With a series of nine portraits, photographer Thomas Ferrella straddles the line between seeing and feeling.
His images, displayed through early February at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, include poems written in braille over the faces and bodies of his subjects. The idea to use braille directly on portraits came from Ferrella’s artistic use of braille paper.
“I’m a sensualist at heart, so why not use touch as part of that,” he said. “Why ignore touch?”
For this project, called “BORDERLAND,” he collaborated a group of writers in Lake Effect Poets. Eight people wrote poems to join the images, taking the title from "Borderlander," a poem by Sara Parrell.
"Baptism," with poetry by Susan Elbe, shows Ferrella’s son, blurred as though through a wash of rain. The poem begins, “Tonight it rains inside your room/rains on your parched husk” and ends with descriptions of “tarnished tornado light.”
"What Holds Us" is the title of a poem by Alison Townsend, with the opening line, "Is he dreaming or drowning."
Virginia DeBlaey, a blind member of the Council staff, manually “brailled” each poem onto Ferrella’s photos. For Ferrella, the project was a combination of art therapy, collaboration and a personal challenge.
“Everything has resonated to me after the fact, how important it is,” Ferrella said.
The poems are printed to the side of each image, so the sighted can read them, too.
Ferrella is showing work in two simultaneous exhibitions: this one, and a series of images of Lake Monona ice displayed in the Theater Gallery in the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St.
Hours at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Both exhibits are free.