A couple weeks ago, I attended Photo LA with my mother, a photographer. On our way out, we came across a blind man with a seeing eye dog. It begged the obvious question-- "blind photographer" is about as oxymoronic as it gets-- but, then coincidentally, this morning I came across a video of the same man. Pete Eckert is indeed a blind visual artist, a sculptor and industrial designer in his former life, before being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that results in permanent blindness. Below, Eckert tells his inspirational story about how he shifted to photography, and began to "see" differently using sound.
"I didn't take photography seriously until I went totally blind. I was trained in sculpture and industrial design. I have always been a visual person and planned to study architecture at Yale, but then I started to lose my sight. A doctor coolly told me I had Retinitis Pigmentosa and left the room without further comment. While listening to Dr. Dean Edell, on a San Francisco TV network, I learned I would go completely blind. A caller asked about RP. I remember the doctor's words; they hit me like a hammer. 'A person with RP gradually looses their sight until they go completely blind.' There is currently no cure for RP.
It took me two years to recover and figure out what to do. I was a carpenter at the time. I did first-rate work. So I never needed to hunt for a job. None-the-less I worked very little, just enough to pay the rent and for food. My girlfriend, Amy, stood by me during this difficult time. Amy and I were engaged. I worried about the future. At one point I laid out charts graphing the loss of vision over time for her. I told Amy if she left me after we married I wouldn't hold it against her. She stuck it out. In June we will be married twenty-four years."