The last time Ted Tahquechi really saw his wife, it was June 1999. He doesn’t remember the exact date. It’s a memory he’s tried to expunge.
Carrie was behind the wheel of their purple Dodge Caravan—they called it the Barney-mobile—when another driver rear-ended them on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. It was not a serious accident. Ted and Carrie’s three-year-old twin boys, Jarren and Jorden, were uninjured in the backseat, and aside from slight whiplash, Carrie was fine. But the impact was enough to blind Ted, who rode in the passenger seat.
Ted was born with impaired vision (he’s been blind in his right eye since college), and when his family’s minivan was hit on that summer day nearly 20 years ago, the retina tissue in his left eye shifted, leaving him with five percent low-functioning vision in only one eye.
Since that day, Ted has only been able to view the world through highlight and shadow. He can’t see faces or determine expressions. He can no longer gaze upon the rosy cheeks of the girl he met 45 years ago in a kindergarten classroom in Sunnyvale, California—the woman he later fell in love with and married.
Ted can’t see where he’s going, yet until very recently he’s refused to use a white cane or a guide dog. He measures rooms in his house by steps, maneuvering through them by counting and by memory. So long as no one leaves something out of order, and his eight-pound Yorkshire Terrier doesn’t get in his way, Ted can move about independently. Still, he’s broken every one of his toes, and he does so with such frequency that Carrie is adept at breaking them back into place. He gashes his forehead often, particularly when one special in-law leaves kitchen cabinets open (Carrie has since also learned to diagnose concussions). Beyond his home, Ted has walked into fire hydrants, trailer hitches, and stop signs. He’s even been “clipped” by a few cars (If he hears or feels the roar of an engine, he can usually get out of the way. But electric cars sometimes “sneak up” on him). He admits—and his wife agrees—that he’s stubborn, but his daring nature helps him cope in a world he can hardly see.
When Ted lost his sight, he was forced to leave a prosperous career in the gaming industry and ended up, as he describes, “floating in a pond of despair.” For at least three years after the accident, Ted says he was depressed. While the incident threatened to take nearly everything from him, it did not take his wife and children. Nor did it claim his creative vision, which he has since sharpened, despite near-total blindness, to become a talented abstract photographer.
Ted and Carrie
Sitting around the dining room table at his home in Broomfield, it’s easy to forget Ted is blind. He greeted me at the door, shook my hand, walked me through the living room, and then brought me a hot cup of coffee. When I asked how much of me he could see, he could tell I had dark hair and could discern the outline of my shoulders. But then I asked what he could see of his wife.
“She’s a light blur.”
Ted and Carrie grew up five blocks from each other in Sunnyvale, California. They were in the same kindergarten class and sat next to each other in elementary and middle school. By high school they’d become good friends, and in 1985, during their junior year, they started dating. Naturally, the young couple ended up together at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, after Carrie transferred from San Jose State University.
After graduating, Ted found work in the gaming world, initially testing products and later designing games for Atari, while Carrie worked as a veterinary technician and in hospital management. They were married in July 1992, and in 1996 their twin boys were born. At the time, Ted was working 120-hour weeks, sleeping under his desk, and traveling three weeks out of each month to places like England and Seattle. He eventually began developing games for Accolade, and in 1996, despite never having been behind the wheel of a vehicle, created the popular Test Drive Off Road game for PC and Playstation. He ultimately became a senior product manager at Mattel Toys.
But the accident ended all of that. For a few years, he and Carrie met with retina specialists before ultimately accepting that his condition was permanent. Then, as Ted puts it, “I spent a lot of time kicking the can down the road, trying to figure out what I was going to do.”
That’s when he and Carrie shifted their focus to something they discovered years before. They had taken a black-and-white photography course together as an elective in college, and Ted figured he could use his limited light perception to take abstract shots. He and Carrie enrolled at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, where Ted studied fine art photography and Carrie began pursuing a degree in culinary arts. A serious neck injury prevented Carrie from finishing the culinary degree, so she, too, studied photography. Because of his vision, it took Ted nearly 10 years to finish his fine art degree. Soon after, in 2015, he and his family moved to Colorado.
Jarren and Jorden grew up faster than most kids in the early 2000s. Because of their dad’s condition and mother’s neck injury, the twins took on responsibility—like cooking, doing laundry, and completing other household chores on their own—at a young age. They guided Ted around the grocery store and carried bags for their mother. They learned how to be caretakers—at home and in public—which imbued them, in Carrie’s eyes, with a greater sense of empathy.
But it took the boys a few years to realize how their dad was interacting with the world. During family events—or on day-to-day outings—Ted often takes pictures and Carrie narrates the scene for him. When they return home, Ted loads the pictures onto his computer and moves a one-inch magnifier across the screen at close range. Doing so, he’s able to piece together much of what he missed throughout the day. The first time Jorden realized what was happening, he was crushed. “I felt like I should have been doing more,” Jorden says. “His will to move forward inspires me.” Jarren, who echoes his brother’s sentiment, remembers wondering why his parents were taking so many random pictures. “If he can function without vision, I can do anything.”
Both twins say their dad’s struggle affects them every day. Jorden is a junior at the Dominican University of California, where, largely due to his father’s influence, he is studying to become a trauma surgeon. Jarren is a student at Front Range Community College in Westminster, so he still lives at home and helps his dad as often as possible. Just last year, the father-son duo attended a Slayer concert at the Fillmore Auditorium—where Ted grabbed Jarren’s shoulder, like he’s done countless times before, as Jarren led him through the thick crowd and as close to the stage as possible. On campus at Front Range, Jarren says, he’s done something similar for a student who is in a wheelchair. And when he notices a person in need like that, his instincts to help kick in. It’s just natural.
Though one of his professors doubted he would even be able to complete his coursework, Ted discovered a unique method of abstract photography—one which he’s refined to create a celebrated gallery called “Landscapes of the Body.” Over the past several years, with Carrie’s help, Ted manipulated light and shadow to photograph the contours of nude men and women of various shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities. Carrie adjusts the light for Ted and he produces black-and-white photographs that resemble exactly what he can see.
“I don’t have any perception of faces at all,” Ted says. “I can’t see when people are smiling, or frowning, or anything like that. People are a large blur and I see the way that the light around them is bouncing off of them.”
Through his camera lens, he focuses on how light plays off the curves of the body—knee caps, rib cages, shoulders, bellies, and breasts—and then photographs those contours in such a way that they literally look like landscapes. “‘Landscapes of the Body’ was something for me to be able to focus on people, without having to focus on their faces,” he says. “It was a way for me to be able to shoot pieces and parts of a body but still do what I consider to be a portrait.”
And while many hopeful buyers have approached him, Ted has never sold one of his photographs. Instead, he donates the work to charities like the Colorado-based ALS Never Surrender Foundation, a nonprofit that is developing the first ALS research mobile app. This year, his work will benefit LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that provides education, training, advocacy, and community for the blind.
“I want people who have full vision to look at the work being done by somebody who is severely visually impaired,” Ted says. “I hope that it might change the perspective of what somebody with a visual impairment can do.”
With limited success thus far, he’s looking for galleries to show his work. The Brunner Farmhouse in Broomfield will host a gallery of his photography in May, but they won’t display his photographs of nude models per their policy. He’s also recently begun giving public talks—something that is new to him. “Ted has spent pretty much his whole life hiding the fact that he has a disability, trying not to accept it,” Carrie says.
But now, nearly 20 years after a car accident robbed him of his vision, Ted is looking at the world in a whole new light. And he’s ready for this world—one which he can barely see—to appreciate him, too.
To learn more about Ted and see more of his work, you can view his online portfolio here.