The Digital Journalist
The Eye of the Beholder

by Henry Butler

No two people will see things in the exact same way. When I take a photograph, itís a great learning process for me. Each person that describes it or looks at it, has a totally different way of seeing it. People see colors differently; they see different things in the same picture. They interpret what theyíre seeing based on their own intellect.

The Mississippi River from Audubon Park, New Orleans

Photo by Henry Butler
My photography audience is sighted people. Iíve gotten to know what they look at and look for. My name is Henry Butler and I am a photographer who happens to be blind.

Iíve been taking photos since 1984. I started because I wanted to become a participant in the visual arts field, and affect the consciousness of sighted people. I was already a musician, playing with jazz greats like Charlie Haden in clubs like the Comeback Inn in LA. I knew that people who hear the same composition, theyíre going to hear differently than the composer. I think shooting color v black and white is similar to writing a musical composition in a major or minor key.

After going to exhibits, hearing people describe photos and paintings, I felt kind of emptyó- I wasnít getting all that I could get. The best thing, I decided, was to try to become at least an artist who was doing something in one of the visual arts.

Mardi Gras 2005, New Orleans: bw shoes

Photo by Henry Butler
My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic. It took two weeks to shoot and process the film, before I would know whether I got the composition, whether I captured it, whether people could see what I thought it was. I bought a Polaroid camera, so I could get immediate feedback. I asked my partner to be my assistant. I took photographs up and down the Pacific Coast Highway; itís so beautiful there right now, with the hills covered in wildflowers.

I bought a 35 mm SLR and continued my work, sometimes with three cameras: one loaded with black and white film, one for color, and another with maybe a different lens. Now I primarily shoot digital images.

When I take a picture, I listen to the voice, to sound, and try to realize how tall my subject is, relative to my height. Am I facing the right direction? Andrea Du Plessis, my education coordinator, has acted as my assistant for five years. ďPoint it up a little bit. Point it down,Ē she says, if I decide to do a close-up, or maybe get more background.

Itís a delicate balance Ė she could see each image very differently. When Andrea says, ďThatís a great shotĒ if donít feel that image stimulates me, then I donít want it. She doesnít interfere with what I do unless Iím way off.

Car,on exhibit in New Zealand.

Photo by Henry Butler
My photography audience is sighted people. Iíve gotten to know what they look at and look for. They are looking for what they call ďcomposition.Ē Something in that shot that gives them sort of a home base so they can identify, and it makes it real for them. If the person is attuned, they might have a glimpse of what the photographer had in mind.

What can I learn by showing my images to sighted people? Itís an overall effort to serve, regardless of what I do: Shoot pool; Throw darts. And Iíve tried both.

All the photographer can do is capture what he or she perceives. Itís all about trying to find more profound ways of growing.

© Henry Butler

Henry Butler lives in New Orleans. He is professional musician, photographer, and teacher. He conducts a summer program at the T.R.A.C at the University of New Orleans for blind and visually impaired children. He states his age as: old as God, young as eternity.

More photos can be seen on Henry Butler's website.

Henry Butler's photographs will be on exhibit in April, 2005 in New Orleans at
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery.

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