THE MIRACLE WORKER–View Finder: The Photography of John Dugdale

THE MIRACLE WORKER–View Finder: The Photography of John Dugdale


JOHN DUGDALE: When I lost my sight almost entirely about seventeen years ago, I needed to reinvent myself from being a commercial photographer to an art photographer. I remembered from when I was in college that there was a beautiful, simple, inexpensive process called cyanotype, so I thought I would make a few just to get started again doing something. And it turned out that the blue color really deeply affected people, so I went on to have about 175 shows around the world over the next twenty years. The camera is an extraordinarily beautiful Deardorff camera from somewhere between 1900 and 1905. As my sight faded, it was wonderful because it’s got an eleven-by-forteen back, and I could see something through there. And then as it diminished more to where I am now, Daniel Levin, who’s here, would just direct my hands over the screen. We’ve worked so long that basically all I have to do is speak out loud with the slightest direction and he makes the photographs with me in a way that I feel like I’m making them myself. Since this was set originally in 1880-85, it seemed really appropriate, the process and the camera, and the fact that I more than know what it feels like to be unsighted. I was actually even deaf for a while. I had a stroke that precipitated my illness from HIV and I was deaf for one day, completely in both ears, and my sight went away very quickly. So I have a special feeling. It’s a marvelous thing to make photographs with this camera because it’s more like sitting for a still life or a watercolor. There’s no jumping around– the camera only has a speed of a fifteenth of a second. The slow shutter speed seems to slow me down, and slow my subjects down. No one seems to mind holding still, and it often has been described to me as therapy. It’s therapy for the subjects, and it’s certainly therapy for me. And it’s been like that from the first day. I could fall down the stairs and then turn around and make an entire show, and not even think one thought that I can’t see it, because I can. There is an alternative world out there that is as powerful as anything that one might describe as normal. Obviously Helen Keller brought it to a zenith with her life. I think that that’s the whole message: Whatever it is that you think is your adversity is actually your strength.

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