Any talented photographer has been told he or she possesses a “good eye.” For Sacramento-based Pete Eckert, an artist blinded by Retinitis Pigmentosa, this is certainly still true. In a new short from Avant/Garde Diaries, Eckert discusses his journey into blindness and how he uses photography to continue to make art.
Eckert’s condition has left him with what he describes as “crackling lightning and spirals of light that go through my vision.” These “light effects” are evident in his featured photographs from his Avant/Garde Diaries segment. “I do a lot of photography in the dark,” says Eckert. “I do it this way because darkness and blindness are related, so it’s a simple visual metaphor for me to show where I am.” Though he describes the metaphor as simple, you wouldn’t necessarily guess his photographs were taken in the dark. Each picture conveys a fleeting perception of a person or figure in time, both obscuring and illuminating human bodies with trails of color.
The connection between Eckert’s Retinitis Pigmentosa and his photographic subjects might seem like serendipity, but the photographer finds a more complicated connection between the two. He calls each photograph a “by product… an image for sighted people,” distinct from his personal “event” or experience composing the photograph. “I’m very clear on not mixing the two so the work of blindness isn’t tainted by the sighted world,” he explains. Pete Eckert’s refusal to “see” the world with his eyes reminds me of Dzigo Vertov’s famous line “I am the mechanical eye,” embracing technology to capture new forms that have never been seen before. In a different sense, the separation between the sighted world and the blind world recall an episode of WNYC’s Radiolab that discussed how the blind often work to sever ties with the visual world.
Despite origins in the land of the blind, Eckert’s work clearly translates to visually engaging images that manage to negotiate tactile and sonic perceptions of the world around him. The artist reflects that “sighted people see the world as if looking at a painting. I see the world as if immersed in water. I’m seeing the world in 360 degrees.” In a very real way, Eckert sees quite clearly; he just sees the world very differently than we do.