupation with my changed vision, I think, made me see more of the immediate world, and I started taking pictures with my 35mm. film camera.

I liked some of them, and soon had an opportunity to go digital fairly inexpensively. After I'd been shooting digital for a while, I was introduced to a collective of blindish photographers, and thus to the various venues that show the art work of the disabled. I have been actively showing since 2004, as detailed in the resume on my websiteNow, I carry a small point-and-shoot digital camera with me everywhere.

2. What type of vision loss do you have and how has your vision changed your approach to photography?

I have macular degeneration, which, as you know, takes away one's central, acute vision. I've been legally blind for over fifteen years, but have adapted to using the remaining vision, apparently to a greater degree than most do, perhaps because I had to start dealing with it earlier in life than most who have it. Even the wicked get lucky sometimes, eh?

I shoot a lot better pictures now than I generally did when fully sighted. The possible reasons include the actual physical change in vision, the resulting changes in the brain, paying attention more; who knows?

3. You completed a Blind Rehabilitation program at WBRC several years ago.  Do you use any devices or techniques that you learned at WBRC for your art?

Actually, I've been to WBRC four times over the years. I can't begin to list the many, many ways in which the training and equipment I have received there have made being blindish a whole lot safer, easier and more enjoyable. I can't praise enough the program and the skilled, dedicated folks who run it.

Computers are of course a basic necessity to processing digital images. I was making a living with computers already when I first came to WBRC for my first VA supplied computer. The last time I was there, six or seven years ago, to get a laptop, Brian Higgins, a professional photographer, in addition to his computer and teaching skills, gave me invaluable help with the essential program to digital photographers, Photoshop.

4. I understand you recently started working with a guide dog, what has that experience been like and has it influenced your photography?

My dog, Tandy. We met the last week of September, 2010, at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Oregon, for our two weeks course together.  She's my first guide dog, but my third Labrador. We are indeed the best of friends. I can still generally do OK during the day, but I've used a cane at night for years, which qualified me for a dog. Other than doggypics, she just waits patiently for me while I organize my camera and a shot. I've attached my favorite picture of her.

Photograph titled 'Charm, Poise, Grace' by Charles Grover, WBRC Alumni
captures the photographers yellow lab Guide Dog in an 'off-duty' moment

5. What advice would you share with other veterans or persons experiencing vision loss?

Advice. It's like most irritating things; highly unwelcome in any quantity. However… in a way, life, in it's perversity, prepared me for the trial of becoming legally blind at age 60, which was fifteen years ago.

When folks ask me what I retired from, my stock answer is, ‘a long series of poor choices’. These choices gave me a lot of adversity training, so when the eyes went, it was just another aggravation to deal with. "Deal with" is the important thing here. Before the vision loss, I'd finally figured out that ‘woe is me’ doesn't move things along at all. Deal with it by actively finding out what you can about what's out there. If you can't find a solution, I bet you'll find some mitigation.

Last year, yet more medical problems started pushing me back to ‘woe is me’ mode. Then, I met my inspiration. She's 96, much more profoundly blind than I am-she uses JAWS to run her computer-and is confined to a wheelchair. She considers her hearing aids a benefit, because she can take them out. She still does beautiful water colors-using her CCTV. It's the attitude that does it.

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