Tag Archives: Blind

Light painting of 2 women's faces lit from below, in front of a black background

Blind Photography Workshop in Dublin

I´m working for a Berlin-based project called Photo Narrations – Pictures for the Blind and Sighted. We organise photography workshops for people with vision impairments. The idea developed when photographer Karsten Hein was taking photos of people with sight loss for one of his exhibitions. Talking to his models,he realised that especially those who used to have more sight were interested in photography but had given it up or didn’t feel comfortable enough to join a photography club. So Karsten started a specific photography group.

a man with with a guide dog taking pictures, a woman standing next to him assists

How does blind photography work?

It is all about teamwork. The vision impaired photographer teams up with one or two sighted volunteers. The assistants help with selecting motives, framing the shot and picking the best pictures. At the end of each session, all teams meat up to talk about each others pictures and to describe them. Pictures and descriptions are subsequently gathered in an online exhibition on our German blog, where readers can ask more detailed questions.

a woman taking pictures assisted by a man standing behind her

To promote the international blind photography community, we launched our English blog www.photonarrations.wordpress.com giving blind photographers worldwide a platform to showcase their work and share their experiences.

light painting of a lamp

Workshop in Dublin

The two-day introduction to digital photography and light painting held at the NCBI this July was our first workshop outside Germany and exceeded our expectations in every way. I was amazed how quickly the course was booked out and even more astonished about the number of volunteers who were intrigued by the idea and gave up their weekend to assist us. The NCBI staff too was very enthusiastic and allowed us to use their training centre.

Brendan Behan statue sitting on a bench

Photo Walk

After a brief introduction we split into groups. Some of us took their smartphones and digital cameras and went for a photo walk along the canal. It was a great way to explore the surroundings. The volunteers looked out for interesting visual landmarks like the graveyard or the red brigg houses on the other side of the canal many of us wouldn’t have noticed before. The statue of Brendan Behan was a great model, because he didn’t move and everyone could touch him to get a good angle for their photographs.

Light Painting of the same woman twice in one picture, she makes faces

 

Light Painting

The second day consisted exclusively of light painting. Light painting is done in a completely dark room with digital cameras set to long exposure times. Only what is eluminated with torches and other light sources will be visible in the photograph. If the exposure time is long enough one can even switch off the lights, move and reappear somewhere else in the picture. The background is mostly dark and people or objects appear to be illuminated from the inside. It is a bit like painting a portrait. The model has to sit really still, otherwise the picture will be blurry, which creates a ghostly effect that can look interesting too. Additionally, the photographer can use the flash lamp to draw extra lines into the photo. A person can have wings or a halo for example.

a woman with wings painted with light

We had great fun experimenting with different techniques, trying out what would happen if somebody swung a cane or moved in a circle while the picture was taken. Some groups produced ghostly images, while others used props to tell stories. One team spent hours writing the words breaking limits with lights in Braille and letters. Personally, I learned a lot about the different camera settings and how changing them affects the picture.

Working Together

The atmosphere was fantastic and the two days flew by. The volunteers were mainly members of Dublin Camera Club and Off Shoot Photography Society. One professional photographer even came from Limerick. It was an honour to have all these experienced photographers at our workshop. The event would not have been such a success without their help. Most of the volunteers had never worked with someone with vision impairment before, but they all were incredibly friendly and helpful. Blind photography is a great way to facilitate dialogue between sighted and vision impaired people. One lady said, she used to have problems with her sight and although the thought of it decreasing further is still scary, at least she now has a better understanding of how people with vision impairments live and knows that she could still be a photographer.

A man with blue shirt and dark glasses writing his initials with light

Feedback

We are thrilled with the positive feedback from the participants. All of them had a different level of sight and varying experiences with photography. Some used to take photographs before losing their sight while others were just curious and wanted to be able to take pictures for social media platforms and blogs. The enthusiasm for trying out something new like light painting was contagious. Photography can also be a powerful tool for change. One participant for example takes photos of obstacles on footpaths to raise awareness for the challenges he faces in everyday life. Encouraged by the positive experience at our workshop, he will attend a photography meet-up organised by Dublin Camera Club next week. In a time increasingly reliant on images, we want to enable people with vision impairments to participate in this visual culture and to join mainstream clubs and societies.

