I'm a Professional Photographer Who's Traveling the World Before I Go Blind — Here's What It's Like

This photographer has traveled to 20 countries in two years before she loses her sight.

Robyn Lindemann's photograph of a lake with boats and buildings in Europe after learning she was going blind

Robyn Lindemann

Gasping for air, my lungs immediately shifted into hyperventilation while tears involuntarily streamed down my face. It felt like I was in a movie, when the lead character receives devastating medical news, and the room pans in slow motion. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a Hollywood film set with an actor playing pretend; This was my real life and with a few cruel words, it turned upside down.

I was chasing my dream, fighting for every inch of success, building a premium luxury wedding photography business in Chicago. The white walls of my studio were lined with clippings from magazine covers and articles featuring the images I captured, and the stories I told.  They proudly hung, like trophies in a case, to remind me of how far I had come over the past five years.

Robyn Lindemann's photograph of the Chicago skyline at dusk

Robyn Lindemann

“Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic eye disease that causes most people to go legally blind,” the doctor told me. “But don’t do research online, it will worry you too much, also don’t give up on life and crawl into a hole."

This was the advice that I had been given, just seconds after I was told I was losing my eyesight at the age of 31.  My body was frozen, but my brain was moving at lighting speed. “How did this happen and why now? I am going to lose my photography career and my independence. I just married my husband, and this isn’t fair to him, he didn’t sign up for this. This can’t possibly be something that I am willing to pass onto a child. It felt like everything I cared about was being ripped away from me, with absolutely no warning.

Although retinitis pigmentosa is initially kind to your central sight, it slowly, but greedily attacks your peripheral and night vision until there is nothing left except darkness and perhaps a straw’s worth of light for the lucky ones. 

I remember the morning following my diagnosis, I woke up with immense gratitude. I saw vivid textures in the nature I barely noticed every day; the sky displayed a deeper blue than I had ever remembered seeing. All of a sudden, I saw extraordinary in the ordinary and vowed to see the world through this new lens moving forward.

Robyn Lindemann's photograph of a boat going by in fog off a European coastline after learning she was going blind

Robyn Lindemann

Even though I knew the light in my life would start to dim, I was able to keep doing what I love (photographing weddings) at the same high-level capacity for a number of years. Eventually, the soft lighting that once felt romantic, the packed dance floors that used to feel exhilarating, and the chaos that used to give me a high, all peaked my anxiety and showed the truth of my loss.  

I was horribly embarrassed when I missed the outreach of a common handshake, bumped into little flower girls, or humiliatingly tripped over something that was outside my visual field range. I could not bear the possibility of knocking over a wedding cake or bountiful floral arrangement, breaking another vendor’s equipment, or worse, hurting someone.

In 2019, I made the most difficult decision of my life and closed my wedding photography business. I wanted to feel proud of how I said goodbye, knowing that the quality I promised was not compromised.

Knowing that one of my senses was fleeting gave me a sense of urgency. I needed to start living fully, learning new hobbies, and crossing goals off my list. Traveling the world topped that list, and since 2020, my husband, TJ, and our five-year-old daughter, Eloise, and I have visited more than 20 countries.

Robyn Lindemann's family in the desert at sunrise and her photograph of hot air balloons after learning she was going blind

Robyn Lindemann

Creativity and storytelling are part of who I am, and I had to reinvent the way in which I approached it. I quickly fell in love with drone aerials, both still and cinematic, the perfect way to document our travels. Droning was the antithesis of a wedding day, where I was expected to be in a million places at once and see everything that was going on. Instead, when I use my drone, my feet stay planted and I'm free to visit heights where my vision seems endless.

Robyn Lindemann's photographs by drone of water after learning she was going blind

Robyn Lindemann

I could soar to a mountain top while seeing every break in the snowcapped peaks along the way.  From a bird’s-eye view, I could appreciate the bubbly foam that forms when the waves break on a black-sand beach creating infinite textures. I could see the cheerful candy-coated pops of color from beach umbrellas that are only overshadowed by the textured shapes of the coral in the crystal sea waters. Launching my drone from a rowboat in the Dolomites put into perspective how small we were, in the large glacier lake surrounded by prickly pine trees.

Robyn Lindemann's family photograph from a canoe on a green lake

Robyn Lindemann

As my vision continues to narrow, and darkness continues to creep in, being able to drone gives me the ultimate escape. Despite my confining physical limitations, it offers me limitless creativity, the gift of hope, and new ideas for how to find light in my darkening world.

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