Kurt Weston: The Making of the Blind Vision Photography Series

A look back at the Blind Vision series of black-and-white self-portraits by award-winning photographer Kurt Weston

I wrote about award-winning, legally blind photographer Kurt Weston and his Blind Vision series of black-and-white self-portraits, as well as about other images by the same artist in the November 2005 issue of A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine. Here are several excerpts from that article, “Warrior Within.”

Kurt Weston photography as displayed at the OCCCA show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective (12/1/18 – 12/29/18)

Photographer Kurt Weston sees his AIDS as a battle.  And he needs to be a warrior willing to fight the virus that is destroying him.

“I never really wanted to just give up, even when I had the KS lesions.  I think part of it was the fear of dying, but I didn’t just wait for it to happen,” he says, explaining his source of positive attitude during the course of our phone interview.

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1991, the award-winning visual artist considers protease inhibitors a miracle that literary saved his life.  But, as he was restoring his health, he was also becoming legally blind, diagnosed with CMV retinitis in 1994.

Kurt Weston photography as displayed at the OCCCA show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective (12/1/18 – 12/29/18)

On World AIDS Day 2018, award-winning photographer Kurt Weston invited me to participate on a panel discussion on the opening night of his new show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective at Orange County Center of Contemporary Art. 12/1 – 12/29 2018

“I was devastated because here I had spent my life working as a photographer and as a visual artist and I was no longer capable of doing this… or so I thought, because I couldn’t see anything in focus.  I don’t see anybody’s face,” he says.  “I see… like, if you look at the palm of your hand.  That’s what I see of a person’s face.  So, I didn’t think I could ever photograph again.”

Fortunately, it turned out he could.  And his first challenge was finishing the 1999 calendar for the Asian/Pacific Crossroads.

Many challenges later, after attending low vision technology studies at the California Braille Institute and experimenting with his new special equipment, Weston realized that he could, indeed, photograph.  With the help of organizations like the Foundation for Junior Blinds (now known as Junior Blind of America) and California Department of Rehabilitation, he purchased the special equipment—handheld telescope, special magnification glasses, and magnification and reading software programs like Zoomtext—necessary for him to continue his work.

“It was scary.  A lot of times, I would take a leap of faith and do a lot of experimentation,” he recalls this learning process.

Kurt Weston is a firm believer that a person can work through a situation, no matter how extremely challenging and helpless it may seem, and use the experience to help others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  This philosophy has helped him work off the dilemmas in his own life while giving his life a deeper sense of meaning.

His early work in the AIDS community includes the founding of SWAN (Surviving With AIDS Network) a grass-root type of organization for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as founding the Orange County Therapeutic Nutrients Program, which assists people living with HIV/AIDS.

On World AIDS Day 2018, award-winning photographer Kurt Weston invited me to participate on a panel discussion on the opening night of his new show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective at Orange County Center of Contemporary Art. Here are a few images I’ve taken during the event, after the panel discussion.

One of the many ways Weston helps others today is through […] Very Special Arts, an international organization committed to promote disabled artists.  In June 2005, as a member of a VSA’s Board of Directors, he went to D.C. with a VSA contingent to advocate for the continuation of funding […] because these funds are vital for the careers of many potentially good artists.

From his perspective, Weston considers art a vehicle through which we can experience the nature of humanity.  In today’s society consumed by superficial realities, his art goes beyond the body and into a metaphysical dimension, connecting with the viewer on a more profound, spiritual level.

Kurt Weston’s 2005 Unfinished Works award-winning work captures The Last Light of a dear friend.  “He had AIDS and hepatitis,” the artist explains.  “He was seeing the light of day for the last time [because] two days after I took that picture he died.  He had been a big light for many people and helped the HIV/AIDS community for many long years.”

Peering through Darkness is part of Kurt Weston’s Blind Vision series of self-portraits that show people the physical and emotional impact that visual loss can have on an individual.  In order to represent his visual disturbance—which he described like “pieces of cotton stuck in my eye, floating every time I move my eye”—he sprayed a glass with foaming glass cleaner and took a self-portrait sitting behind it.  “You see my hand pushing away the foam, which is what I would love to do,” he explains, “I would like to be able to wipe away all that cotton that keeps floating in front of my eye and get a clear view of what I want to see out in the world.”

Kurt Weston photography as displayed at the OCCCA show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective (12/1/18 – 12/29/18)

At the opening of Kurt Weston’s art show, Remember: An AIDS Retrospective, at the Orange County Center of Contemporary Art. World AIDS Day 2018. Show running 12/1/2018 – 12/29/2018

Weston believes that black-and-white offers his art a concentration of expression.  And he likes that intensity, in particular in his portraits.  He uses regular film and prints his images on silver gelatin paper so that they can last forever.  He wants future generations to be able to look at this work and say, “This was happening at this time in history and this is the impact it left on people who’s lives it touched, this pandemic.”

[…]

He believes that […] a cure will come. Until then, he reminds, there is so much work to be done.

Kurt Weston photography at OCCCA
Kurt Weston photography as displayed at the OCCCA show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective (12/1/18 – 12/29/18)

On World AIDS Day 2018, award-winning photographer Kurt Weston invited me to participate on a panel discussion on the opening night of his new show Remember: An AIDS Retrospective at Orange County Center of Contemporary Art. Here are a few images I’ve taken during the event, after the panel discussion.

Find out more about Kurt Weston‘s photography work by visiting him online or stopping by the Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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