Legally Blind Photographer

Many years ago I met a wonderful photographer who was legally blind. She was determined to keep shooting. She contacted Konica, one of the first camera manufacturer to come out with an auto focus camera. As a result of here new system she was able to continue to shoot and exhibit her work.

Once again I’m inspired by the work of of another photographer who happens to be blind, Kurt Weston

Behind the Scenes: Altered Visions

Kurt Weston, 51,was once part of what he calls “the illusion machine.” As a glamour photographer, he would jet to Europe with hair stylists and makeup artists to transform models and create the appearance of beauty.

Picture 8
The Vision Machine

Now he says he is interested only in authenticity. Mr. Weston’s subjects are the elderly and the frail, with special attention to issues surrounding blindness. Surface appearances do not interest him so much.

What changed his work was an HIV/AIDS-related condition — cytomegalovirus retinitis — that destroyed his sight in one eye and left the other with minimal peripheral vision. In 1995, Mr. Weston was close to death, but new antiviral drugs saved his life.

Picture 2
Do You See the Big E

Today, he is a legally blind photographer.

“I was grateful to be alive, but I assumed I couldn’t do photography,” he recalled in a recent telephone interview from Huntington Beach, Calif., where he lives. “But I learned mobility skills, adaptive computer skills and how to use low-vision devices like monoculars, video magnifiers and thick clear-view glasses to help me see.”

Mr. Weston was shocked when he realized he could photograph again. “I still don’t see very much of anything,” he said, “but I see enough to get by.”

Picture 1
Peering Through the Darkness

His first major projects were about his own blindness. He started with self-portraits that illustrated the psychological, emotional and physical weight of vision loss. There is nothing glamorous about these images. He lay atop a scanner and dripped foaming glass cleaner onto the surface to create visual disturbance. Some images include the vision assistance devices on which he relies.

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Reel Vision

“I try to replicate my vision,” Mr. Weston said. “When i move my eye, I see spiderlike tendrils. There’s nothing in focus or sharp.”

In his next series, Silent Age, he photographed elderly people, using a medium format camera. With a scanner, he combined these images with photographs he took of peeling paint on the walls of Chicago subway stations. Together, they suggest the deterioration that often comes with advanced age. Other images involved subjects, often in their 80s and 90s, laying on the scanner.

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Silent Heart

Mr. Weston feels he is unlikely to reach a great age himself because of HIV and the drugs he takes. “The body is like a machine that breaks down,” he said. “It deteriorates over time.”

While the concept of a blind photographer may seem counterintuitive, Mr. Weston is not alone. Many legally blind people photograph and exhibit their work, as Time noted in“The Art and Heart of “Blind Photographers.” There are over 150 members of the group“Blind Photographer” started by Tim O’Brien. The Web site developed out of the Flickr community.

Picture 7

When Mr. Weston teaches photography at the Huntington Beach Art Center, he doesn’t tell his students that he is legally blind. He waits until they figure it out. He says that after their original shock, the students realize he has much to teach them.

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Wiser Than Dreams

He helps them develop their vision, just as he has expanded his own.

“I was part of the illusion machine, but now I’m dealing with mortality and the reality of being human,” Mr. Weston said. “I just want it to be intensely real.”

Picture 1
Peering Through the Darkness

By James Estrin / New York Times

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