J Fredric May, a former photojournalist and commercial photographer, made a living travelling the world and creating visual work characterized by a preference for bold colors and confrontational compositions. During this time, he was also a filmmaker, directing more than 50 corporate and industrial films, that cumulatively raised more than 7 million dollars for non-profit organizations.

Then, in 2012, during open heart surgery, May suffered a stroke that left him legally blind. Suddenly, he found himself subject to vivid visual hallucinations, which altered his optic relationship to his surroundings. As a visual artist, his practice was also transformed, resulting in the photographic style demonstrated in his current project, Apparition: Postcards from Eye See You.

Author’s Hallucination No. 37 “Jamie”. © J Fredric May, Juror’s Pick, LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2017


Where others might have been discouraged or quit photography altogether, May embraced his unfamiliar perspective: “
With profound curiosity and a life-long habit of experimentation, I picked up my iPad and started to explore. Because I was raised by inventors and engineers, I embraced regeneration as a way of life, so I focused my limited attention on what could be invented and created.”

To produce this series, May used imaging software to corrupt visual data. He explains, “I was effectively able to replicate what was happening in my own brain. I scanned found portraits, maimed their component features and rebuilt them as layered composites to resemble how I now see, in fragments, somehow familiar, yet strange. I take my layered composites and print them as cyanotypes, and then bleach and tone them with a mixture of photo chemicals and tea.”

In the very last step, May digitizes the cyanotypes and alters them further as he sees fit. The final images are like soft, hazy, mosaicked memories combined with intricate, focused fragments. The result is a testament to how the photographic process, as a medium, transcends static, repetitive, or mechanical use, and with each frame offers the real possibility to create something truly new.

—Cat Lachowskyj

This project was singled out as one of jury’s favorites from the Emerging Talent Awards 2017. Discover all the other inspiring projects from this year’s 50 talents!