Chic Spotlight: Blind Photographer, Amy Hildebrand

Chic Spotlight: Blind Photographer, Amy Hildebrand

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Blind photographer Amy Hildebrand

Cincy Chic: Today, you’re a well-known photographer, but you were born blind. Tell us the story behind this transformation. 

Amy Hildebrand: Because of my genetic condition, my parents, like most, weren’t able to find out that I had albinism until I was actually out in the world. At the time, and still to this day, most doctors convey this condition with a grim outlook.


After confirming that I was blind, they handed my parents a list of things I was never going to be able to do. Then, they sent my mom and dad, who were in their early 20s with their first-born, home. Luckily, my parents didn’t believe it, and they went on a search for a doctor who might know of some way to help. That’s when they found a young obstetrician by the name of Susan Szymd (who is still in the Cincinnati area) and she eagerly accepted the challenge.


She suggested to my parents that they try putting me in contacts. The theory, which was extremely controversial at the time, was that the eye is extremely susceptible to change during growth so she thought the sooner they put contacts in my eyes the greater chance I had at regaining sight. And so, at five months I was fitted with my first pair of contacts, and at eight months I grasped for shadows on the floor.


It was deemed a huge success and was written up in various medical journals, and so I continued to slowly but surely see more and more clearly. Dr. Szymd was always encouraging new types of treatments to help with various issues I was having with my eyes, (i.e. nystagmus, light sensitivity, amblyopia) but at around the age of 12, my vision had reached its peak.


Only until I turned 16 did I start to want more from my vision. There was no way I was going to be able to pass my drivers test with my eyes the way they were, so we decided to start searching for a doctor who would be willing to do surgery. Who we found was Dr. Richard Hurtle (currently in Akron, OH). So, at the age of 17, I underwent yet another controversial treatment for correcting my nystagmus.


Again, another huge success! Dr. Hurtle took my results across the country explaining his theory, and I was able to find out that prior to the surgery I had been seeing “shadow vision” (this is where everything has a slight outline or shadow behind it.).


Around this time in my life, I was attempting to choose what I was going to study in college. I felt the pull towards photography, but also would not ignore the reality of my situation. Thankfully I had very encouraging teachers, friends and family, who gave honest criticism and feedback about my work. But only after meeting with one of the photography staff members at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program did I feel like I was making the right choice.


While in college, I started a project that centered on the early stages of my life, where I remembered a lot of vivid colors and shapes. I only chose this subject matter because it was easy for me to work with. But during critiques my classmates and teachers were very interested in my experience.


After that, I started to incorporate my “early vision” in a lot of my work, including my thesis piece, which went on to win the Directors Choice Award for Photography at DAAP. Now, I try and incorporate these early vision characteristics in almost all my artwork.


Cincy Chic: Your vision did develop eventually – described like "the world’s slowest Polaroid" – but you’re not at 20/20 vision. So, how do you work around that issue, if you even consider it an issue, with your photography?
When it comes to my artwork I don’t consider it an issue. I embrace what I can’t see and try to convey my personal vision through my work. When it comes to commercial work though that’s a completely different story! Thankfully there are a few settings, like auto focus, that I rely heavily on, but other than that I don’t feel like I have any problems. I have become so accustomed to working with the camera that I can literally do it blindfolded.


Cincy Chic: You showed talent in a photography class when you were 16 and that turned into a passion. Tell me why you’re so passionate about photography.
I can be a shy person and I tend to use photography as a crutch. At age 16 I think everyone is very vulnerable and full of feeling, and the camera let me get it all out without opening my mouth. Same goes for today. I also have a great fear of loosing my memory, so I became obsessed with taking photos to document things I might forget.


Cincy Chic: Every photographer has a style and a favorite subject to photograph. What’s your favorite thing to photograph and how would you explain your style?
My favorite thing to photograph is probably the average day. Part of the reason why I started my With Little Sound project was because I wanted to remember those normal days that all seem to blend together. I also wanted to remember this time in history. I feel like my generation is experiencing something that no one prepared us for. We’re doing the best we can and I want to look back and see what that was like, at least for me. I realize that my work is very personal, but at the same time I think a lot of my generation can relate.


My style is probably a mix of photojournalism and fantasy photography. Like I said above, I try to incorporate my early vision into my work today, so this includes lots of light, shadows and vibrate blurry images. It’s like a dream that has traces of reality, but seen through a certain type of glass.


Cincy Chic: You have a popular daily photography blog, "With Little Sound." That’s also the name of the exhibition you did in March with The Mason-Deerfield Arts Alliance (MDAA). What’s the story behind the name and why you started the blog?
The story behind the name is only that I wanted my work to speak for itself. That was why I chose to only write on the blog every 30 days. I felt like in college, I had the luxury of standing by work and defending or explaining it, but I had begun to rely on that. So as an exercise meant to help my growth I started the blog only allowing minimal verbal (written) exposure, hence the name With Little Sound.


I started the blog because I was finally ready to make art again. I took about a three-year hiatus after college. I was so sick of the art world and wanted to experience life in our culture in this area of the world. I realized that although I existed here, I wasn’t actually living here. So after graduation I divorced myself from all art, in order to live amongst the average person.


I know that might sound conceded and that I’m implying that the art world is separate but that’s the reality, at least in the college years. I felt so separate from the mass culture of today that by the time college was over I just stopped taking photos so I could live and watch reality TV and eat at chain restaurants. I know to some that might sound like a lame existence, but it’s an existence that I had never experienced, and it is an existence that is prominent in our culture today.


After I had two kids though I realized I needed to get back in there, and I felt more refreshed and more level headed about my work than I had ever before. Anyone with little ones can understand that setting one goal a day is a lot to ask, but I wanted to try and see if I could do this “one photo a day” for 1,000 days. It was really hard a first, and I had no clue what I wanted to convey, but after a few hundred days I had a better grasp of what I was going for and how I was feeling.


Cincy Chic: We hear the MDAA exhibit was a huge success. When will your next one be?
I have no clue! I’m taking a long trip across the US this summer where I’ll be experimenting with a new camera and maybe after that I’ll be trying to find a place to show my stuff. I’m not big on being in the spotlight, so a show isn’t really on the top of my list.


Cincy Chic: What do you love most about Cincinnati?
The thing I love most about Cincinnati is its beauty. The buildings are beautiful, the various areas or “villages” of Cincinnati are so distinct and unique, and the people here are so interesting. Some cities are so big and the people there know it, but not Cincinnati. The people here are just living together, and that is awesome.



Courtesy of Aaron Hildebrand.