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.