“Looking at Death”, Benjamin Paige with SWPC members, 2003
Yesterday I learned Ben Paige had passed away after a long illness.
Ben was with the Seeing With Photography Collective for many years. He was a determined photographer who was an inspiration. Ben created many memorable and wonderful images, despite his total blindness. Ben sometimes showed up tired -but full of ideas and enough energy to work, even though earlier in the day, he had to undergo kidney dialysis. You can experience some of Ben's work here...
Read Ben's own words as he relates his experiences with our art group. I interviewed Ben in 2006. "Italics " are my own words.
With my work, I want to do something different from the ordinary picture. In my mind I try to think of something real odd or weird...so that when people look at my pictures they have to stop and they'll say, its eye catching. I'll do a head on a chair or heads missing, somebody's head turned backwards or anything that’s scary. That’s what my whole thing is about. The people I work with are all sighted...they used to tiptoe cause I’m blind, they were scared to say anything to me...until they got to know me, then we joked around...then they got so shocked when I told them I did photography, that's what really floored them...so when I showed them the pictures, that'when they got shocked!, that you can make pictures like this. It’s unbelievable. I proved to them what blind people can do...other wise they didn't know, that we can do just like any other people can do. You don't have to see to do everything, even though they work in X-Ray in the dark, so they understand that. I wish I could see these pictures, from the way people describe them to me. I got it in my mind. When I first came here I didn't know myself, blind people could take pictures...In the beginning I got a lot of my stuff from Vicky, how she takes pictures...When I get prints...you get a different impression from everyone, that’s why the prints are good, to prove what I did, cause you can talk about it...but seeing is believing!
You said something to me once...that when you felt somebody’s face, it wasn't a good way of knowing what they're all about? ... I feel that is more of what you see in a movie, that's what a movie wants - to make a blind person seem like he can't tell nothing about a person unless he is feeling all over their face...to me it’s not true. How am I going to tell you what they really look like? Personally, I don't like feeling people’s faces. Period. It's too “blindness" for me, I'm blind already, I don't want to act more blind. A lot of blind people never turn the light on...I turn my light on every night. I don't want to be in the house in the dark, even though I can't see the light.
Tell me about the staged murder scenes? When I have people looking through the window, its like peeking through and discover something you shouldn't be discovering, you see this murder scene that they never expect to see...You see them with their mouths open, in shock!, the stranger, the better. Different from what other people would. My best pictures come when I think about them during the week, not just when I'm walking into the room. They pop into my head, I plan it more. If I walk in...I'm guessing more or less, what ever comes, then you do.
Looking at your pictures, one thing I think about is, loosing your eyesight is a scary thing too. Yeah, sort of scary. Why I say it like that is because I've been around blind people a lot. I went to the School for the Blind when I had bad eyesight...I could handle it...deep down inside, maybe I was scared, so I'm doing it through the pictures. I don't know.
How do you feel about working spontaneously? I don't get my best results that way. I did a picture like that of this girl that was in the group. I wanted her head turned backwards...Another one came out very well, with the house and the cross. Why do you think that picture was good? I can't say why, we just threw everything together. Sometimes your just lucky...sometimes when you least expect it, it comes out wonderful.
A lot of my pictures are kind of hard, a big production it takes a lot of time, it’s a big ordeal almost. Its not that I want to, just they come into my mind that way.
How is it doing the lighting? The challenge is to know how long to light, and to get it right...the first time...that's the thrill, I thrive on that! I'm like Vicky when it comes to that. How do you work with volunteers? They're very good cause they do what you tell them to do...they give their opinion, if it’s good or not, sometimes you have an idea but it isn't practical. What do you think about trusting someone else’s visual judgment? Let's put it this way, I have to trust them cause I have no other choice, when you’re blind, you have to go on what somebody tells you. You have an idea in your head what it’s supposed to look like, but it may not come that way. When I did that hospital scene it got me sort of annoyed because they told me it was good, then when I wanted to get a print of it Mark said it was not good. Things like that are confusing. I was happy, and when we were talking about printing, Mark said it’s not such a good picture, too much whatever, but to me, you should have said it wasn't good from the beginning. Tell me. I'm going on – “It’s good.” That brings into question what people mean when they say "good” it might mean one thing to one person and another thing to another. You can't tell me its good and turn around and tell me it’s not good.
Years ago when you could see, did any pictures influence or make an impact on you? No, I wasn't much of an artist. I’d take a few pictures. it was no big deal...some people, like Fred, can tell you what color the costume was, I could never do that I never could...if you asked me the colors were, I can't remember all that. I love the way Fred describes something...Even when I had good sight I could never say...what that person looked like, if I had to describe somebody, forget about it, even if I saw you.
Since you never remembered visual things much when you saw, and you are making pictures now, are your pictures more concerned with ideas than images? My idea is more important because it’s getting the point across, the point I want to get across. The idea of the subway scene ...I had an idea, told them how I wanted it set up, but we didn't get it, but see, you don't always get what you want, but I also saw the idea in my mind too...I'll picture what it is supposed to be like...I never went to a museum or was into Art. I am sorry I wasn't...I regret it now, as I'm older I see how I'm interested in it. ♦