Bill Hunt’s Unseen Eye

Courtesy Imogen Cunningham Trust/ Aperture Foudation
Courtesy Imogen Cunningham Trust/ Aperture Foudation
Veiled Woman, by Imogen Cunningham
"This is the very first picture I ever acquired. It was always known to me as The Dream, which I think is a wonderful title. It's romantic, it's mysterious and very enigmatic." Caption commentary throughout this slideshow is provided by Bill Hunt.

A portrait of Bill Hunt, by Neil Winokur, 1992. Courtesy of the artist and Janet Borden Inc./ Aperture Foundation

W.M.—called Bill by friends—Hunt’s life has revolved around photographs. As a collector, curator and consultant, Hunt uses his photographic eye daily, so it might seem surprising that obscured vision is the theme of his new book, out this month from Aperture. The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious, includes 370 images from Hunt’s personal trove, which he has been collecting for nearly four decades. While the book features pictures by famous artists such as Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe alongside press prints and snaphots that Hunt picked up at flea markets and art fairs, each image in the collection shows a subject whose gaze has been turned away. Sometimes the eyes are covered completely.

“I looked for and found a photograph at an auction house 40 years ago that had a veiled, romantic presence, and it was an intense and unexpected experience,” Hunt says. “So I looked for another one. And then I found a couple more, and I thought, ‘What an odd thing to be doing.'”

Odd at first, perhaps, but it wasn’t long before Hunt’s home was filled with photographs in which the subject’s eye was somehow unseen. The collector, though, insists that he always “sees” the pictures. “The images run through my mind like a Rolodex,” Hunt says. “I don’t have to take them out physically to see them. They play on this strange lightbox in my head.”

The book’s publication coincides with an accompanying exhibition of nearly 550 photos called “The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection,” which will be on view at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, in Rochester, New York, through Feb. 19. For the exhibition, the museum has taken a selection of the vernacular photos on view and made hundreds of copies on photo paper with serrated edges so that visitors can handle them and take a memento home from the show. “I really like the idea that people can touch pictures and hold them in their hands and take them away,” Hunt says. “I subscribe to the notion of astonishing people—that whatever their conceptions of photographs might be, this exhibition really raises the bar on that.”

Bill Hunt is based in New York and co-founded Hasted Hunt gallery in 2005. The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the Unconscious is available from Aperture Books.  The accompanying exhibition, The Unseen Eye: Photographs from the W.M. Hunt Collection is on view at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film through Feb. 19.

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