When I saw the title of this film, I thought it was a put-on. But the existence of blind photographers is only the first revelation of Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers, a 30-minute documentary short that premieres on HBO2 tonight (Nov. 17) at 8:00 PM. Even more amazing is that some of them—the three profiled here, for example, are actually quite good (see for yourself here).
Seeing the image through the viewfinder is only one step in creating a great photograph. But composition can (and often does) take place first in the mind of the photographer, without use of his eyes. Likewise, if a person without sight has a sufficient understanding of light and film’s sensitivity to it, he can use that knowledge to determine what camera settings to employ, what angles from which to shoot, or any number of other options. It suddenly doesn’t seem quite so absurd for blind New Orleans jazz piano great Henry Butler to say, as he did to _Paste recently, “I wanted to figure out how I could experience personally what photographers and painters experience when they are doing their art, and I figured the only barrier to my doing that was sight.”
All three of the featured photographers are fascinating in their own right, and their work is beautiful (see a few examples). But one of the aspects of Butler’s work that is so enchanting is his appreciation of the concept of portrait photography being a collaboration between photographer and subject. Although he’s not able to see his subjects, he’s able to draw out such delight and joy from them, not only from the unexpectedness of a blind man taking their picture, but also from the buoyancy of his own personality. “Well, I got that from music,” he says. “When I think about how I send energy out to my audience and how they send energy back to me—I’ve been doing that all my life. And this is just a different way of realizing that. You get behind the lens and you capture what that subject is wanting to share with you. And that moment is a beautiful moment for everybody.”