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Michael Richard, 58; Blind Photographer Found Abstract Forms in Urban Locales

September 17, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Michael Richard, a rock musician and amateur photographer who became legally blind four years ago but continued performing and taking photographs that he exhibited across the country, has died. He was 58.

Richard, a longtime Los Angeles resident, died of cancer Aug. 28 at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, his wife, Patrice Hughes, said.

A malignant tumor behind his right eye that was removed by surgery in 2002 and a congenital eye condition left Richard able to see only gauzy shapes, "like the most extreme soft-focus photo you can imagine," he told The Times in 2003.

With the help of his wife, who drove him to locations throughout the city, he continued taking pictures. He used a manual camera and adjusted the settings with the help of a magnifying glass. He also worked in the darkroom and developed his own prints.

He was known for his black and white images of buildings, street vistas, outdoor sculpture and other urban sites shot at angles that turned them into tactile, abstract forms.

As a blind artist, he felt "driven" to help other disabled people "state their artistic case on their own terms and on a level playing field," he wrote in a recent statement about his work. He wanted to help artists with disabilities "seek out their artistic goals and dreams," he wrote.

Richard adjusted to his condition with the help of a photography class at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. He found out about it when he went there to learn how to use a cane.

He signed up for the class, expecting lectures on the history of the art. After years of taking photographs, he assumed that his blindness had put an end to it.

"I figured photography was out of the picture," he told The Times. "I couldn't see to focus, so how could I shoot photographs?"

The class was taught by a professional magazine photographer who offered tips on what model of camera to use, places to have film developed and the like. Richard was inspired.

His began exhibiting his photographs at centers for the blind, optometry schools and art museums.

His work was included in a show about blindness and the visual arts called "Blind at the Museum" at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive last summer.

More recently, he began exhibiting in shows at galleries including LA Artcore in downtown Los Angeles and at two major art fairs, Photo LA and Photo San Francisco.

"Michael was exemplary," Christine Leahey, an advocate for artists with disabilities, said last week.

"He worked independently. He was an emerging artist whose work sold in mainstream exhibitions, which helped legitimize him in the world of high-end art photography," Leahey said.

Photography was Richard's second love, his wife said. He was a professional musician who played guitar and sang, with a CD, "Wires of the Acropolis," on Cool Records to his credit. He played guitar for television music, videos and radio ads.

On stage, he played backup guitar for several big-name performers, including Little Richard and The Coasters. He also played with club bands throughout the Southwest.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from City College of New York, where he studied music before he moved to California.

His first marriage ended in divorce. He and Hughes married in 1998 after more than 20 years as a couple.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter from his first marriage, Jennifer Henry of Orange, and three grandchildren.

Contributions in his name can be made to the Braille Institute of America, 741 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029; or to the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 214 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102.

mary.rourke@latimes.com

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