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Review: ‘Vision Portraits’ beautifully expresses what it means to be an artist wrestling with blindness

Kayla Hamilton, “Vision Portraits”
Kayla Hamilton in the documentary “Vision Portraits.”
(Kjerstin Rossi / Stimulous Pictures)

Since receiving a diagnosis of the rare genetic disorder known as retinitis pigmentosa, filmmaker Rodney Evans (“Brother to Brother,” “The Happy Sad”) has for more than 20 years sought an understanding of what it means to be an artist in a visual medium who’s losing his sight. Now he’s made a personal documentary, “Vision Portraits,” that beautifully expresses — through narration, text and often abstract, subjective visuals — his thoughts and experiences, but that also offers up affecting examples of fellow artists wrestling with blindness, and how it’s affected each person’s work.

We meet photographer John Dugdale, whose HIV-triggered blindness decades ago led him to an approach to shooting that put an even greater trust in the pictures he saw in his head, and which kept him working as passionately as ever. Dancer Kayla Hamilton, meanwhile, who was born with vision in only one eye, tackled the issue of spatial awareness with renewed vigor, creating her own show that parlayed her particular sensory deprivation into a piece about resilience and perspective. And writer Ryan Knighton, a punk rock teen turned writer-professor, finds that a sight-challenged viewpoint — especially a funny one — can forge its own place in the literary world.

The common thread among them all is a struggle that sharpens the desire to be a relevant creative voice, and by threading his own emotional journey throughout in simply addressing so personal an issue on film, Evans has made a touchingly honest ode to the inner life of all artists.

'Vision Portraits'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 23, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles


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