If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what about an artist who cannot see? While the concept of a blind photographer may seem paradoxical or unrealistic, the medium provides a unique creative opportunity for three artists. Directed and produced by renowned photographer Neil Leifer, DARK LIGHT: THE ART OF BLIND PHOTOGRAPHERS reveals the fascinating landscapes of the internal world of the blind.
The subjects in DARK LIGHT: THE ART OF BLIND PHOTOGRAPHERS are drawn to photography for a variety of reasons, including creating an image for the sighted world they hold in their mind, or capturing an image experienced through nature.
The three photographers spotlighted are:
Pete Eckert, who lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa. Using a Braille light meter, Eckert creates pictures based on a mental image. Before losing his vision entirely, he took the time to “get some good martial-arts training and get an MBA,” because his two fears were “how to make money and how to protect myself.”
Henry Butler, who was born in New Orleans and had infantile glaucoma. An accomplished pianist, Butler believes that everything gives off vibrations, a theory he uses in making his photography.
Bruce Hall, an underwater photographer with very limited sight. Hall takes pictures underwater so that he can see what he was looking at when he returns to dry land. His latest project involves shooting pictures of his twin autistic boys. Photography, Hall explains, “is almost therapy. It helps me understand, accept and deal with the loss.”
Eckert “paints with light,” while Butler often works with a friend who tells him what is surrounding him. Hall forgets about the process of diving, and follows his eye to take a picture of a color or shape. Eckert concludes, “Art isn’t a hobby. It’s an obsession. It’s something I have to do.”
The works of all three caught the eye of curator Douglas McCulloh, himself an accomplished photographer whose work has been seen at galleries around the country. McCulloh traveled the world for more than a decade to find blind artists for Sight Unseen, the first major international exhibit to showcase blind photographers, which ran at the California Museum of Photography from May 2 to Aug. 29, 2009. Works appearing in the show came from countries such as Lithuania, France, Scotland, Mexico and the U.S.
Says McCulloh, “Most people think that photographers operate through sight and their eyes, but photographers know that they actually operate through their mind. These photographers, since they have no sight, are making purely mental constructions of these photographs.”
Other professionals interviewed in DARK LIGHT: THE ART OF BLIND PHOTOGRAPHERS include: David Burnett, named one of the 100 Most Important People in Photography by American Photo magazine; Harry Benson, who has taken pictures of every President since Eisenhower, as well as pop legends like Michael Jackson and The Beatles; Mary Ellen Mark, who has won over 20 top awards for her portraits, seen in such publications as Life, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair; and James Nachtwey, the acclaimed newspaper photographer who covered numerous conflicts around the globe, and was the subject of the Peabody Award-winning 2003 HBO2 documentary “War Photographer.”
DARK LIGHT: THE ART OF BLIND PHOTOGRAPHERS was directed by Neil Leifer, a legendary photographer best-known for his contributions to Sports Illustrated and Time. Perhaps his most famous image captures Muhammad Ali standing over his fallen opponent, Sonny Liston, in their 1963 world heavyweight championship bout. Leifer directed the 2008 CINEMAX Reel Life documentary “Portraits of a Lady,” in which 25 artists painted then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor.
The documentary is produced by Leifer and Corinne Marrinan, who produced the HBO documentary “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin,” which won an Oscar® for Documentary Short Subject.
DARK LIGHT: THE ART OF BLIND PHOTOGRAPHERS is directed by Neil Leifer; produced by Corinne Marrinan and Neil Leifer; associate producers, Annie Dressner and J.M. Finholt. For HBO: supervising producer, John Hoffman; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.