Blowing A Big Ol’ Kiss for Mardi Gras!

Henry Butler. Big Ol’ Kiss. 2005. Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans.
Henry Butler. “Big Ol’ Kiss”. 2005. Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans.

The photographer said of this shot, “I always wanted to photograph Becky because she has a personality that is larger than life.” That’s New Orleans for you, a personality larger than life. That’s the New Orleans I love and miss.

Henry Butler is one of my most favorite New Orleans musicians. He’s a composer, recording artist, and steward of the piano tradition that begins with Jelly Roll Morton and runs through Professor Longhair and James Booker. He also is a blind photographer.

In a video that accompanied his 2005 photo exhibit at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans, he explained why he began to take pictures:

I was always curious as to why sighted people looked at images and got so focused and intrigued by and enamored with images on paper or on canvas. So I decided I needed more than just an intellectual explanation for what I was either touching or realizing through somebody else’s eyes. I decided maybe I’ll just become a participant in capturing visual images.

One word here — “curious” — captured my imagination last year when I was speaking about the idea of re-imagining accessibility. I presented “Big Ol’ Kiss” at MIT to illustrate a blind photographer gazing back. The blind person isn’t the helpless object of the gaze, a long tradition in the history of on-the-street photography, but the active subject doing the gazing. I’ll continue to explore the idea in a talk this spring called “Curiosity and the Blind Photographer.” Stay tuned.

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