E-Project: The Life of the Blind

July 1, 2010
By Holly Stuart Hughes

E-Project - Life of The Blind
Photo Credit: © Stefano De Luigi/VII Network
Though De Luigi shot the photos in "Blanco" in 16 countries, the sequence of images unfolds as a single narrative. Here, a boy without eyeballs—a victim of Agent Orange—at a school in Hanoi.
In the novel Blindness by Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago, an epidemic causes people to go blind, plunging them not into darkness but into a universe of complete whiteness. The novel's depiction of the loss of sight inspired photographer Stefano de Luigi as he began planning a multimedia slide show made up of his images of visually impaired individuals around the world. In "Blanco," several of his images fade slowly to white. As a new image comes on the screen, figures slowly come into focus, as if emerging from what De Luigi calls "an endless milky sea." Using 3D motion effects that make lone figures appear isolated from the background image, "Blanco" creates a visual metaphor for the isolation that many blind people experience.

From 2003 to 2007, De Luigi, who is based in Rome, photographed people with visual disabilities in Brazil, Perù, Bolivia, Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, China, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Bulgaria and Lithuania. The work was supported by CBM International (originally called Christoffel-Blindenmission), an NGO that helps people with disabilities in developing countries get access to basic health care. Last year, after another trip to Burundi, he began working on turning the series into a book. It was published this spring by Trolley Books. To publicize the book's release De Luigi decided to turn the images into a multimedia presentation published in the online magazine of the VII Photo agency.

To help him select and sequence the images, De Luigi turned to Annalisa D'Angelo, a Rome-based curator and freelance editor he had met in 2006 through a mutual acquaintance, photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin. "I never before met someone with such an eye for editing and sequences," DeLuigi says of D'Angelo. In addition to editing the images, D'Angelo also contacted director Ippolito Simion at Rat TV, a Rome production house that makes music videos and commercials, who animated the slide show in After Effects and synched it with music composed by Simonluca Laitempergher.

De Luigi says they began by talking about previous photographic works on the blind—by Paul Strand, Jane Evelyn Atwood and others—and about ways to depict the life of a person who can't see: "How exactly a blind person interacts with his or her own universe, with his or her space, and how this universe appears to a person who can see." De Luigi also discussed his fascination with Saramago's Blindness. Says D'Angelo, "We all read it before starting [the project], and everything started making sense." She adds, "The lack of punctuation in the book inspired the fast movement and sequencing of the images."

They conceived of "Blanco" not as a series of stills but as a single story. Though the images show a variety of subjects in many different settings, D'Angelo says she tried to link them together to form a kind of narrative. "What we wanted was for the viewer to stop on some images, and go faster on others, because we studied the video as a 'film,' with a story to follow." "Blanco" opens with an image of fingers on a page of Braille, and then more images of patients at an eye care hospital and blind children at a school slowly fade in and out. The pace of the slide show soon quickens, however, as the images pan across the screen. Then, after a slow fade to a white screen, the pace slows again. The idea, D'Angelo says, was to begin by creating a sense of "initial desperation and sense of loss." In the middle, D'Angelo says, "the images move faster and faster and the music is louder." D'Angelo chose the closing image to suggest "positive thinking": It's a closeup of the face of a girl tilting her eyes upward toward light.

De Luigi gave all responsibility for the sequencing of images to D'Angelo, and says, "It was almost perfect from the beginning."

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