Movies free blind Potsdam man’s imagination
By MAUREEN PICHÉ
POTSDAM – On more than one occasion, SUNY Potsdam art professor Laura Fair-Shulz has asked former student Andrew Brink to speak to her class about the use of movies to develop imagination.Brink talks in great detail about his beloved sci-fi and horror films—a huge private collection that rivals a video store—yet he’s never actually “seen” one.
The 30-year-old Potsdam man has been blind since birth, but that hasn’t stopped him from listening to thousands of films and TV shows over the years and creating entire intricate universes through his mind’s eye.
“When I watch a movie, it’s quite a different experience. I have to envision it all,” Brink said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that my ability to use my imagination is a whole lot better than most people’s, and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to teach it to people?’”
Brink started “watching” monster movies with his dad as a young boy in Bloomingdale, near Saranac Lake. There wasn’t a lot to do as a blind kid in the Adirondacks, and it was a way to spend time with his dad, who loved the genre.
“It was a way to put myself in other places and inside other people,” he said.
He has no idea if what he visualizes in his mind comes even close to what a seeing person perceives, but he has made up his own version of, say, the color green or the look on the face of an evil villain.
He listens to movies over and over, and each time, he adds in details that he didn’t catch before.
When Brink speaks to students, he talks about how to be “more creative, insightful and empathetic” when they approach films, and their own art.
“Don’t be thinking about what they are showing on the screen right now, but instead, what are they trying to portray? When you see Godzilla, don’t imagine a guy in a rubber suit stepping on models. It’s a 40-story monster destroying buildings,” he said.
Brink says it’s also important to imagine yourself in the story, not as an observer. He puts himself in the shoes of all the characters and imagines what they’re thinking.
“And you have to be creative and modify as the story goes on,” he said. Those who can’t see the screen often aren’t told much about what things look like or what’s going on--for instance, during long moments of silence. A movie soundtrack is often a good source of information.
Not surprisingly, sci-fi and horror films are his favorites for a good reason: both genres give a lot of leeway for imagination since they are creating worlds that are new to all audiences.
“The Twilight Zone is more intellectually stimulating,” he said. “Most episodes have stories with philosophical or symbolic meaning.”
What films do not appeal to Brink are slapstick comedies that lack stories and rely on action. Actors like rubber-faced Jim Carrey are completely lost on him.
Brink is able to put his imagination to good use listening to books on tape and music, too.
And he loves history, his major at SUNY Potsdam.
Professor Axel Fair-Schulz still invites Brink to sit in on his history classes because Brink adds a lot to the discussion with his insightful comments.
“It’s not just facts for me…I see history as stories,” he explained.
And while he doesn’t get paid for speaking or sitting in, he said he does get the satisfaction of being useful—something he says is hard to achieve for the visually impaired, especially in the North Country.
Finding meaningful employment has been a struggle for him.
“I’m not known as Andrew. I’m known as the blind guy,” he said. “People will give you a job putting fruit in bags, but that’s just being busy, not productive.
“It’s more important for me to contribute in a bigger way,” he added.