Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists

Center for Visual Art

March 3 – April 9, 2011

  • Opening reception: Thursday, March 3, 7-9pm
  • Artists: Ralph Baker, New York, NY; Evgen Bavcar, Paris, France; Henry Butler, New Orleans, LA; Pete Eckert, Sacramento, CA; Bruce Hall, Irvine, CA; Annie Hesse, Paris, France; Rosita McKenzie, Edinburgh, Scotland; Gerardo Nigenda, Oaxaca, México; Michael Richard, Los Angeles, CA; Seeing With Photography Collective, New York, NY; Kurt Weston, Huntington Beach, CA; Alice Wingwall, Berkeley, CA. Curated by Douglas McCulloh
Bruce Hall - Aberration

Superficially, the concept of photography by the blind is a non sequitor. It immediately raises questions along the line of "why would a blind person want to produce a photograph?" After all, they can't see the subject, they can't see the image, and what's more, it's flat.

In his catalog text, exhibition curator Douglas McCulloh responds that blind photographers are simply following a basic human need for images. Further, he argues that, counter-intuitively, photographic conventions such as composition, technical choices, and decisive moments, plus the inundation of clichéd images that form our view of our world, contribute to a form of progressive blindness. "If the sighted are blind from too much seeing, blind photographers by contrast are unhindered by the disability of sight," he writes.

Neatly put, and to his credit the works he has gathered do for the most part propel the viewer into an appreciation of those works that bring about "the reunion of the visible and the invisible worlds," which is the self-described task of Paris-based photographer Evgen Bavcar. Bavcar's surreal B&W images are most successful in evoking the inner mind's "gallery" of images. Of all the artists in the show, his works (and words) best personify McCulloh's curatorial thesis of the blind as wanderer, explorer, and visionary.

Sight Unseen has more of a sense of photography "by" rather than "for" the blind, but two series are made to be touched. Rosita Mckenzie, who lives and works in Edinburgh, has created a series of color photographs of structures paired with tactile drawings of the same scene created by a collaborator. Their fuzzy lines show how a politically-motivated artist can develop alternative interpretive strategies that are less coded, and more familiar, to the sighted viewer than Braille (and they feel good too).

Only one artist does in fact integrate Braille into the work: Gerardo Nigenda of Oaxaca punches Braille into the surface of his images, which trace a journey from his house to the Alvarez Bravo Photography Center, also in Oaxaca. The captions are transliterations of the Braille, and to use McCulloh's words, they verge on imagist poetry: "the roadway of water is surrounded by the earth," "a natural boundary subdued by the wind," and "coinciding calm and silky sensations," for example, operate as evocatively as the extended captions used in Dario Robleto's current show at MCA Denver, which is a must-see.

Apart from the title (a cliché in itself) there is much to appreciate in this show. Images by Kurt Weston and the Seeing With Photography Collective stand out, as does the work of the extraordinary Alice Wingwall. Her display is complimented by a memorable video in which this feisty blind woman of a certain age drives a tractor, ice skates, hammers shoes into a wall, and generally conveys how her blindness is an almost trivial inconvenience compared to her pursuit of art and life. "How do you take photographs?" the naïve camera store owner asks her; "I use an autofocus" she replies, with not a hint of irony. - Rupert Jenkins

Rupert Jenkins is a photography curator and President of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center.

Center for Visual Art
Metropolitan State College of Denver
965 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, CO 80204
Tue-Fri: 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Sat: 12:00 - 5:00 PM


(from the press release)

Metropolitan State College of Denver, Center for Visual Art is pleased to present Sight Unseen, the first major exhibition of work by the worldʼs most accomplished blind photographers. The exhibition explores the idea that blind photographers can see in ways that sighted people cannot.

Many of us, with sight leading as our dominant sense, use images to build our world. Visual information is practical to our survival and yet it has become pervasive in our world. We respond to visual overload by shuttering and narrowing our perception, a form of self- inflicted blindness, so as to rebalance our senses. But for the sight-impaired artists in this exhibition, making a photograph has provided new ways of seeing.

These artists employ diverse strategies in their work. Some use the camera to present their own inner visions. Some capture the outside world unfiltered with a non-retinal photography of chance. And a number of the artists, legally blind but retaining a limited, highly attenuated sight, photograph to capture the outside world and bring it into their realm.

In his novel Blindness, José Saramago writes, "Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are." Beethoven composed music without the ability to hear, blind Milton and Homer conjured the landscapes of the heavens and the underworld, and the artists of Sight Unseen further explore our definitions of blindness and challenge us to reevaluate what it means to see.