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Sophie Calle: Because—The Blind

I met people who were born blind. Who had never seen. I asked them what their image of beauty was.

—Sophie Calle

In 1986, French artist Sophie Calle introduced herself to people attending an institute for the blind in Paris and asked if she might speak with them on the subject of beauty. Calle photographed each person she interviewed and also assembled photographs of one to three scenes or things they named as beautiful. The conversations took a deeply personal nature, as Calle made clear in excerpts she typed up and framed alongside the photographs. The final work, comprising 23 conversations and more than 80 images, debuted at a Los Angeles gallery in 1989. 

Shown many times since, The Blind quickly cemented Calle’s reputation as an artist who is part sleuth, part philosopher, and at least as much writer and storyteller as maker of images. Individual sections have been widely reproduced, and the project has inspired Calle to work repeatedly on questions of vision, art, and recollections of private life. 

In 2020, the Art Institute acquired the only complete version of The Blind in English—the one first shown more than 30 years earlier in Los Angeles. Alongside this classic early work, this presentation includes examples from Calle’s recent series, Because, in which she details her personal reasons for making certain photographs over the years; these reasons are embroidered on wool cloths that visitors must lift to see the pictures in question. Because and The Blind show in complementary ways the coyly provocative spirit that animates Sophie Calle’s investigations, and which she continues to put forth in new ways four decades into her career.

Sophie Calle: Because—The Blind is curated by Matthew Witkovsky, Sandor Chair and Curator of Photography and vice president for strategic art initiatives.