other ways of seeing
The Blind Photographer
Edited by Julien Rothenstein and Mel Gooding, introduced by Candia McWilliam,
and featuring Tanvir Bush and others
The Blind Photographer is the first exploration of the worldwide phenomenon of the blind and partially-sighted who take up photography in all its vibrancy and diversity.
This exhilarating book will open your eyes. It is the first to explore the worldwide phenomenon of the blind and partially-sighted who take up photography in all its vibrancy and diversity and showcases brilliant work from Mexico, India, China, the UK and elsewhere.
With over 150 striking photographs, many accompanied by the photographers own words, we encounter the paradox that it is sight itself that seems sharpened by blindness.
In my 20’s, whilst training to be a filmmaker, I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and thought that I would never amount to much as a creative artist. I moved to the production side of film, leaving the visuals to directors and cinematographers.
Later, when my sight deteriorated further, I returned from my work in the field in Zambia to England. I was becoming increasingly depressed and isolated, when I stumbled on a photography course for VI and blind people organized by Photovoice and Mexican NGO Ojos que Sienten A.C / Sight of Emotion. Amazingly, despite my prickly and defensive attitude, with guidance from facilitators and fellow participants, I began to engage with photography as an emotional shorthand. I was transformed, lit up with ideas and the rest, as they say, is her-story!
Bubblehead by Tanvir Bush
This photograph changed how I felt about my own work. It captures the claustrophobia, menace, and daftness of visual impairment better than I could have hoped. I had not expected the flash to affect the image as it did and this inspired me to try more experiments with bouncing light. For more about my approach to photography, read this Photovoice interview with Tanvir Bush 2017.
light and nature
Someone asked how I decide if something is worthy of being captured? It’s a feeling more often than anything else. Sometimes this feeling is triggered by a glimpse of some action ahead and the idea of the photo will appear in my head, blurry — a half-formed thing, but like an itch that I need to scratch with my camera. Sometimes I am caught by just a slash of colour, or a particular feeling about a place, the light, the person.
I am proud of being able to share the process of sensory photography with others; sighted, blind and all vision in between. And it is always hugely encouraging to see people light up when they realize their work is important; that it can tell a story or help them share an emotional journey too.
An important aspect of my approach to portraiture is to ask people when I want to take, and possibly to share, their picture, and to explain why.
On occasion, when getting permission is impractical or impossible, being considerate of the context is equally important.
As a documentary maker, I know how one-sided a person’s view of a situation can be — especially down a lens. Not everything is ‘fair game’. Honesty with oneself and one’s subject is, I feel, the best policy.
zambia and beyond
My mother is an artist and my father, a GP, was also an excellent amateur photographer. Consequently, my childhood home, in Zambia, was always littered with wonderful glossy art and photography books, gallery catalogues and various magazines like National Geographic.
My approach to photography is much more informal, messier and haphazard than that. My need of it, the impetus, comes in waves and then diminishes.
Although it remains both essential and empowering, I drift in other directions too, writing novels mostly, and have fallen between cameras, so to speak. I look forward to giving myself some pure photography play space again soon.