LivAbility Magazine
Aurora Berger holds a camera. Her photographs can be seen in the background.

Aurora Berger: In Focus

By Steve Carr
Photos by Aurora Berger

For as long as she can remember, Aurora Berger loved photography. But she was 18 before her world really came into focus. Literally.

“I’ve pretty much always had a camera with me,” the 21-year-old Vermont native explained. “I’d use my mom’s point-and-shoot camera to take pictures of a rock. She said I’d use a whole roll of film on that one rock.”

Now a photography student at Prescott College, this past spring, Arizona Citizens for the Arts chose one of Berger’s current landscape images for the cover of the Governor’s Arts Awards program and all event collateral materials.

Aurora Berger's prizewinning photo of a river with beautiful mountains

Pretty impressive for a young woman whose eyes don’t focus.

And that’s a post-implant surgery difference from her childhood when “I was severely nearsighted, and pretty much could only see a foot in front of my face. Corrective lenses didn’t do anything because the problem was about focus and not about regular vision issues,” she said. “I don’t think I ever realized there was anything wrong with my vision. I grew up seeing like that.”

The culprit is Marfan Syndrome, an inherited disorder impacting 1 in 5,000 people, that affects connective tissue – the fibers holding all the body’s cells, organs and tissues together.

The most severe form of Marfan is aortic enlargement, a life-threatening expansion of the main blood vessel carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Marfan also can create problems in blood vessels, bones and joints.

For Berger, it’s her eyes. Her camera was an extension of those eyes.

“Cameras made sense because they opened the world to me.”

“I watched fireworks displays through my camera because it magnified it. I loved photography and photographs back then because it told me what the world was supposed to look like even if I couldn’t physically see it.”

Her perspective – and her vision – changed three years ago after a Boston specialist inserted silicon implants into each eye. “All of a sudden I could see things that were far away,” she recalled. “I could see things I had never seen before, like leaves on the trees driving home that day. It was a weird revelation. Here I was 18 and my whole world changed. I had to relearn to see.”

She still sees differently than most people, because one eye focuses on distance and the other close up.

“Before the surgery, what I saw in the viewfinder, I could get into a picture,” she said. “Now, because my eyes don’t focus properly, I really don’t know what is in or out of focus. One eye is better than another, but using autofocus helps make decisions for me, and that’s good for portraits and landscapes. I can see the composition and the color, but don’t necessarily know what I’m looking at in the viewfinder.”

Still, as it was when she was younger, photography remains her artistic and personal passion, and soon, her profession. She’ll graduate from Prescott College next year with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with plans to pursue a master’s in Fine Arts.

“I want to teach photography at the college level or at a school for the disabled, particularly a school for the visually disabled.”

Her ultimate goal: “I want to be a photographer making art about people who are visually impaired.”

That will certainly help bring the world into focus for the rest of us.

*This story has been edited post-print for clarity.

Steve Car in front of a bookshelf

Steve Carr

Steve Carr is President of The Kur Carr Group, Inc., a full-service public relations agency. He has received numerous journalism awards for newspaper writing and photography, and for annual reports, newsletters and video production. He is a recipient of the Margie Frost Champion Against Poverty Award from the Arizona Community Action Association.