looking lives
© Rex Features
Another life: Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada and Zekeria Ebrahimi in The Kite Runner (2007).
Et møde med en syrisk flygtning inspirerer Mark Cousins til at forestille sig hvor forskellig vores definerede billeder kan være

Vi har arbejdsliv og kærlighedsliv, men vi har også seende liv. Hvis vi er heldige nok til at have synet, så ophober der sig livet igennem et indre fotoalbum. På dets sider er der solnedgange som vi har set, døde kroppe, og mange andre rammende billeder - disse er de visuelle shoks og livsglæder som hjælper os til at forstå og læse følelser.

I en flygtningelejr i Calais,spillede jeg sidste år fodbold med en ung teenage dreng fra Syrien. Vi havde ikke noget fælles sprog, men vi havde en latter mens vi spillede. Bagefter funderede jeg over hvad han havde set i sit liv indtil nu.

Kommentar: Denne artikel er delvis oversat til dansk af Sott.net fra: Looking lives: How our visual memories are made

Before he left Syria it's likely he would have been an eyewitness to the destruction of buildings around him and, alas, of lives, too. Our immediate worlds, the things, people, animals and buildings around us, are the first act in the story of our looking lives. This boy's first act is likely to have been one of visible rubble and rage.

Then he went on the road, north towards countries - Germany or Sweden - that he will never have seen in real life. When I was in Sarajevo during its siege, and even when I went on a much less difficult trip to China, I noticed how it was the unfamiliar things - buildings, faces, clothes, threats - that popped up visually. I can only begin to imagine my football friend's forward tracking shot up through the Balkans.

Did the Alps excite him or did they just look like a vast wall between him and safety? Did he get close to any of the monumental non-Arab cities of Europe, such as Vienna or Paris? Did their stucco or baroque buildings look beautiful to him, or excessive? Did the visual experience calm him, as horizons often do for travellers, or did it make him realise that he had miles to go before he slept?

There seem to be two different streams within our brain's rear visual cortex. The first, the ventral stream, assesses objects. It's the "what" function, and tells you, if you are on a tennis court, that this is a ball barrelling towards you. The second, the dorsal stream, assesses the position and movement of the ball, the "where" function.

As the young Syrian and I played, both of these streams were working, but his will have been tested in a far more serious way than mine. His visual encounter with Europe will have been unfamiliar. Embedded within the panorama before his eyes, there will have been people who wanted to cause him harm, or verbally abuse him. Tired but adrenalised and therefore in fight-or-flight mode, he will have been doing ventral and dorsal visual scans of his immediate environment, looking out for oncomers, or faces that are unwelcoming or aggressive.

We all do this to a certain extent when we are walking home at night and there are strangers around. I don't know what happened to him - he was probably sent to somewhere in rural France, or backwards, down the line, like a movie in rewind. But if this refugee did find refuge, he will I hope have discovered another aspect of looking - its consolation.

If he is safe, his sense of each will derive in part from what he sees: a place to live, modest comforts, food, hospitable people, FaceTime conversations with people back home, football, television.

The story of his looking will have been one about the immediate world, encounters and consolation. His inner photo album will already be more dramatic than most of ours.

The Story of Looking by Mark Cousins is published by Canongate on 19 October at £25. Order a copy for £21.25 at bookshop.theguardian.com