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A Closer Look -- The Unseen Eye

Cover of The Unseen Eye by W.M. Hunt
The Unseen Eye by W.M. Hunt is perhaps the most compelling anthology of photographs I have encountered. Comprised of 370 images from Hunt’s largest collection of photographs, Collection Dancing Bear, it is a unique assortment of images, ranging from vernacular photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries, to iconic reportage images, to photographs from the giants of the photographic art world. A collection of such breadth could potentially be unwieldy when presented in this way, but these images have two very important things in common. As stated by Hunt in his short preface:

This is a book of photographs, a selection from a large collection gathered over many years, comprised of what I describe as magical, heart-stopping images of people in which the eyes are somehow obscured, veiled, hidden, blocked, averted or closed.

The second is that all of these images have resonated with Hunt -- enough to purchase them and make them part of his collection. As Hunt reveals throughout his commentary in the book, collecting is a deeply personal act: He sees each image as a representation of himself.

from The Unseen Eye by W.M. Hunt
Stated simply, a collection of images in which the subject’s eyes cannot be seen could easily be dismissed as gimmicky premise for a book, but Hunt has hit on something with surprising resonance. As one leafs through the book, the lack of eye contact with the image subjects becomes striking. No exchange of gaze occurs, and suddenly the viewer is confronted with their own voyeurism. It is at once uncomfortable and liberating, ultimately drawing the viewer inward, towards a meditative self-focus. This in itself allows the images to simultaneously maintain metaphorical autonomy while also becoming perfect analogues for our own emotions. It is an experience best suited to multiple viewings.

from The Unseen Eye by W.M. Hunt
One of the book’s major accomplishments is its impeccable sequencing. The sizable volume of images are not arranged by date or theme, but flow wonderfully into each other in natural transitions and thoughtful juxtapositions. Hunt’s engaging text, which never overwhelms the images in either volume or content, enhances this effect, taking the reader on a guided tour a bit like a slide lecture. After being alluded to several times, a photograph of Ku Klux Klan members seems all the more powerful, as shocking as it is unsettlingly fascinating. Image pairings draw out new meanings, while others are presented singly, reenforcing an image's power that may have been lost in a clutter of cultural associations.

from The Unseen Eye by W.M. Hunt
But Hunt’s text is as much on the nature of collecting as it is on the images in his collection and his personal journey -- though Hunt clearly draws little distinction between these things. Nestled in the texts are descriptions of his own reasons for purchasing an image – typically a visceral reaction – but also a few questions the collector should ask himself: "Will it sustain viewing after viewing? Will it reveal itself differently over time? Will he want to look at it over and over?"

from The Unseen Eye by W.M. Hunt
It's possible that Hunt is subtly angling for converts to his personal method of collection – as he should. Particularly after hearing stories of frazzled assistants calling galleries to confirm that their employer did indeed own a specific piece, and of an astonishing collection of art lingering wrapped and ready to go in a high-end frame shop, forgotten by the owners, I imagine the world could do well to have a few more collectors like Hunt. For Hunt, collecting is a highly personal process, enriching, and full of self-discovery. He is what he eats, specifically, what art he consumes, and each piece tells him a little more about himself. The book stands as beautiful testimony of personal growth through the consumption of art. Reading through Hunt’s text, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his passionate need to collect and an artist’s need to create – surely these are symbiotic creatures. -- Sarah Bradley

Purchase a copy of The Unseen Eye

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sarah, I am writing this from Paris at the conclusion of the 15th Paris Photo which was the best one yet, amazing in it new home in the Grand Palais. Drinking coffee in the early AM and looking online, I found your review which was enormously generous and thoughtful. Thank you very much. Thanks especially for really noticing the writing and the structure if the book.. I am enormously proud of it and hope it has an impact. Love to Photo Eye. Bill Hunt

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