by JC Gonzo
Often relegated to a realm of gimmick and novelty, blind photography is rarely exhibited outside the realms of its nature. Filmmaker Neil Leifer and HBO Documentaries present a solid 30-minute feature cleverly titled “Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers” surrounding the Sight Unseen exhibition put on by UC Riverside’s California Museum of Photography, the world’s first major museum blind photography show. Follow this link to view the trailer.
Three of the twelve artists curated are showcased along with talking-head interviews of prominent photographic figures like James Nachwey and Mary Ellen Mark. The film addresses the little-known and under-appreciated niche as something valid and comparable to the world of sighted photographers. Challenging the notion that sight is necessary for photography is well argued, as blind photographers Pete Eckert, Henry Butler, and Bruce Hall explain their artistic process and conceptual impotencies from utterly unique standpoints.
Award-winning and internationally exhibited photographer Pete Eckert, originally an architect whose vision took a steady 10-year decline, claims to be “a tourist in the sighted world.” Eckert utilizes his memory of vision with newfound techniques including the use of a specially designed braille light meter to craft carefully calculated images of manipulated light drawings. Through this process, Eckert places a “known against an unkown,” allowing the elements outside his realm of control to manifest naturally. He has photographed for Playboy magazine, Jean Paul Gaultier, had his work featured in UN postal stamps, and was the basis for a NCIS episode.
Henry Butler enlists performative aspects to street photography and portraits as he lets conversations and random interactions guide him through the crowded streets of New Orleans. He enlists the visual descriptions from a photo assistant concerning distance, lighting, color scheme, and other elements in order to make a photographic decision. Already regarded as an established and world-touring New Orleans piano legend, Butler’s photographic ventures give him a different and unexpected creative outlet. In the documentary, Butler is followed around the city as he stops to talk to street musicians, tarot readers, and other colorful characters.
Retaining some vision, photographer Bruce Hall dives and takes macro photos of coral reef in order to access a world denied to him when viewed post enlargement. Hall is unconcerned with certain typical objectives usually held by underwater photographers, such as seeking out big or rare lifeforms and seascapes. He allows his curiosity to guide him then discerns which images are best upon reviewal. His work has been featured in National Geographic, Playboy, and been exhibited at the Smithsonian. He also photographs his young autistic children, presenting a diaristic perspective on his life.
A few images selected from Bruce Hall:
You can order a physical copy or view online via HBO here.
[The image featured for this article on our mainpage is from Pete Eckert’s “Bus Series.”]