Visually-impaired people from India are exploring a visual art form like photography. Here’s to the techniques that guide them and the passion that motivates them!
Many in our country are shocked at the mention of photography by the blind. They cannot seem to wrap their heads around the concept. Why and how would a blind person click a photograph? Like most photographers, persons with blindness too have been drawn to photography out of a curiosity to explore the world through images.
Photography by the blind extends the idea of ‘seeing’ by reinventing newer ways of arriving at images. The senses of touch, taste, smell and sound guide this process along with devices that help access purely visual information. Thus, learning to respond to sensory cues and to use available technology enables a blind person to take a photograph.
The process and reason behind making a photograph has as much meaning as the photograph created.
Even in India, it is not uncommon to find visually-impaired persons take a keen interest in photography. For instance, Partho Bhowmick (photographer and teacher), inspired by the blind Hungarian photographer, Evgen Bavcar, started Blind with Camera in 2006.
Blind with Camera is a workshop where visually-impaired students and youth can learn about photography and the visual arts. Over the years, hundreds have flocked to Partho wanting to unleash their imagination through photography.
Others who have been motivated by Partho’s movement include Pranav Lal, a Delhi-based cyber-security professional who has been visually challenged since birth. Itching to explore something visual, Pranav thought of giving photography a go.
He wanted a medium that would allow him to capture something that was beyond the grasp of his senses.
It was then that he came across a technology called the ‘vOICe’ which enabled him to strengthen his engagement with the medium. The vOICe is a vision technology that converts images to sound. It consists of a pair of dark glasses that are wired to a miniature camera along with a bone-conduction headphone. The sounds allow Pranav to gauge the position of objects, their height and brightness.
For Pranav, photography is a curious adventure that allows him to relate to the world around him and find a balance between work and play as well.
“I do not care much for the end product. That does not matter. It is the process of creation that is important to me.” – says Pranav.
Another of Partho’s students who has done him proud is Bhavesh Patel. As a child, his passion for the camera remained dormant. Later, as a student at St. Xavier’s College, he met Partho and was able to finally revisit his love for photography.
The Blind with Camera workshop equipped him with the basics of photography and gave him the confidence to finally capture the world around him.
His method varies from those photographers who can see in that he relies heavily on his other senses. He enjoys interacting with his subjects – and is able to gauge a lot of what is going on visually through ‘conversations’ with them. Additionally, the talk-back feature on his phone gives him certain details about his surroundings.
His ears provide other subtle pieces of information that help him capture the nuance of a moment.
Bhavesh is the first and only visually-impaired photographer to be commissioned for a fashion ad shoot in India.
The very idea of a top brand like Lux commissioning a visually-impaired photographer for a country-wide ad campaign is a gigantic leap towards inclusion.
It makes people aware of the fact that a young visually-impaired photographer is capable of standing before a Bollywood star and clicking beautiful photographs of her.
“I shot those images while interpreting the sound of the fabric Katrina wore as well as certain machine-generated sounds that helped me interpret her movements.” – says Bhavesh.
The assumption that the ‘seen’ world belongs only to those that have sight is challenged by the act of a blind person taking a photograph.
The mind’s eye constructs a visual image of the world around, and the camera captures it. Blind photography thus allows for image-making processes to be arrived at through the multiple ‘entry points’ which the senses provide.
Institutes for the blind must promote the practice of photography and other visual arts.
While the photographs produced are inaccessible to the clicker, they are accessible to those with sight. And thus, a dialogue ensues between people with sight and those who are visually-impaired – about the photograph and the process of making it. The camera acts as a bridge to the visual world. It allows a blind person to stake claim on this world and master it.
Photography by the blind redefines notions of seeing by challenging the very ideas that define a perfect or beautiful image.
The creation of images by blind people renders them more visible. It allows them to have control over how they are photographed. It allows them to share what they see and perceive in the world with people who have sight. Rather than being a matter of surprise, it must be exciting (for those who are sighted) to finally have access to images that are conjured up in the ‘mind’s eye’ of those without sight.