It took an observant teacher to realise James Norquay wasn’t naughty – he just couldn’t see the board. It was 2011 and he was in Year six. He mucked around a bit in class and it was assumed he didn’t want to do his work. No one knew was he was gradually losing his sight due to three undiagnosed brain tumours. Once his teacher and parents realised the reason he wasn’t doing his work was because he couldn’t see, he was swiftly taken for an eye test and an MRI and within three days found himself at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Two surgeries, eight months of chemotherapy and 25 sessions of radiation followed.
“The way I describe it is, have you ever watched one of those movies where they die and you see ghosts coming out of the body? That’s how I felt for a lot of it,” Mr Norquay says. “My body was there, but I wasn’t in my body. I felt like I was floating above. I was 11 and an active kid, then within a week I was in a hospital bed with six or seven doctors semi-circling around my bed. I thought, what the hell is going on?”
Mr Norquay looks back on his 10 months in hospital as a time he was “spoilt” by his mum and grandma, who gave him gifts like an iPad and art supplies. It was there he found his creative spark.
“I found my way to drawing and sketching and at first, I was sketching guns, robots, destruction – dark, horrible and intense drawings. I look back now and realise it was my way to express to people what I was feeling. At 11, I didn’t even know what they were doing to me half the time. I was able to guide my mum on how I was feeling without using my words.
“Towards the end of my chemo treatment, I started playing with watercolours and pastels and really vibrant colours. For me, it was my transition of what I was feeling at the time, without knowing it. I went from painting the Terminator to butterflies on rocks and beach paintings.”
But it was when Mr Norquay discovered photography in high school that his true passion emerged. “I was taking photos with my iPad and phone,” he says. “I used to take a lot of photos of menus and things I wanted to see better.
“Once I’d taken the photo, I could pinch and zoom and see what I was looking at more clearly. I did a certificate in photography and it really pushed me to pick up this new passion for photography. Apart from the fact I can capture beauty in my work, it gives me back my vision and I can see the world through my process.”
Nerve damage in his eyes resulting from the cancer has left Mr Norquay legally blind, but he’s forging ahead with life and excited about pursuing a career as a professional photographer.
“Everything is blurry,” he says. “I can’t read signs. I don’t know what 100 per cent sight is anymore. I see through a very small tunnel and everything inside that tunnel is washed out and blurry. But when I take photos, I can quickly zoom in and see what’s there and it shows me so much more than I can see with my own eyes.
“My goal is to work as a professional photographer. Photography is my greatest passion. If you’re doing what you love, you’re not working a day of your life so you’re enjoying every bit of it.”
Mr Norquay enjoys working with people and making new connections. He loves photographing landscapes – particularly sunrise and sunset shots – and offers his services as a commercial photographer capturing product shots, weddings and portraits.
He lives with his parents and little brother in Peregian Springs. He also has his beautiful guide dog Jonah, who has brought a new level of mobility and companionship to his life.
“Transitioning from a long cane to a guide dog, I can see now just how much more trust I put into Jonah and how he guides me,” Mr Norquay says. “It’s really amazing; it takes so much stress off me. It’s easy as I go about my day. I used to look like a dinosaur, with my head so close to the ground sometimes when I was using my cane. Now I can look up, strong and proud, and trust that Jonah will guide me where I need to go.
“I’m not gonna lie – I had my years coming out of hospital where it was very difficult,” he says. “My mates didn’t know how to react or evolve around me. But
now I feel like I’m on such a bright, clear pathway. I know what I like to do. My first job will be what I love doing. I’m very blessed and happy.”
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