From the Vault: The Inspirational Story of a Woman Born Blind, But Pursuing Her Dream of Photography Nevertheless
The stories of disabled individuals whose determination and willingness to defy their odds are constantly rousing and inspirational, especially in the field of visual arts, where all of our fellow visual creatives are reliant upon the use of their eyes. All aspects of our creative fields, down to filmmaking and photography, calls for, as the genre’s term implies, “vision,” suggesting that artists and their works must be perceptible to and by the sense of sight.
Amy Hildebrand, a successful photographer based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, was born with albinism, which impacted her sense of sight so convincingly that doctors told her parents she was legally blind, and therefore, will never be able to do anything a normal child could do. Little did doctors know, however, it would only be a matter of years until her steadfast determination would defy all of the predictions set forth by her doctors.
Albinism is a rare hereditary disorder that thwarts an individual’s body from producing melanin, the basic substance that is responsible for coloring the iris, hair, and skin. Melanin is forcefully developed and generated while an infant is growing in the mother’s womb. When the pigment-ridden enzyme does not produce properly, its impact can be detrimental and can impair the infant’s entire visual system completely, sometimes resulting in legal blindness as it did in Hildebrand’s case.
“It felt natural to me. I started using the camera as my eye. I could show people exactly what I was seeing.”
When Hildebrand was just five months old, she was using contact lenses for the specific purpose of easing her sensitivity to light. Three months later, she was seeing shadows and reaching for them as a result. This was so astonishing to doctors that the young girl was written about in medical journals. As time progressed, the soon-to-be artist’s sight was steadily improving and she was able to read with bold black and white lettering.
“The world at that time was very fuzzy, but with lots of color, I could see the shape of the couch, but not the pattern of the fabric.”
When she was a teenager, however, the way Hildebrand viewed the world changed somewhat dramatically. She underwent tentative treatment that resulted in her gaining some of her eyesight back. At school, the vision-blooming young girl was introduced to one of her greatest passions – photography. Concerning the art form, Hildebrand said, “It felt natural to me. I started using the camera as my eye. I could show people exactly what I was seeing.”
She actively pursued photography and continued with it in college, where she ended up meeting her husband, Aaron, in a darkroom. The two are currently running their own successful photography business together.
Hildebrand grew up with extremely supportive parents, who also gave life to four other children born with albinism. The artist’s mom, Teri Garza Shields, made it a point to relentlessly urge her children to expand upon their disabilities. She always told her children that their only handicap is the limit that they put on themselves. She always ensured them that they could accomplish great things if they were to put their mind to it. Shields’s advice is sound for any individual, regardless if they have a disability or not.
“I am a person with albinism. But I am also a person who does photographs and a mother and an artist. My albinism is only just one aspect of me. It doesn’t define me.”
Hildebrand’s struggle with her sight, from her early years to now, never stopped her from pursuing her artistic passion. If anything, the issues she experienced with her vision have shaped the kind of photographer she has become. There is an adamant appreciation and love for all that she sees, even if it isn’t the same way a person with 20/20 vision would see it. The energetic and go-getting photographer, who can do anything she sets her mind to, presently does a wide range of commercial photography, but also dabbles in event photography such as weddings.
From the vault: Story originally posted 3-26-12. Edited and revisited on 8-28-14.