That photo represents many things to Kai. It touches upon her philosophy of life. It was shot from a lensless camera that she prefers for its craftsmanship. And it won her the $20,000 grand prize from the VSA Emerging Young Artists Competition, a contest devoted to people with disabilities.
“Insight” will travel for a year across the country as part of the exhibition “Electrify!” sponsored by the nonprofit organization VSA. Kai also participated in an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. filled with educational seminars and events Oct. 24-27.
“My work in not about my vision,” said Kai, who is studying photography in the College of Visual Arts and Design. “My vision informs my art.”
Kai was born with oculocutaneous albinism. She is legally blind, but she can see about two to four feet in front of her. She is extremely light sensitive and has no depth perception. She can’t read small print, but she can see color.
Originally an art education major, she got into photography after taking an introductory course and was intrigued by the pinhole camera. She now shoots on an old-fashioned 4x5 Sinar monorail camera. She likes the dark, illuminated low light and, as an artist, is intrigued by the blend of darkness and light. She also prefers the slower way of working compared to the instant digital cameras.
“I do pride myself on my craftsmanship,” she said.
She said the meaning of “Insight” comes from exploring her own spirituality, particularly the third eye, or inner eye, of Buddhism. Much of her photography are self-portraits that capture feelings of alienation and personal evolution.
“I connect to my inner consciousness through the making of my work,” she said.
Kai took the photograph as part of a project for her bachelor’s in fine arts degree that she earned at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. After she graduates from UNT in 2020, she hopes to continue photography and teach at the university level.
One of her teachers, UNT Distinguished Research Professor Dornith Doherty, said her technically painstaking work – which includes creating prints by layering palladium and gum bichromate – allows her to capture the maximum amount of detail.
“This time consuming process, which can take several days to complete, allows her prints to capture the delicate, ethereal light central to the meaning of her beautiful and symbolic self-portraits,” Doherty said.