The Language of Synesthesia

ABSTRACT: In "The Language of Synesthesia,” Marcia Smilack tells the story of her life as a fine art photographer who taught herself how to use a camera by relying on her synesthetic responses as signals for when to click the shutter. Photographing reflections on moving water, she created a career in which named herself a Reflectionist and named her images paintings by camera. The responses that tell her to take a picture include sound and texture elicited by what she sees. In detailing her history, she tells of the seminal experience at age six when she struck a piano note for the first time and instantly saw the color green; the musical sound elicited color. Later in her life, she became aware that her synesthesia worked in reverse as well. That is, looking at color and shape elicits sound and texture. She hears with her eyes and sees with her ears. She explains that from the first "green note” of her childhood, a room was carved out in her mind where all subsequent synesthetic experiences are viewed on an internal screen. It is the same room where her eidetic memories are preserved in present time. She lives her life in metaphor and describes the double life created by her synesthesia. That synesthesia is itself a language is obvious to her, which she shows with several examples from her artwork where the symbols of her photographs serve as musical nomenclature. The picture language that her body produces made of colors and shapes provide a natural metaphor to the words that come to her secondarily as a translation of what she sees. She calls her synesthetic picture language her native tongue and shows the relationship between her waking synesthesia and the synesthesia of her dreams, posing the question of whether synesthesia might be a waking form of dreaming.