Angela Geis

Blind Northeastern alum thrives as photographer, fighter

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Have you ever taken a good look at your blurry reflection in the mirror after you get out of the shower? That’s how Angela Geis sees—on a good day.

This is not one of them.

“I’m having a really bad eye day,” the Northeastern Illinois University graduate confided during a recent interview. “I’m really fogged over.”

Not that those bad days have prevented Geis (B.A. ’02 Psychology), who was born legally blind in both eyes, from becoming a successful Paralympic judo fighter and artist. Her next photography show is scheduled for Oct. 11 at Celebrity Salon in Evanston.

Geis, who picked up judo only a year ago, won the silver medal at nationals in May. She missed the world championships in August with an injury, but Geis hasn’t ruled out the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

“Being a visually impaired person, I took up judo to learn how to protect myself,” said Geis, 48, who lives in Chicago’s North Rodgers Park neighborhood. “They teach you how to fall correctly because that happens, but they saw potential in me. I think I could have won the gold-medal match at nationals—I’m just inexperienced.”

As much immediate success as she’s had in judo, Geis does not mince words when it comes to which calling she prefers.

“I would rather spend money on my business of photography than travel around the world beating people up,” she said.

Geis credits Northeastern psychology department chair Saba Ayman-Nolley for launching her photography career.

During her senior year, Geis took Ayman-Nolley’s Art of Psychology class. In order to better understand how visual artists operate, Geis worked closely with a photographer to learn the details of the medium. From there, a fascination was born.

She has since been featured twice by ABC7 (in 2013 and 2014) and sells her prints for $400 apiece.

“Angela was an open and curious student, very willing to learn the course material for the sake of learning and improving her knowledge and not so much for the grade,” Ayman-Nolley said. “It was a pleasure to teach her as a student, and it has been a pleasure to be her fan as an artist and friend as an alum.”

Geis’ upcoming show comes at a good time—she describes her black-and-white art as “Halloweenish.”

“October is always a good month for me to have a show with cemetery architecture and bleak landscapes,” she said. “Being in black and white, I can express the darker things in life. It gets a reaction because people don’t deal with dying or death.”

Geis takes her photos with a digital camera, then blows the images up on her computer screen to truly see what she captured.

“Because my vision is bad, I look at lights and darks from a different perspective,” she said.

What results is Geis’ artistic vision.

“I just want people to look at a picture and feel an emotion—whether it’s negative or positive,” she said. “Being an artist, that is a fantastic thing.”