A few weeks ago I got an email from a photographer who said he takes portraits of people who can’t see. “I am emailing you to enquire if you would be interested in participating in the project,” he wrote. “It would be an honor to take your picture!”
Uh-oh, I thought. Another nutjob who heard about my job modeling nude for art students. Before hitting the delete button, though, I did a little research. And guess what? This guy is legit!
Charlie Simokaitis is a sought-after commercial photographer whose eight-year-old daughter has an eye condition that will soon leave her blind. Faye Simokaitis is the inspiration for Fade to White, a compilation of the portraits her dad has been taking of people who are visually impaired or blind. Charlie Simokaitis describes the project as an “effort to try to understand the impending reality” of his daughter’s loss of sight. From his artist statement:
As I spend more time with blind people, I am developing a perverse kinship with the very condition that will eventually lay claim to my daughter’s eyesight. For me, solace lies in the creation of this work.
After reading that, I hit the reply button on his email message. Y-E-S, my talking computer parroted the letters I typed. Sitting for a portrait would be an honor.
Charlie likes to meet with his models to chat before a shoot, so I suggested we meet for lunch at Hackney’s. Once Mike took a look at some of the portraits already up on the Fade to White web site, he decided to come along. “These pictures are great, Beth,” he told me. “I want to meet this guy!”
Charlie is as striking as the photographs he takes. Over lunch, he told Mike and me a little about the research he had done before starting his project. Photographing the blind has its roots in street photography. “It was pretty much voyeuristic,” he said. “You know, the blind person would have no idea the photographer was there.” In contrast, Charlie wants his subjects to know exactly what he is up to, and he doesn’t need us to be grasping white canes or posing with our guide dogs. When I showed him my cast, he assured me it wouldn’t get in his way. “Most of my portraits are from the waist up.” More from his artist statement:
This work looks at the unseeing Other while attempting to understand the fetishism of other people’s perceived pain and the taboos and tacit responsibility of representing a blind person.
It was hot the afternoon we scheduled the photo session, and I showed up wearing a dark red tank top. Charlie knew right away where he’d want me to pose. For most of my shots, I’m standing against a yellow brick wall in Printers Row Park. That’s the park Harper loves to look down at from our kitchen window. The session took about an hour, and it made me feel like a model – only this time, with clothes on.
Charlie uses film to take his portraits, and he’s still scanning mine in. You don’t have to wait to see his other work, though. Charlie’s Fade to White photos are available online, and two of them will be featured in a show opening this Friday at the Catherine Edelman Gallery, W. Superior in Chicago. Charlie’s photos were selected along with the works of 11 other photographers from The Chicago Project, and the show will be up until September 3. If I were you, though, I’d head over there for the opening reception this Friday, July 15, from 5 to 8 pm. The artists will be there that night, and trust me, it’s an honor to meet a pro like Charlie Simokaitis.