Two challenge questions. If you became blind, how would you express yourself creatively? Would you be willing, as a sighted or unsighted artist, to pick random coordinates on a map and go there, even if it's scary dangerous, to expand your creative palette?
Doug McCulloh would have you believe his exhibits and books are a result of simple curiosity, but his work as both photographer and curator, is much more -- innovative, courageous and multi-layered.
"I just chase what I think is worth doing. The rest is aftermath," he says.
In one recent aftermath, more than half-a-million people clicked on Sight Unseen on Time.com in the first day those pictures went online. The gallery of photos is a selection from a show McCulloh curated for UC Riverside California Museum of Photography. On display through Aug. 29.
What will surprise people is the artists can't see. McCulloh, who is sighted, says blind photographers possess the clearest vision on the planet. They are unencumbered by conventional ideas of what makes a photo. So how do they do it? Some have studios and construct images in their minds, then use a variety of lighting techniques on subjects. Others, lacking the ability to compose with eyesight, use other senses -- wind, the feeling of sunshine and sound of traffic -- to set up shots.
Among more than a dozen artists in the show, Alice Wingwall calls her work a political act, a radical choice to go against the convention that it isn't possible. Pete Eckert describes the brain as wired for optical input, creating images even without visual aid.
McCulloh has another show Dream Street at the Riverside Art Museum. It's based on a contest he entered to name a street in a new Ontario housing development. He photographed a transformation from empty field to empty dreams. Day laborers and people turned down for loans could only wish for a home. A book is to be released through heydaybooks.com
His approach to photography is storytelling, and he is frustrated by high-modernist exhibits with minimal text: "Birmingham, 1949."
"I would rage: give me more, tell me something," he says.
So he interviews subjects and shares tantalizing mini-tales, such as one of a tatooed man sitting on a street, which begins "When Chase was eleven, his mother went to the store and never came back."
"Rather than leaving a photo unmoored, I prefer to offer glimpses and clues about some of the sets of meaning embedded in that image," he says.
His former projects include Chance Encounters in which he used random coordinates to travel with his camera, going from sterile gated communities to gritty streets. He is one of six photographers who made the world's largest pinpoint camera and photograph in an F-16 hanger at the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Challenge reminder: Post a comment about 1: How you would be creative if blind. 2: Would you roll the dice and go anywhere to find your muse?