Dyslexia Is Like Black-and-White Photography

Dyslexia Is Like Black-and-White Photography

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the ways a person can live with a limitation. Sometimes limitations are imposed upon us by others—a curfew for a teen, HOA standards, social unrest, or work deadlines, to name a few. At other times, limitations come from within, like gluten intolerance, nearsightedness, or a bad back. And in the case of dyslexia, most would agree that, while it presents strengths, it is also a limitation, even if we’re only taking into account the amount of extra time a dyslexic learner needs to accomplish tasks.

black and white photo of a boy and his mother reading together from a large picture book while sitting on a couch. The boy looks very excited. Dyslexia is like black-and-white photography in a way. Sometimes a limitation imposed on a creative process can produce beautiful results.

But even though a limitation can be frustrating sometimes, a limitation can create beauty as well. And here’s where we get to the link between dyslexia and black-and-white photography. Although color film or digital cameras can render colors impeccably in a scene or portrait, some notable artists choose to limit themselves by shooting only in black-and-white. By eliminating the distraction of color, a landscape or portrait can be distilled down to its very essence: light and shadow. The purity of the beauty of form and the chase after light is never more clear, more palpable, than in a black-and-white photo.

When you think of black-and-white photography, many of you might immediately think of the work of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Link: Ansel Adams Biography

Mr. Adams earned his fame and distinction by limiting his work exclusively to the black-and-white medium. Although color photography became widely available in 1935 with the invention of Kodachrome film, Mr. Adams had found his voice with which to communicate with the world, and he never wavered. He continued to choose this self-imposed limitation on his creative voice, and his work stands amongst the most seminal in photography.

What I didn’t know was that he had learning challenges including—most likely—dyslexia. In a PBS show about his life, Adams had this to say: “In school…each day was a severe test for me, sitting in a dreadful classroom while the sun and fog played outside. Most of the information received meant absolutely nothing to me. For example, I was chastised for not being able to remember what states border Nebraska and what are the states of the Gulf Coast. It was simply a matter of memorizing the names, nothing about the process of memorizing or any reason to memorize. Education without either meaning or excitement is impossible. I longed for the outdoors, leaving only a small part of my conscious self to pay attention to schoolwork.”

black and white photo of a young boy, his mother, and his sister in and around a rustic ladder. Dyslexia is like black-and-white photography in a way. Sometimes a limitation imposed on a creative process can produce beautiful results.

He was asked to leave numerous private and public schools because of hyperactivity and his performance issues. Eventually, he achieved an eighth-grade diploma through being home-schooled by his father and aunt. I find this of particular interest. His father, a wealthy San Francisco socialite, could have shown disapproval or even rejected his son for not living up to social expectations. Instead, he observed that his son had a deep connection with nature and nurtured an environment that would allow his son to flourish. When just a lad, the family made their first trip to Yosemite, and young Adams had a Kodak Brownie in hand. The rest, as they say, is history.

My observation is that his limitations with focus and learning in “traditional ways” allowed him to “see” the world in ways no one before or since has captured in exactly the same way. His grasp of the power of light and shadow to reveal the true essence of a scene or subject spoke, not of limitations as a hindrance, but as a strength.

black and white photo of a teenage girl smiling at camera. Dyslexia is like black-and-white photography in a way. Sometimes a limitation imposed on a creative process can produce beautiful results.

Today’s struggling students need more opportunities to allow their voices and their visions to show the beauty that is already present within them. When children have the inclination to express themselves through art, dance, music, cooking, building things, or whatever area appeals to them most, they will flourish. And the more you and I focus on recognizing these gifts and encouraging them, the happier and more well-rounded a child can be.

Thank you for reading Dyslexia Is Like Black-and-White Photography. If you would like to read other dyslexia-related blogs, please see my dyslexia article archives page.

To learn how creativity is the path to maximizing a dyslexic child’s potential, don’t miss my upcoming webinar: “Creativity: A Doorway to Finding a Dyslexic Child’s Potential” on Tuesday, April 26th at 7:00 pm Central Time. Register today at Eventbrite. Registration requires a small donation of your choosing, starting at a $1.00 minimum donation.


For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require. The second edition has the same great content as the first edition but now contains a very helpful bibliography and index and an exciting new cover.

Cover of the book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.

Cover of the book Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention by Faith Borkowsky

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.