Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Creative sight

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 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

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?


Gryffindor Irish Wolfhounds said...

Hi, Pat, I love your comments about this exhibit, and feel energized by your creativity and YOUR sight (& site). Your fan, Pat Murkland

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

OK, so I'm gonna take the challenge and kick this off (and thanks, Pat M, for your kind words).
1) If I became blind, I would learn Braille as fast as I could and get an audio enchancement thingie on my computer, because I MUST read and write. Stories feed me. I already love to listen to audiobooks to fall asleep, just like a little kid.
2)I admit to not being a dice thrower, but as a reporter I went dicey places. I think having a camera and notebook feels like an admission pass to anywhere and helps you go into situations you might not otherwise. And no doubt you learn something and expand your horizons.

peeper said...

If I became blind, I would weave. I once took a creativity class in which we had to explore some creative outlet we'd never tried before. I bought a loom,dyed my own yarn with natural dyes, and learned to weave. Textiles are so tactile that even if color became a non-issue, the pleasure of texture would still be there.
Travel is my number one passion,and I've often done it alone--Libya, Mallorca, Denmark, Italy. It's scsry and challenging, though, and the older I get, the more appealing it becomes to imagine finding my muse on a tropical beach or in a sweet little B & B in
Dublin, rather than on a mountain-top in Katmandu.

gayle said...

Thank you for this post, Pat! I am very excited to see this exhibit. If I were blind, I'd definitely find ways to read and write (I love the little bumps on the f and j keys on the keyboard, and figure that I could type while blind as long as I stay aware of my finger placement through those keys.) Braille seems intimidating, but definitely worthwhile; I love that there are devices that can translate text into voice (I once did an interview at a radio station run by an institute for the blind, and the woman who interviewed me showed me how she "read" my book by putting it in a cunning machine that read each page out loud.) I imagine a tactile art like sculpture would be interesting to do while blind, too--something to do by feel. As for the second question, I love chance and surprise in the creative process, so I'd definitely try rolling the dice to find my muse. :)


gayle said...

Oh, and dance. Of course I'd dance. :)


eggntoast said...

I had to think about this for a while, because I'm not sure I can wrap my head around the ways in which becoming blind would alter me as a person.

I imagine I would be drawn to working with sound in the absence of sight. I have always been interested in learning to sing properly, so I think I would attempt that. I think writing would not be much altered.

As you say, the existence of audio books and podcasts means that you don't have to stop reading or learning, even before you can develop compensatory skills.

As for the second question, I have (quite literally) rolled the dice and sought new experience so many times I can't count them at this point. So, I think that's a safe 'yes'. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

I think I second (or third, etc.!) what others have said about continuing to write if I became blind. It's such an integral part of who I am that I can't imagine *not* writing. I really appreciate what Gayle said about the little bumps on the F & J keys -- I'd never consciously noticed them, but of course they've been there all along. As a blind person, I suspect that all of the other senses would come into keen focus -- just closing my eyes briefly to contemplate what that might be like, I suddenly became aware of all the passing cars, the beep beep beep of the trash truck, that I hadn't tuned into before I closed them. Throwing pottery on a wheel on a wheel -- that's so very tactile, I think it might even be more enjoyable to do that blind; so much sensory input from the kneading, the spinning, the shaping of the wet clay; it's a very sensual art.

As for traveling to random coordinates, I don't know.... I'm all for adventure, so maybe I would, given the right circumstances. But then again, I might be prone to "selective" traveling; I'm not keen on the cold!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wow everyone, this is great. You each give me more to think about. Sculpture and weaving and dancing and singing. It is so joyful and adventuresome! Thanks. Anybody else who stumbles upon this, chime in, please.