I recently viewed the documentary "Dark Light: The Art Of Blind Photographers" on HBO, which was directed and co-produced by Neil Leifer and Corrine Marrinan, and features Pete Eckert, Bruce Hall, and Henry Butler. These three blind photographers show that concept and visual planning are more important than mere sight.
Pete Eckert has Retinitis Pigmentosa. On his website, Pete Eckert, he describes being trained in sculpture and industrial design; he was planning to study architecture at Yale. He began to go blind at the age of 27. It took over ten years. In one part of the movie, he is shown in a restaurant using a Braille altered analog light meter, checking the values inside and outside, while always being aware of the direction he is facing. The expertly planned resulting pictures have an airy, dreamlike quality. In another part of the movie, he describes light painting a woman. He knows exactly where she is while he is painting, by listening to the sound bounce around her while he is talking. He talks about using reflected light and has no doubt planned all of the details, including metering the light behind the woman.
Bruce Hall has taken pictures underwater for 25 years, and is an expert diver, even though he is almost completely blind. He was born with an optic nerve that never fully developed. He describes being able to see only shapes and color, and memorizing the exact placement of the underwater camera controls. He says that "you have to have it down so well that you forget about it". Hall can see enough of the resulting images to enjoy them when they are blown up. His images are so good that National Geographic has published his work several times. His online portfolio of his autistic sons, Visual Summit Gallery, particularly interested me, because it shows a sensory oriented view of the world that defies verbal explanations. Leifer describes Hall taking pictures of his sons as being like "capturing chaos and collisions that are out of control", and that he is "taking pictures of autism itself".
Henry Butler, who was born blind, photographs people. He is shown talking to them, telling them he is blind, asking if he can take their picture, and asking them to talk about themselves. He describes the art of taking pictures of people as "back and forth" interaction. The people in his pictures seem amazingly genuine. He says that he enjoys the improvisational part of photography much like he enjoys playing the piano. According to the biography on his website, Henry Butler Bio, his photos "continue to be exhibited nationally and internationally and appear in major newspapers across the country".