Charles Harbutt, Blind Boy, New York City, 1961. Courtesy Peter Fetterman Galley, Santa Monica @Charles Harbutt

We asked Christopher Rauschenberg, photographer, co-founder, co-curator and Board Chairman of Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon, to tell us about a picture that meant something to him, and why. Rauschenberg’s show, Found Art, is on view at the Laurence Miller Gallery from May 8 to June 27.

 

This is a photograph of a boy touching a beam of light — a tentative, delicate caress of a beam of light. It’s a photograph about paying loving attention to something that’s generally considered to be beneath ordinary notice. It’s a photograph of a blind boy touching a beam of light to try to understand the mystery of sight.

When I first saw Charles Harbutt’s 1961 photograph as a young photographer, I thought that there could never be a more perfect photograph than this. I still think that. In one simple, beautiful gesture, it captures both the essence of photography and the quiet magnificence of the human desire for knowledge and insight. Blindness seems like an insurmountable obstacle to understanding light until you see this boy surmount it with his spirit, his curiosity, and his fingertips — feeling the warmth of the light that he cannot see.

Looking at the world through someone else’s eyes (the most profound definition of photography) is second only to looking at the world through a blind boy’s fingers.

“I don’t take pictures,” Harbutt has said. “Pictures take me.” This picture took Harbutt in 1961. It went on to take me and countless others, including photographer Carl Bower, who recalled, “I saw it as a kid in a library book and couldn’t stop looking at it. I was incredibly moved, overwhelmed. It’s one of a handful of images that made me think there was nothing better in the world than to be a photographer.”