Pete Eckert

Pete Eckert is a visual photographer; he just can’t see.

Who is Pete?

Pete Eckert is an American photographer who uses a cutting-edge technology to create his photos. He trained as an architect and planned to study it further at Yale before he became blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, in which a person gradually loses their sight. [1]

Writing on his blog, Pete says that he was initially scared that he wouldn’t be able to be an artist for a living anymore as he began to lose his sight. He put in the hard work to learn new trades, such as getting a black belt and an MBA, and making woodcuts, which allowed him to feel the image he was creating. He would also ask his wife for approval, but mainly he makes his today artwork without sighted assistance.

Needing a new, faster medium, he began experimenting with an old camera. Soon he was taking photographs again. Pete feels the image he’s photographing to be able to ‘see it in his mind’s eye’.

Pete’s artwork

Pete Eckert's photo of a spirit-like figure dancing in a realistic forest

Pete Eckert’s ‘Forest Ballet’ series. A ballerina figure, entirely lit up in bright yellow and red, dances in a forest as if floating. For more of this photo series, go to the page on Pete’s website.

A Volkswagen car lit up from the light exposure.

(A recent car advert for Volkswagen. Pete brought his unique style to the and which was shown across the world in several languages, including German and Dutch. This advert was also where I in the UK learnt about him, implying he was given a world-wide reach.

You can watch the long version of the Volkswagen advert by clicking this Volkswagen YouTube link. Opens in a new tab.

Pete Eckert’s ‘Bus Series’.

An unfair bus driver

Pete Eckert’s ‘Bus Series’ – a 9 images that detail the barriers placed by the unhelpful bus driver, who doesn’t call out the bus stops and threatens his blind passenger. In contrast to Pete’s colour and long exposure photos, these are in black-and-white. For more go to the page on Pete’s website.

How Pete changes attitudes to disability

With many people believing that blind people couldn’t be photographers, Pete not only proved them wrong, but helped to develop a new technique that blind photographers could use. Thus he increases the representation of blind people as artists and in the media, for example in the Volkswagen advert.

Describing the barriers faced, Pete says that blind people in his experience ‘face a glass front door. They can look into the workplace, but they can’t get a foot in the door.’ The fact that some still perceive this as the case refers to the stigma that non-disabled employers still can put on people with disabilities applying for work. Pete describes his work as pushing his photographs underneath that glass door into the world of the sighted, so that they can see what kinds of barriers are imposed by others.

One of his photograph collections [3] – Bus Series- suggests one of the barriers faced in everyday life. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, bus drivers are required to call out the names of every bus stop, which helps blind passengers to orientate themselves on their daily commute. However, Pete shows in 9 black-and-white photographs what happens if the bus driver doesn’t call out the stops.

A blind passenger gets on the bus, yet the driver refuses to call out the stops. The sighted passengers can ring the bell when they can see their stop- however the blind passengers have no way of knowing. One of the blind passengers asks the bus driver to call out the names of the stops. However, the bus driver threatens the blind person, to which the other passengers don’t offer any help- they are passive bystanders to the injustice occurring. A bus cop detains the blind passenger, presumably for fighting- and the driver goes free in the bus – even though he has ignored the Americans with Disabilities act. The last picture shows that the driver has been told about the Act, and we are left to wonder whether he will think about his passengers the next time.

Interestingly, Pete Eckert’s choice in these photos to cover everyone’s eyes with black and white rectangles may suggest that perhaps everyone in the photos is ‘blind’ in some way. The bus driver for example is ‘blind to the needs of his passengers.’ And the other passengers are passive bystanders, as if they pretend not to see the blind person or the problem of the bus driver not complying the law, as these characters believe it doesn’t affect them.

With his artwork, Pete attempts to make people think about how to give blind people some assistance, but also that they can live and work independently when given the right support.

Anything else interesting?

One of Pete Eckert’s photographs was asked to be turned into a United Nations postage stamp. On the side it says, in German: ‘Barrieren durchbrechen. Tueren oeffnen.‘ which means ‘Break Through Barriers. Open Doors.’ Other disabled artist from around the world were given the chance to have their picture on the postcards, released in 2013. You can find out more on the UN postcard page on Pete Eckert’s website.

References:
[1] Eckert, Pete, peteeckert.com
[2] Volkswagen YouTube account, Volkswagen advert 2017
[3] Pete Eckert’s ‘Bus Series’.
[4]- Pete Eckert’s page about the UN postage stamp


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