Blind Photographers Teach Us New Ways of Seeing

Black Star Rising contributor Dennis Dunleavy recently wrote about the difference between “looking at” something as a photographer and truly “seeing” it. “In a culture saturated with visual messages, our eyes, and by extension our minds and hearts, have become numb and anesthetized to the desire to seek out the deeper meanings of the things we are exposed to,” he wrote. This thought came to mind as I read about an art exhibit by blind photographers now taking place in Israel.

The exhibit, at Jaffa’s Please Touch Museum, is called Exposed to the Light 2, the Jerusalem Post reports. It features the work of a small group of sightless photographers. You can view image galleries by the photographers here; just click on the name of the individual photographer to see a collection of their work.

Guided by the Sun’s Heat, Voices and Other Signals

According to the group’s Web site, the photographers

…used simple techniques … to assess the lens aperture, stabilize the camera and aim at the object. The heat of the sun, the noises, voices, smells and other signals help them orient themselves and the camera. The unusual, special shooting angles, as well as the objects and the subjects they chose to shoot, open a window to their rich, fantastic visual world.

Philbert Ono, discussing the work of sightless photographers generally, offered this additional explication:

How do they do it? Well, imagine how you would take pictures if you were blind. First, your ears would serve as a guide. By listening carefully, you can tell where the subject is and how far away. If you want to photograph a person, take the picture when you hear laughter. Your ears can serve well as a guide to when to take the shot.

For still-life subjects, you can touch the object (flowers, etc.) and decide which angle to photograph it from. If you’re waiting for a sunrise, feel the heat of the sun on your skin before taking the picture. You can also discern which direction the sun is in. Besides using your other four senses, a major boon is having a seeing person tell you what’s going on and when to take the picture.

And that’s how they do it. It’s truly amazing how adaptive and strong humans can be to overcome any kind of handicap.

The Stuff of Poetry and Heroism

In the case of Exposed to the Light 2, the photos aren’t always in focus. Sometimes the subject is only partially in the frame. But they help us to “see” in a way that many photographs don’t. They give us a unique window into the world of these individuals, the challenges they face, and the joys they experience.

And what is the benefit to the photographer himself — unable to see the product of his labors? Martin Elkort, in an article on the late blind photographer Michael Richard, puts it this way:

If a blind person can take a photograph with merit and beauty, then he or she is no longer blind. Supported by the remaining senses, imagination triumphs, bringing visual beauty to a soul that otherwise would be denied this pleasure others take for granted. This is the stuff of poetry and heroism.

If you’re intrigued and would like to learn more, Flickr has a blind photographers group with 74 members and more than 2,200 photos. I encourage you to check it out.

[tags]photography exhibits[/tags]

One Response to “Blind Photographers Teach Us New Ways of Seeing”

  1. This is really touching. Thanks for sharing it.

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