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From the Publisher Sight is central to the medium of photography. But what happens when the subjects of photographic portraits cannot see the photographer, or even their own image? An in-depth pictorial study of blind schoolchildren in Mexico, Look at me draws attention to (and distinguishes between) the activity of sight and the awareness of form...

“Combining aspects of his acclaimed street work with an innovative approach to portraiture, Chicago-based photographer Jed Fielding has concentrated closely on these children’s features and gestures, probing the enigmatic boundaries between surface and interior...Look at me presents sixty-eight arresting, sometimes disturbing, images that are marked by a deep humanity and palpable tenderness. This is a monograph of uncommon significance by an important American photographer.”


From the Foreword: Jed Fielding is a Chicago-based photographer who works at the intersection of two traditions: the street photography we associate with Henri Cartier-Bresson and his successors, and the high modernist attention to design, surface, and light characteristic of Fielding’s teachers, Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan. For his first book, City of Secrets: Photographs of Naples by Jed Fielding, he made images of great energy and refinement from the displays of physicality, tenderness, and danger in Naples’s poorer districts. Seeming to issue from the particular theatricality of life in the city’s narrow streets, these photographs are nonetheless closer to portraiture than documentary – collaborative works, Fielding calls them.

“The photographs in Fielding’s new book, Look at me, extend his earlier themes in compelling ways. Collaborating now with blind children (and their parents and teachers), Fielding concentrated closely on the children’s features and gestures, exploring the enigmatic boundaries between surface and interior, innocence and knowing, beauty and the grotesque. Although deliberately challenging and often disturbing, Fielding’s work is ultimately affirming. One could say that the photographs confront disability in order to plunge us into sheer life.

“ ‘Disability,’ however, is a term that in this case may obscure more than it reveals. The children in these photographs attend some of Mexico’s best schools for the blind. The teachers and administrators are proud of their institutions; they would otherwise not have welcomed Fielding on his visits. For many of the children, these schools provide their best chance to emerge from isolation. In other words, Fielding’s photographs are not intended as exposés or works of advocacy. Like his Naples photographs, they are visual explorations of human vitality. In Look at me, that vitality extends beyond the limit of self-consciousness. In place of the theatricality of his Naples subjects, Fielding’s new work shows us more essential gestures of absorption, more basic expressions of our creatureliness. These photographs achieve what only great art, and particularly great portraiture, can: they launch and then complicate a process of identification across the barriers that separate us from each other.

“Fielding’s photographs are extraordinarily arresting on the level of form. He is clearly the heir of his teachers Siskind and Callahan in his commitment to visual experimentation and the transformative potential of photography. At the same time, he is fearless in soliciting the ethical questions of his medium. What does it mean to photograph people — vulnerable people — who cannot look back, despite their proximity? Fielding poses the question, indeed harnesses it, without wanting to resolve it. As this work with the blind children progressed over several years, Fielding moved closer to his subjects and assumed increasing directorial control. For some of the children, these were times of play or repose, for others (at least for a moment), of distress. Fielding has refused to condescend to these children, regarding them all as active participants in his project. These are images from which we sometimes want to look away, but that always come across as tender and deeply humane.

“It was precisely as a humanistic exploration that this book of photographs caught the attention of The University of Chicago Press and persuaded us of its importance. We are grateful to our colleagues at Studio Blue, and especially to Jed Fielding, for working with us to publish Look at me.”


                             — Alan Thomas,  Editorial Director for Humanities and Sciences, The University of Chicago Press

 

Copyright © 2016
Jed Fielding