John Dugdale, “Ascension”, 2005, edition 3 of 12, albumen print, 18 x 22”

John Dugdale

Water from a stream, light from the sun, metals and minerals from the earth created the first magical photographic images on hand made paper. Sir John Herschel, Henry Fox Talbot, and thirty years later Julia Margaret Cameron blazed forward into the uncharted territory of capturing real and imagined tableaux from their surroundings. Friends, family, and personal belongings were recorded with great joy, myths were illustrated, nature was tamed, the passage of a day is still a palpable reality in these brilliant first photographs. These free spirits are my heroes and the inspiration for my own work.

One hundred and thirty years since the dawn of the photographic medium, I found myself with my most precious gift of sight greatly diminished. Without hesitation, I instinctively approached my camera. The essence of my sight was restored. I felt no loss, only joy and profound gratitude that I was still moved deep within my heart to make pictures with my other sight. My photographic heroes from early on spoke to me. Slow shutter speeds revealed the nature of life. The slight movement of a hand, a quivering daffodil in the March wind, the beating of a heart –all let me know that I was still alive. A secret glowed in my heart and mind. A surprise…all along my photographs had come from deep inside me. My eyes were secondary. Overwhelmed with my newfound discovery, I began to create a new body of work with the help of family and friends. A decade later I now face the prospect of losing the fraction of sight I have left. Like Orpheus I am ready to descend into the darkness unafraid. I know that darkness is not dark, but instead full of a galaxy of stars and the aurora borealis swirling inside of me.

Tin, copper, silver, iron, gold, oil of lavender, and the brilliant shining sun are waiting to be combined into the next group of images that I will share with you. Opening my life to the world has kept me alive. The deeper truth is that I have not even begun to draw from the stream of imagery waiting within me to be revealed.

In 1993, having achieved a successful commercial career, John Dougdale suffered an AIDS related stroke. After months in a hospital often near death, he recovered—but CMV retinitis took all of his sight, except for 20% of peripheral vision of his left eye. Total blindness continues to threaten him. Bewildered by his sudden sight loss, Dugdale soon realized he could change his method of working, and became a great visually impaired photographer. Using an antique large 8×10 format camera, whose negatives can be contact-printed onto hand-coated photosensitive paper, to make a finished image, John was able to avoid the impossible darkroom process and its toxic chemicals. Dugdale sketches and titles each image before it is made. He composes by sensing shapes, and his assistant focuses the camera. In reference to his early work before his blindness, Dugdale states “My style hasn’t changed; It’s the same subject matter, but shown with a clarity I didn’t have then. My photographic vision is clearer now than when I could see.” Over the past ten years, working in a state of near blindness, he has created photographs as if from his soul. His photographs are in the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art and he has had more than twenty solo exhibitions.

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