This section takes the sighted photographers into the “illuminated” darkness of the blind and guides them to teach photography to the visually impaired. To be a successful trainer of photography for the visually impaired, one has to believe that blindness is a diverse human condition, people with visually impairment are “differently able” and visual expression by them is an invaluable form of expressions, an interesting way to perceive and lead life. Most demanding shift is to believe that the blind “can do” and not what you think they can’t do.
Redefining Photography and Blindness
Along with shift of mindset of sighted photographer cum trainer, one need to view photography in new light as a performing art based on functioning of our senses, both visual and non-visual senses to evaluate visual elements like share, form, color, space and time for making a judgment to create an image. In the context of the visually impaired taking photographs, blindness is redefined functionally as – one is blind to the extent that he uses adaptive or alternative techniques to function as efficient as a sighted person and the extent that he uses adaptive or alternative techniques alters his pattern of daily living.
1. Selection of Group: Five to ten visually impaired participants is a good size to start. A mix of different degree of blindness likes complete blind (born blind, late blind) and low vision will be ideal combination. Once you are comfortable with a small group you may go for bigger group and also include few sighted people to assist you.
2. Assessment of Visual Perception: Visual Perception is one of the important determining factor for visually impaired to take photographs. The training need and use of adaptive or alternative techniques required by the visually impaired greatly depends on their visual perception. Assessment of visual perception in the visually impaired is determined by – age of onset blindness, degree of blindness, percentage of a person’s life that he / she has been blind.
Knowing the biography of vision loss is no enough, there are “hidden” visual perception which a visually impaired has never expressed. How to know the hidden visual perception ?
There is no better way to learn about visual perception of the visually impaired than to engage in conversation with them. At Blind With Camera workshop, the trainer consciously used “visual” content while interacting with my students: asked them questions, hear them talk and reply to their questions. I start by asking them What you See? ask them describe their home, school or workplace, ask them to describe the faces of their loved ones, describe the new place they last visited, describe their favorite movie stars, cartoon characters and TV shows. Asked them what they remember most from their sighted life (if not born blind), what is the color of sky, grass, rose and much more. The “visual” talking open the floodgate of the blind’s mysterious and intriguing world, where time and space seem to blend into new dimension, where concept of relevant and irrelevant are turned upside down, where minute details of the surroundings, insignificant puffs of the air, hardly audible noise and change in the tone of one’s voice are crucial for finding their way around and for interpreting the world. These intensive “visual talking” sessions helps to understand their sensitivity towards non-visual clues, how closely or remotely they are connected to the visual realities around, their experience with disability and how challenges of life are handled.
3. Documentation and Analysis: Visual perception of the visually impaired is documented through a series of structured questionnaires and feedbacks are given scores. Parameters to measure visual perception are – presence or absence of visual thinking, detailing of mental image content, ability to recall visual memories and its correctness, skill of perceptual anticipation, correctness and errors, and extend to which non visual senses (touch & sound) are used in daily life.
Analysis of data on visual perception helps in determining the “visual ability” statement and assessing the training needs.
For questionnaires click here for Assessment of Visual Perception
4. Categorization of participants: Based on the “visual ability” the visually impaired are categorized and workshop is designed around different categorized. Training needs of born blind, late blind with high recall of visual memory and low vision will be different.
5. Design of Workshop: Workshop is aimed at enhancing the “Visual Ability” in the visually impaired by –
Fostering reflective visual thinking
Developing skills of making judgment based on sensory clues and life experiences (before and after training)
Developing creative expressive qualities.
Workshop sessions are design around alternative techniques that collective enhance sensory knowledge, perceptual and cognitive abilities of visually impaired to ensure effectively learning and effectively translation of mental images into meaningful visual expression. Modules of sequential teaching are –
- Familiarization with camera
- Awareness of objects details – shape, forms, lines and texture
- Identify similarities, differences and variations among objects
- Understanding space, its content and separation of foreground and background, and how to handle ew space.
- Awareness of distance between object and camera, position of camera in regards to object and direction of light
- Employ photographic principles
Design of workshops conducted by Blind With Camera project are realistic approach, closer to the experiences in life of the visually impaired, it brings outo how the nature of visual impairment and different life experiences trigger different visual thinking, which translates into different visual expressions.
At the workshop sessions visually impaired participants learned the basic of camera optics, how handle camera and how to take photographs using various tactile, audio clues, visual memories of sight, the warmth of light and cognitive skills to create “mental image” before they take judgment to take a picture. Visually impaired participants are asked to spend time feeling the space, sensing the layout of objects in the space, touching them (if within reach) or using their judgment. They are asked to listen to sound, feel the warmth of light entering the space to identify the direction of light and contrast, search for visual memories of sight (if not born blind) and correlate the visual memories to the external visual condition. This process triggers the visual thinking in the visually impaired and the first version of the mental image is abstractly created. By seeking more clues, the visually impaired then create a refined version of the mental image. Then by touch and / or sound and judgment, they measure the distance from the object and the space around it, place the camera in relation to the object, space and light, and finally ‘click’ a photograph. The union of mental and physical processes may take hours or sometimes, mere minutes.
The process of union between mental image and physical world is guided sometimes by touch, sometimes by sound, sometimes a mix of both by touch and by sound, and sometime by memory of sight. The dominance and mix of the senses is usually caught in the photographs. Interestingly, each photograph taken by visually impaired individuals is different from the another as it depends on their life experience, the extent of their blindness, clarity of visual memories, attentiveness and sensitiveness to non-visual senses, cognitive abilities, and most importantly their involvement with the subject to be photographed.
6. Evaluation of Result: Pictures are outcome of the workshops, pictures would be close to what was intended and some may be unintended (yet it may great work). Gaps are analyzed and ways to refinement of learning process are decided. The complete process of evolution of pictures is always done by trainer along with visually impaired who has taken the picture and also in groups.
How do the visually impaired “see” the picture they have clicked.
At Blind With Camera workshops multiple methods are used. Participants with low and partial sight would somewhat see the photographs taken by them by bringing the photo print close to their eyes or under magnify glass. Participants with complete blindness depend on sighted trainer or other sighted companion who describe the photography to them. Discussions of a photograph needs development of appropriate vocabulary that are non sensory to touch like emphasis, rhythm, balance, proportions, content of remote space / environment, feeling and emotions. Raised images of original print are given to participants, by touch they can feel and sense the orientation of objects. A combination of touch and description helps visually impaired photographer to recollect the mental picture and relate it to the physical prints.
Below are two videos on workshop sessions and interviews from Blind With Camera (India) and Seeing Beyond Sight (USA) giving insightful story.