When noted photographer and sculptor Alice Wingwall began losing her sight, she became determined to continue making visual art. Now almost completely blind, Wingwall remains a vital visual artist, making lyrical and poignant photo-based works that often express her experience of being without sight. Spark checks in on Wingwall as she works on a new series of architectural photographs.
Wingwall suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary degenerative disease of the eye. After all but losing her perception of light a number of years ago, Wingwall discovered that a great deal of her experience of vision happens in her mind. The brain is capable of representing line, color and perspective even without the help of eyesight.
She rarely photographs all alone — she asks colleagues, including her husband, architect Donlyn Lyndon, to look through her lens and describe what they see. During this collaborative process, she describes her “mind’s eye” image and asks if the camera captures this view, using her deep store of memory for other comparison points.
Along with her memory, Wingwall relies to a great degree on her other senses in making her photographs. She may feel the heat of the sun in order to get a sense of the strength and direction of the light source, and she may similarly sense the reflected light radiating from her subject.
Wingwall often uses auto-focus cameras to capture images. In addition, she uses an array of lenses intended to capture her failing sight. Although a 50-millimeter lens renders an image close to what the human eye sees, Wingwall is fond of using wider lenses and panoramic cameras that warp the image and represent her newfound inner vision of the world.
Several of Wingwall’s photographs deal with her experience of working as a visual artist without the aid of sight. Many of her works feature architecture — one of her favorite subjects — superimposed with images of her guide dog, Slater, or his predecessor, Joseph. These images highlight the ways in which her negotiation of the world around her is now mediated through another being, and the intimate relationship that that establishes between her and her dogs.
Alice Wingwall earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from UC Berkeley and was a professor of sculpture and director of the studio arts program at Wellesley College. She has explored many different mediums, and she trained in stained-glass fabrication in Paris. She co-directed a film with Wendy Snyder MacNeil titled “Miss BlindSight/The Wingwall Auditions,” which won Best Independent Film at the 25th anniversary New England Film and Video Festival.