A #tbt interview with award-winning, legally blind photographer Kurt Weston, originally published in A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine
Some fifteen years ago, I came across a contest looking for works by visual artists and writers. The contest was called Unfinished Works and featured a black-and-white photograph–The Last Light, by Kurt Weston. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that moment was about to forever change my life in the most amazing ways. I ended up getting in touch with the photographer, Kurt Weston for a first interview. I’ve had the chance to interview him several times since then, and we even collaborated on a book.
The photograph featured an old man with a drawn face and ghostly eyes. He was sitting in a chair with his back at a tall window. The weak daylight poured inside the room to mingle with the pale artificial light of a night lamp. The only other source of light in the photograph was the man’s eyes, glowing with serenity. He seemed unaware of the mist of shadow and light surrounding him. Rather, he gazed at something beyond the visual sphere of the photograph, as if he found himself at the crossroads between two realms, about to follow a path unfolding in front of him, into some mysterious unknown.
The man’s eyes haunted me for weeks and months to follow. His story was a mystery to me. At the time, I couldn’t know that I was already on my way to learn more about him.
I found out that The Last Light was the artwork of a visual artist called Kurt Weston.
At the time I was looking for an artist to feature in [A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine.] The article, “Warrior Within,” was published in the November, 2005 issue of A&U. Here’s an excerpt:
“I never really wanted to just give up. I think part of it was the fear of dying, but I didn’t just wait for it to happen,” [Kurt Weston] 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 [the antiviral medications] a miracle that saved his life. But, as he was restoring his health, he was also becoming legally blind, diagnosed with CMV [AIDS-related] retinitis in 1994.
“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. […] Many challenges later, after attending low vision technology studies […] and experimenting with […] special equipment, Weston realized that he could, indeed, photograph. […] “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.
One of the many ways Weston helps others today is through Very Special Arts [VSA], an international organization promoting artists [living with disabilities]. 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. […]
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 as “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.”
Weston believes that black-and-white offers his art a concentration of expression. And he likes that intensity, in particular in his portraits. […] 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 whose lives it touched, this pandemic.”