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Welder's Eye: Worth it?

How far am I willing to go to get the shot? I ask myself this question a lot when shooting in the streets. From there, it's a non-stop barrage of self provocation. Do I interact? Do I post up for hours? Do I sneak into a place that I am probably not allowed? Do I wake up at 4 A.M.? Do I stay up until 4 A.M.? Either way, I try to push the limits; it helps me break through creative boundaries and separate myself from others.

This story is a little bit different. I was semi unaware of the risk I was taking on this particular job. The assignment was for a local foundation. The location was a welders' workshop, the second location on a two-location day.

I was pumped for this one. Gritty industry photography with a built-in light source — the hypnotizing glow of the welder’s torch.

I was briefed on the importance of safety equipment and I tried my best to abide. Within the first few moments of shooting I realized that the safety helmet was a serious impediment to getting the shot I wanted. My workaround was to lift the helmet slightly in order to see down to my camera’s LCD screen (not how I would normally shoot, but necessary given the circumstances). This method shielded my eyes from a direct line of sight to the UV rays coming from the torch while allowing me to actually see what I was shooting.

The day went smoothly, I might have caught a direct UV ray or two for a brief moment, but nothing too serious. Overall, I was happy with the results and had a wonderful time chatting with the welders and learning a little bit more about their craft.

On my way out the door, one of the welders mentioned that if in the middle night I wake up and it feels like someone is rubbing sand in my eyes, to cut a potato and place a piece on each eye. Wasn’t sure what to make of that, but assumed it wouldn’t apply to me.

For the rest of the day, I definitely felt a little sensitive to light. My eyes were getting glassy and red, but there was no pain.

Nighttime fell and I got into bed. I shut my eyes and fear set in. It felt like there was sand paper on the backside of my eyelids. I couldn’t shut my eyes for more than nine seconds without discomfort. Tears from the chaffing rolled down my face and I decided that it was potato time.

I went to the kitchen to clean and peel a potato. As instructed, I put a piece on each eye and laid down. I think it helped a little, at least enough for me to fall asleep.

The next thing I knew it was 3 A.M. and I awoke to an excruciating pain in both my eyeballs. I lost it. Never felt anything like it in my life. I couldn’t keep my eyes open or closed. It was purgatory.

My eyes were so red and swollen that I could barely see. Light was blinding so I threw on some sweet shades and woke my fiancée Vanessa up. I was freaking out and saw no viable solution to alleviate the pain. Of course, I was also scared that this might be permanent (even though we read online that it is typically not). That got me freaking more, so we decided to go the ER.

Apparently, the ER has an optometrist on staff all night (and every other kind of doctor…I had no idea). The ER was completely empty so I was attended to right away. The doctor put some numbing drops in my eyes. It was orgasmic. Unfortunately, they wear off in 15 minutes and they aren’t allowed to give you more…

It was my first time ever being examined with a phoropter. Getting a bright light shined directly into your eye when they are particularly sensitive is pretty unbearable. It actually made me nauseous, which led to cold sweats and just an all around horrible feeling from eyes to toes (I also hate hospitals and medical stuff, so that could have played into it).

Anyway, the diagnosis was that there was no tearing and that it was just a burn, also known as welder’s eye or welder’s flash. The doctor told me that eyes heal themselves well and that I should be back to normal within 12-24 hours.

The idea of going back to sleep was daunting, but I did it and I woke up in the morning almost completely healed. It felt like a dream, but it wasn’t because there is picture evidence.

So yeah, in hindsight it was worth it. Given the fact that there is no permanent damage, I can now say that even during the pain it was worth it. Part of the reason I love this job is because I learn something new on every shoot and sometimes that can be a little uncomfortable.

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