Light painting of a man and a woman through a net scarf

It was suggested to organise a number of photography workshops throughout the year in different locations. There are so many scenic places in Ireland and we would love to capture some of them.

This post was written for the NCBI InSight Magazine.

 

 

 

Sighted Volunteers wanted for Photography Workshop for People with Visual Impairments in Dublin

black and white picture of a group of people taking pictures
copyright Stephen Wilke

We are thrilled about the number of people with vision impairments who got in contact with us to book a place at our photography workshop held on the 8th and 9th of July at the NCBI head Office, Whitworth Rd, Dublin 9. Some participants will even travel from other parts of the country to attend. To ensure the availability of assistance for everybody, the event is now booked out, but we have a waiting list, so feel free to get in touch.

We are still looking for further volunteers to assist the participants to develop ideas for their photographs, to help them to capture the pictures and to describe the results. We know a whole weekend is a big commitment, but you can also volunteer for one day only.

Who can Volunteer?

  • Anyone who is interested in the project and would like to try out digital photography and light painting
  • Experience and / or an interest in photography would be brilliant, but are not necessary. Everything we do will be explained.
  • Equally experience in working with people with vision impairments would be great, but is by no means required.
  • So, if you would like to try out something different and enjoy meeting new people this volunteering role is for you! We are more than happy to answer questions via email or phone.

What: Free 2 day digital photography and light painting workshop

When: Saturday 8th July, Sunday 9th July.

Who is it for: participants with visual impairments interested in trying out photography and sighted volunteers, no experience required

Where? NCBI Head Office, Whitworth Rd. Dublin 9.

How to register? Email picdesc@gmail.com for further questions and to register.

What to bring: enthusiasm for trying out something new, smart phone or digital camera and props e.g. scarf’s, hats, costumes and LED flash lights, if available

Run by: Karsten Hein (organises photography workshops for visually impaired people in Berlin)

Outcome: exhibition of photographs with accompanying texts, Permanent online exhibition and article at www.photonarrations.wordpress.com

The idea:

 The photography workshop challenges the prevailing misconception, that blind people have no understanding of and interest in visual arts. People with physical disabilities tend to be in pictures, rather than taking them. This project aims to turn the ‘gaze of the spectator’ around, giving those who are usually stared at an opportunity to portrayal the world through their own eyes. Professional and hobby photographers from all backgrounds are welcome to come along.

The resulting exhibition will promote awareness among the general public and showcase the artistic talent of the participants.

How it works:

Karsten Hein runs popular workshops for blind and visually impaired photographers in Berlin. This seminar will include digital photography and light painting. Light painting takes place in a completely dark room and only the areas previously illuminated with a flashlight are visible in the final photograph.

After an introduction to the basics of photography, the participants will be asked to take pictures of places and people that are important to them or objects they use in everyday life. While the artistic representation is important, it is often the story behind it that makes a picture interesting. Light painting is more conceptual similar to designing a stage set and the participants will pose as each others models.

The participants will be divided into small groups with at least one sighted assistant in each group. They will discuss their ideas together, put them into practice, select their pictures for the exhibition and write the accompanying texts. At the end of each day the groups show each other their photographs and describe them. It is not only an art workshop but also a fun day out and a great way to meet new people.

 

Photography Workshop for People with Visual Impairments in Dublin

a black and white photograph of a woman with dark glasses and head holding a camera. Two younger women help her to take the picture.

 

What: Free 2 day digital photography and light painting workshop

When: Saturday 8th July, Sunday 9th July.

Who is it for: participants with visual impairments interested in trying out photography and sighted volunteers, no experience required

Where? NCBI Head Office, Whitworth Rd. Dublin 9.

How to register? Email picdesc@gmail.com for further questions and to register.

What to bring: enthusiasm for trying out something new, smart phone or digital camera and props e.g. scarf’s, hats, costumes and LED flash lights, if available

Run by: Karsten Hein (organises photography workshops for visually impaired people in Berlin)

Outcome: exhibition of photographs with accompanying texts, Permanent online exhibition and article at www.photonarrations.wordpress.com

The idea:

 The photography workshop challenges the prevailing misconception, that blind people have no understanding of and interest in visual arts. People with physical disabilities tend to be in pictures, rather than taking them. This project aims to turn the ‘gaze of the spectator’ around, giving those who are usually stared at an opportunity to portrayal the world through their own eyes. Professional and hobby photographers from all backgrounds are welcome to come along.

The resulting exhibition will promote awareness among the general public and showcase the artistic talent of the participants.

How it works:

Karsten Hein runs popular workshops for blind and visually impaired photographers in Berlin. This seminar will include digital photography and light painting. Light painting takes place in a completely dark room and only the areas previously illuminated with a flashlight are visible in the final photograph.

After an introduction to the basics of photography, the participants will be asked to take pictures of places and people that are important to them or objects they use in everyday life. While the artistic representation is important, it is often the story behind it that makes a picture interesting. Light painting is more conceptual similar to designing a stage set and the participants will pose as each others models.

The participants will be divided into small groups with at least one sighted assistant in each group. They will discuss their ideas together, put them into practice, select their pictures for the exhibition and write the accompanying texts. At the end of each day the groups show each other their photographs and describe them. It is not only an art workshop but also a fun day out and a great way to meet new people.

 

„Shot in the Dark“ – A Documentary with Blind Photographers

We talked to Berlin-based producer Frank Amann about how his newly released documentary film “Shot in the Dark” developed out of coincidental meetings with blind and visually impaired photographers and his fascination with their works. The result is an intimate portrait of three remarkable artists. The following text is translated from German and based on a telephone conversation and my research, therefore most of Frank’s answers are rephrased.

What inspired you to make a film about blind photographers?

“Shot in the Dark” is my first work as a director, I’m first and foremost a camera man. About six years ago I worked on the Spanish Basque Film “Camera Obscura”. The film is a coming of age story about a blind girl, who is overly protected by her parents and tries to find her place in a very visual teenage world. I wanted to portrayal her point of view through filming techniques and started asking myself, how this girl experiences her surroundings.

I did some research and found the blind photographer Evgen Bavcar. But his texts are concerned with the philosophical rather than the visual aspect of blind photography. Subsequently, I came across the catalogue to the exhibition “Sight Unseen”, featuring blind photographers from several countries. The exhibition is touring museums around the world for ten years now and some of the pictures captivated me long after I went to see the exhibition live.

While I was working for a different project in the USA, I spontaneously decided to call two of the photographers featured in “Sight Unseen”, Bruce Hall and Pete Eckert and asked them to meet up. At the time I didn’t have an idea for the film yet. I was just curious and wanted to meet the photographers, who made these fascinating pictures. What was supposed to be a quick chat turned into a long conversation. We discovered that our views on photography and art were very similar. However, it was a long journey from the idea to the finished feature film about Pete Eckert, Bruce Hall and Sonia Soberats.

What was important to you while making the film?

I didn’t want to make a film about but with blind photographers. I saw the short HBO film “Dark Light: The Art of blind Photography” also featuring Bruce and Pete. It tries to explain with didactical and analytical methods how blind photographers work. Sighted Photographers were asked to speculate how it works and the whole thing reminded me of explorers digging in an anthill.

My film is more visual and observing. It follows the photographers doing their work and lets them and their families and friends talk. I want the audience to form their own opinions on what they see and hear without being guided and influenced by my commentary. Although sight loss and family stories influence the photographers’ choice of motives, the film’s main focus is on the artists themselves and their works.

Bruce Hall

Bruce for example does mainly underwater photography and portraits of his autistic twin sons. Together with his wife he published the book “Immersed: Our Experience with Autism”. Because he has difficulties seeing his sons’ facial expressions, looking at magnified pictures of them enables him to get to know them on a different level. The mainly non-verbal interaction with his children is important, but not the main focus of the film sequences about Bruce. Since his early childhood he uses magnifiers and nowadays large screens to piece together what he sees. He says himself he sees twice: First an impression or shape in front of the camera and later more details in the finished picture.

I also wanted the protagonists themselves to be able to enjoy the finished film. That’s why we offer audio description with the smart phone app GRETA. Additionally, I worked with sound effects and incorporated different layers of sounds. In cinema screenings the sound will move between several loudspeakers, creating an almost three-dimensional soundscape.

What is it that fascinates you about the works of these blind photographers and what do you think differentiates them from sighted photographers?

Nowadays we’re constantly flooded by pictures. To gain our attention for more than a few seconds and to stay in our mind afterwards, a picture has to show something special or have an unusual perspective or technique. With regards to that blind photographers may have an advantage, because they compare pictures less. Someone who sees nothing or very little loses him or herself less in details, thus light and shadow contrasts as well as abstract forms become more pronounced. Even I sometimes narrow my eyes to focus on the bigger picture as a whole. That however doesn’t mean all photographs taken by blind people are the same, on the contrary their motives and techniques vary as much as their remaining sight and their interests.

Do blind photographers work differently than sighted ones?

Every artist – sighted or not- has his or her own working methods. The work of most blind photographers is conceptual. While sighted people often spot something worth capturing by chance, their blind counterparts first develop the picture composition in front of their inner eye and subsequently try to assemble it.

Pete Eckert

Pete was a carpenter as well as an arts and architecture student, before he gradually lost his vision due to a genetic condition. While going blind he also took up business studies. He switched from sculpturing to woodcutting and eventually took up photography. Even today he still works with an analogue camera because it gives him more independence. Pete touches the mechanics of the camera and uses sticky marking points to differentiate the settings. Apart from getting help to select the photographs for large format prints, he works without sighted people. For Pete only a picture composed and taken without sighted help is an authentic photograph depicting the world of the blind. Nevertheless, feedback from viewers is important to him, since no artist can stay motivated without encouragement.

Sonia Soberats

As a young Venezuelan immigrant mother, Sonia lost her two children to cancer and became blind within a short space of time. Although she hadn’t done photography previously she joined a group of blind and visually impaired photographers in New York and found new fulfilment in light painting. Light painting takes place in a completely dark room where the depicted person or object is illuminated with different flashlights, which give the finished picture an almost ghostlike quality. Sonia takes her inspirations from experiences, events, smells and touchable textures. Her models are often family members and close friends, whom she talks to during the photo shoot. To put her ideas into practice Sonia has a sighted assistant. The concepts are hers, the assistant provides only technical help.

The documentary was shot in English and will hopefully be screened in other countries soon.

 

Dine in the Dark logo

Dine in the Dark from the Perspective of a Visually Impaired Diner

Last week I attended a dinner during which all guests were blindfolded. Throughout November these events are organised nationwide by Dine in the Dark Ireland to fundraise for The National Council for the Blind and to raise awareness about blindness and possible obstacles people with visual impairments can encounter in everyday situations such as eating out. Several Galway restaurants hosted a blindfold dinner and our tandem cycling group The Galway Visually Impaired Activity Club visited The West Restaurant in The Twelve Hotel in Barna. We are a mixed group of visually impaired and sighted people. The pilots, who usually steer the bikes, were curious what it would be like to reverse the roles.

2016-11-09-20-22-46
Tina blindfolded

As a visually impaired person, I use my remaining sight to the maximum. I adjusted quicker to the darkness than my sighted dining companions, but it was still challenging. I was tempted to use a big spoon only. Since I didn’t see the food on the plate, I was tempted to use my hands to find out what and where it was. Feeling the different textures and shapes would have compensated me for not seeing the colours of the ingredients, but it’s not considered “normal” in public. I automatically focused on touch, smell and taste to find out more about each dish.

A sighted friend told me, she felt as if the room got smaller, although she had seen it before putting on the blindfold. Several people found it hard to participate in conversations, because frequently more than one person was talking at the same time, and without making eye contact they weren’t sure who was talking to who.

Dine in the Dark events are not 100% authentic simulation of what it’s like to be blind. Like me, most legally blind people can see light and shade or movements.

2016-11-11-10-27-48-2
Group photo of diners without blindfolds

We had great fun during our dine in the dark experience and the sighted diners got a general idea what it can be like to be blind, and in the dark it was probably easier to ask us visually impaired people honest questions about how we manage in everyday life. I already look forward to dining in the dark again next year and I definitely recommend it.

To find out if you can still attend a dine in the dark event near you this year visit: dineinthedark.ie

Review: „The Wake“ by Tom Murphy with Audio Description at The Abbey Theatre

A few weeks ago we travelled to Dublin to see the latest production by the Abbey Theatre of Tom Murphy’s “The Wake”, a play portraying the materialism of Irish small-town communities in the early 1990s. It reveals how far most members of so called respectable families are prepared to go to satisfy their desire for power and wealth.

Accessible Performances

So far 2016 was a great year for fans of audio described theatre performances and I hope the continuing international interest in Irish arts will further not only creative art production, but also help to increase the availability of caption and audio description for patrons with visual and hearing impairments. I have written about how audio description works and the importance of making culture and arts accessible to everyone in a previous review.

The staff of the Abbey Theatre is very friendly and the lady who hands out the audio devices even recognised us from last year.

The Story

To the dismay of the rest of the O’Toole family, Vera suddenly reappears in her home town, endangering her sibling’s plan to auction the family hotel, which their mother left to Vera, in her absence. Vera however is more hurt about not being told about the death of her beloved grandmother. Although she resents not being consulted about the auction, unlike her money-obsessed siblings she does not really care about the buying and selling of property which she calls “the family game”.

While a lot of the time, Vera isn’t exactly pleasant and despite working as a prostitute in New York, she shows more courage than the others and is the most honest of the characters. Aisling O’Sullivan portrays Vera’s contradictory character beautifully. By coming home, the cosmopolitan, tough Vera turns back into a rebellious and vulnerable school girl for a while and seduces her teenage sweetheart Finbar and Henry, her sister Marcia’s pompous Anglo-Irish husband. Reversing the “Windows of the squinting valley”-theme they stage an alcohol and sex orgy in the hotel, with the whole town watching in horror through the windows. In spite of her eccentric behaviour all Vera really wants is to belong. After all, nobody can choose their relatives and their place of birth.

“What other society, town, civilised country would put up with it?”

To keep up the appearance of respectability, the siblings commit Vera to an asylum for the mentally ill, justifying their betrayal by saying it is best for everyone, including Vera herself. Locking up the most vulnerable members of society and those who simply refuse to fit in, has been a common way for Irish society to “solve” its “problems” for decades – Institutionalisation became the most expedient and profitable response to poverty, illness, orphans, “young offenders” and “fallen girls”. Finbar, labelled “Tinker” by the O’Tooles, too is a victim of institutionalisation. Abused by the priest and after spending his childhood in the industrial school in Letterfrack, he is constantly afraid of authorities and wants to be left in peace. While his dealings in scrap metal may not be entirely clean, compared to the O’Tooles, playing monopoly with the town, he is a straight businessman.

Tom Murphy himself is from Tuam in County Galway and according to a screen with a map, which decorates the stage in the final scene, the action takes place there. One of the reasons why the play resounds with the audience is, that the characters appear to be fashioned from real people. Everyone knows or has heard of a domineering brother married to a doctor’s daughter who gets through life only on pills, a greedy and jealous sister and a pontificating Anglo-Irish barrister with poetic ambitions who is too cowardly to embrace a bohemian life.

Humour

However, the play is not only dark, the characters interact brilliantly for some comic relief. Especially the funny dynamics between the feckless but likable Finbar (played by Brian Doherty) and the pompous Henry (played by Frank McCusker) is priceless. Their inability for the most part to understand each others language and thoughts highlights class distinctions, which, although traditionally disputed, do exist in Ireland. The wake-scene is no sugary happy ending, but it includes some great singing, reminding us that these ruthless and troubled people are descended from a rural society, which valued not just money, but also arts, kinship and wakes.

Language

I’d recommend Tom Murphy’s plays in general to visually impaired people, since everything important is expressed in dialogue. I recently read “Conversations on a Home Coming” and while I consider it a great play, read in silence the text became very repetitive. Unlike for example Shakespeare plays which include lengthy monologues, most Irish plays work only on stage. It is spoken language – witty exchanges of one-liners, dialect and colloquialisms, recitations and subtle changes in intonation – that captivates the audience. The language in Murphy’s plays – and the characters who use it – seem simple and everyday, but everything is carefully constructed to present a picture of Irish society, audience members recognise.

When booking the tickets I was told the play contain strong language, violence and nudity. While strong language is almost necessary in a realistic play, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the other two. I don’t mind violence and nakedness, if it’s not just to shock people, but serves a narrative purpose – which it did in this performance.

Audio Description

I thought I remembered the voice from the last time and I actually met the audio describer after one show. It was great to meet the person behind the voice in my ear and to thank her. I asked her if she couldn’t record the AD to make it available for multiple performances. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work, because as soon as the silences between the dialogues would be a second longer, speech and recording could be out of sync.

There isn’t much to say about the AD. It blended nicely into the background, giving descriptions of cast, costume and changes on stage, while also leaving time to listen to the music. That’s the way it should be. Other audience members commented on Finbar’s comic expressions, when he didn’t have a clue or was too drunk to care what the others were on about. As I do in everyday life, I had to guess these subtleties without being able to see facial expressions and I’m not sure how they could be conveyed through words as part of the AD. The duration of the play was three hours, with a twenty minute interval. And the audio describer stayed attentive during the whole performance, a remarkable achievement.

Links

Abbey Theatre Dublin

see Arts & Dissability Ireland for upcoming audio described and captioned performances

 

 

 

2 men and 2 women on stage

Review: CARE by WillFredd Theatre with Audio Description

Although the number of audio described and subtitled live-performances has considerably increased over the last few years, they are still rare outside Dublin. Consequently, I was delighted when I received the Arts & Disability Ireland text newsletter notifying subscribers that WillFredd Theatre Company was to bring its newest production CARE to the Galway Town Hall Theatre. The show featured audio description for visually impaired audience members and subtitles for patrons with hearing impairments.

What is Audio Description?

People may know Audio description (AD) from TV programmes. It is a voiceover telling blind and visually impaired viewers, or indeed anyone who chooses to use it, information that is not conveyed through dialogue, music or sound. For example It would say something like: “John enters holding a folder under his arm. He is a well-dressed man in his forties.” I’m not familiar with the production side of AD, but it is important that the information is as objective as possible, so that the viewers can form their own opinion. Timing too is very important, since the voiceover should not overlap with the dialogue or give clues in advance or too late.

I only learned recently, that being an audio describer is a profession in its own right, which is currently not taught in Ireland. Unlike the AD on TV or DVDs, the voiceover for plays is usually live, since breaks in dialogues can vary slightly. Producing an audio description can take up to forty hours: The describer attends rehearsals, watches video footage, writes a script and finally performs it off stage.

Audience members get a one-ear -piece headset with two wheels, one for turning it on and off and one to adjust the volume. Personally, I think this is better than giving people a smart phone or developing an app because not everyone knows how to use them and the important feature of AD is its accessibility.

Going to the theatre as a visually impaired person

Before there can be an audio description there obviously has to be a play and while for me the AD definitely increases my enjoyment of the performance, plot and acting are still my main criteria when reviewing a play. I’m a regular theatre goer and having AD is the exception. Mostly I have to rely on what there is to hear, the bit of movement I can see from being seated in the front rows or whispered comments from friends. Thus, I tend to go to traditional plays with lots of dialogue. If they were offered with AD, I would give more experimental and dance pieces another chance. While I prefer to go to shows with friends and to talk about it over a drink afterwards, I would go on my own if I really want to see something.

CARE “a show about the people who add life to days, if not days to life”

CARE explores the daily work and private life of four hospice staff members, thus questioning and redefining our associations and often prejudices about what working, living, dying and grieving in a hospice is like.

Having seen numerous Irish plays, I expected something very dramatic and very dark, featuring tragic family stories and heartbreaking last words. Although CARE definitely has its sad moments – and does not culminate in a happy ending as such –, it is a beautiful depiction of compassion and love for people and life – simply summarised as CARE. The action could be set in any hospice in Ireland or indeed worldwide.

Interestingly, the protagonists are not the patients but the staff members: nurses, physiotherapists and social workers. The audience accompanies them through their daily jobs, their tea breaks and their private lives in the latter of which they have to deal with the stigma of pure death surrounding hospices. The main patient, a woman called Anne who is in her fifties dying of lung cancer and her husband and children who have to deal with her eminent death are narrated by the staff members. Having a clothes mannequin representing the patient avoids the pathos and victimisation commonly associated with the death of an individual, but I sometimes thought the patient could have shown some signs of life and agency not only through narrations but also through his or her own speech or movement. The main focus clearly lies on the way individual staff members interpret and deal with medical history, physical complaints, mental anxieties and relatives denying the impending death of a loved one and attending the death bed.  The last days in a hospice are not about dying they are about living as long and as comfortable as possible until the end. It was quite touching to see how the characters did their best to fulfil their patient’s personal last wishes to bring them some final pleasure. The play definitely changed my perception of hospices and the people who work their.

“Life is a sexually transmitted disease with a 100% mortality rate”

There is also some humour in the play, for example when a patient drinks a whole bottle of ”Baileys” through a straw, resulting in a terrible hangover in the morning, only to be cured with bacon sandwiches. To add some cynicism and serious social commentary on the “trolley crisis” in Irish hospitals, the play opens with a scene showing HSE administrators deciding how many beds are available and who gets them by rolling the dice.

I would have been able to follow the plot without audio description, but I would have missed a lot of details, especially the dance piece in the middle and the final Elvis impersonation. In theatre and film visual aspects like set, costume and gestures are important and sometimes not seeing them is missing an essential part of the performance.

The audio description was very good, a pleasant female voice in the background, discretely filling the silences between dialogues and music. There were a few background noises and I had to adjust the volume depending to what was happening on stage. Unfortunately, I missed the introduction describing set and characters who were already on stage when we entered the theatre. Overall the AD was helpful and objective as it should be.

Improving the communication between disability advocacy groups and “mainstream” institutions

As far as I could see, only a friend and I were using the audio description which surprised me, because there are quite a few blind and visually impaired people living in and around Galway city. So where were they? Perhaps, many people who would benefit from AD do not know that it even exists or are not aware which shows are audio described. While the information was widely distributed within the disabled community, it did not appear in mainstream print and online publications. Consequently, nobody in the local arts and theatre community knew about it. Often programme brochures are printed before all details concerning the AD are finalised. Nevertheless, AD should not be regarded as special feature for minority groups of little interest to the general public. Even if the majority of audience members will not use it, they may know someone who would benefit from it and spread the word.

Getting to the venue, especially from county Galway may also be an obstacle, but I have already written about the difficulties visually impaired public transport users encounter on a daily basis elsewhere.

Patrons with disabilities too are paying customers and – like all public sectors – culture and entertainment facilities should be as inclusive and accessible to everyone. Therefore it is essential that culture, media and government organisations establish effective networks with disability advocacy groups to inform the public. On the other hand, people with disabilities should try to avail themselves of AD and similar offers, because if they are not used they eventually will no longer be available.

According to their website:

WillFredd’s work engages with contemporary culture, actively inviting new audiences into the theatre. Through ethical encounters between artists and communities of place, space and interest, the company develop theatre which responds to and represents y elements of these communities.

By developing CARE together with real-life hospice staff and by providing audio description and subtitles to the performance, they certainly fulfilled their objectives. Thanks for considering my special needs as an audience member. I would also like to thank the Arts & Disability Ireland team and the staff of the Town Hall Theatre for an amazing, inclusive night out.

You can still see CARE audiodescribed and captioned in the Pavilion Theatre Dun Laoghaire on May 21st. The next accessible show in the Galway Town Hall is The Plough and The Stars on May 26nd.

CARE

Directed by Sophie Motley
Designed by Sarah Jane Shiels
Produced by Kate Ferris
Sound and Music by Jack Cawley and Sean Mac Erlaine
Choreography by Emma O’Kane
Costume Design by Sarah Bacon
Performed by Jack Cawley, Sonya Kelly, