Ira Lupu

“I Dream in Color”. How the World Looks to a Man Who Never Saw Anything

Bird in Flight
April 2017

Read in Russian

Most of the visually impaired people can feebly discern colors and shapes of the objects, but some of them can’t see even this. Alexander Yashin was born blind and he can only discern light. We asked him to describe how he imagines color, blurriness, flickering, beauty and other visual features — and how to live if you see nothing.

Alexander Yashin, 23 years old, Moscow. Studies philology at Pushkin State Russian Language Institute. Head of folk and ethnographic ensemble. A frequent visitor to villages where he researches traditional music and customs. Speaks Belarusian, Czech and Polish languages. Earns his living with tutoring and copywriting.

— I was born blind. I can’t see colors and visual figures, I only discern light. From the very childhood and by comprehensible examples, my parents were trying to explain to me what color is and what are some of its types. Like, green is the color of nature. Depending on the season, grass can be green or more bleak. To understand it completely, I’ve been touching grass blades and leaves of the trees.
Green is, generally, my favourite color. I think it’s really nice, the color of new life. It reminds me of the fresh wind, the odour of spring, the very moment you come on the street and you get it: it finally got warmer.

In school for the visually impaired people, they explained to me that there are cool and warm hues and taught the basic principles of color harmony. Blind people know pretty much the same about colors that the sighted do. How would you explain what’s yellow like? “This color is, well, very yellow”? No way! To comprehend things, we were given certain examples, like, a lemon can be yellow. Apples can be of whatever colors. Green ones are usually more sour, and yellow apples taste like honey.

I perceive other visual notions with the help of my imagination. Not only the color can be blurred but the perception of a topic or situation. Blurred means inaccurate. The saturation of color is its fullness. The dish can have full taste or the smell can be concentrated. Flickering is what changes all the time, i.e. light. I’d love to see my reflection, I imagine it like you come to a river and see own shadow on the surface.

I’m often asked if I have dreams. And yes I have them sporadically. The plots are simple, I just go somewhere, meet acquaintances or face something fantastic. In some unexplainable aspect I dream in color, because I have certain understanding of a color.

From visual arts, cinema interests me the most. I even watch movies. I listen to special audio descriptions, or my girlfriend explains everything to me.

Is it true that the blind people have a wider understanding of beauty? I would say so. Despite the common stereotype, I don’t have to touch a person’s face to get an idea of his appearance. It’s not ethical enough. Really, I won’t approach a person and be like: “So where’s the spout, where are the eyes? Wow rolls of fat up here! And this lovely third chin!”. I get what kind of person is in front of me just judging by his or her manner of communication.

The blind people can distinguish beautiful objects. Recently, the aunt of my visually impaired friend bought him a new watch strap. The friend liked the braided texture and quality and he said the strap is cool and beautiful. Aunt was surprised: “How come you know it’s beautiful. You’re blind! You don’t even know what the color is!”. But visual features are not the only ones that are important. If you buy a cap which is crookedly made, you’ll “see” this with your hands.

I lead a very ordinary life. I read books, I sing, study and work. I’m dating a fully sighted girl.

It was my personal choice to live amongst sighted people. When I entered the university, I could stay with parents but I’ve moved to the campus. I knew otherwise I won’t be able to find friends, establish a proper mode of life and make a living. And being independent is just more fun. The relatives accepted my decision with a heavy heart but later they submitted to it.

Visual concepts are essential for social adaptation, of course. There are visually impaired people who follow the motto: “If I can’t see, nobody can”, but I’m not a big fan of such idea. I understand that if I choose to wear blue pullover, white jeans and bright red sneakers, I would look like a jester. It’s important to look good or at least in a decent way. On a job interview, they always pay attention to your clothes and face. I dress informally, in casual wear, but I still try not to shop on my own, in order to avoid a blunder.

Sometimes I use special tools or apps for detecting colors. It helps when after a washing up you sort socks, or choose a vase to buy in the shop so it has to go with the interior. When you receive a wage, you identify the banknotes and put them in your purse in proper order. But when possible, the visually impaired use credit cards. It’s so much easier.

I’ve learned a lot about mimics and gestures when I started to socialize with the sighted people more. I’ve learned how to flip somebody a bird. Before, I’ve only read about this. When you submerge into society, you try to live according to its laws.

I’ve learned a lot about mimics and gestures when I started to socialize with the sighted people more. I’ve learned how to flip somebody a bird. Before, I’ve only read about this. When you submerge into society, you try to live according to its laws.

To get how the blind people live, just blindfold your eyes for several hours and watch what would happen. Many friends of mine have performed this trick. In 5 minutes, your other senses escalate and the whole perception changes.

In my life, the light has an important role. Unlike the totally blind people, I see it and so I can estimate the space. Where the windows are, what’s the distance to the nearest one. It’s hard to see nothing, but you must not think about it all the time. I don’t torment myself with the futile dreams of how someday I would magically gain the sight.

Photos by Sergey Karpov