AC WP RSCN4338 ENH2Here is something peculiar.

Many autistic people report that they are visual thinkers. Temple Grandin, the famous animal behavior scientist/engineer, has written about ‘thinking in pictures’.

From early on in life I was like that too. When I was a small boy I read comic books before I could read (Donald Duck, etc). I just looked at the pictures and got a story. When I finally learned to read I was a bit disappointed. The stories were better with just the pictures.

But here is an anomaly that I have only just recognized.

When I travelled alone through Europe in the winter of 1965-’66, I carried no camera. Over the next 2-3 years I made two trips alone travelling north to south and east to west through Mexico and Guatemala, and again I carried no camera. As far as I can remember, I never even had a debate with myself about it. I seemed to feel no need for photos.

In the early ’70s I did buy a couple of simple ‘point and shoot’ cameras and my photos certainly increased when my first daughter was born in 1975. But it was only when I was forced to buy a 35 mm SLR in 1980 for a lot of new accident investigation work – at 34 yrs old – that I began to learn photography. I do enjoy it now.

But if I was so visual, how could this be? Shouldn’t people on the spectrum want to be photographers? I’ve thought about it, and I think this is the answer.

My memory has always been good and it is very visual. For example, in elementary school I often won spelling contests. I ignored the spelling rules students were urged to memorize. Confronted with a difficult word I would just visualize it. As long as I had previously encountered the word in a book, I could always see it –so I would read the letters off as if they were right there in front of me.

Those trips I mentioned above, over fifty years ago? My memory is still filled with images of those places and people. I still see them very well, even many I saw only once.

Just imagine. Except for my wife, I don’t have a single photograph of any of the women I can claim as a one-time girlfriend or lover. Not one. Maybe they gave me one and I lost it you say? Well I know that was a common practice then, but I don’t think so – if they did that I would still see the photo. Maybe I didn’t give them a chance. I never stayed long anywhere. No one ever got to know me, or at least that is what they said. But I can still see each of them perfectly. I have an enormous photo album in my mind and I often review it happily.

The problem is, I can’t show those ‘photos’ to anyone. Those images are trapped inside me. When I’m gone, that album will disappear with me.

You might think there should be many accomplished photographers who are on the spectrum, but I wonder if there aren’t are a lot of dormant ones like me, too contented with the images they carry in their mind.

Of course, now you only need a phone to be a photographer to some degree. Many people have multiple photos of each other before they even meet. So maybe this is no longer a problem.

But it is something to think about.

One thought on “Autism vs the Camera

  1. Everyone on the spectrum is a bit different, but with certain similar traits. I have an eidetic memory, which makes it easy for me to find things providing I’ve seen them before. By description? No way. And sometimes it trips me up, as in when I move something I’ve found and pictures of it begin to ‘pile up in my mind’ giving the impression there’s more than one.
    I think photos tend to be separate things for us: images in themselves rather than the aides-mémoire they are for others.

    Liked by 3 people

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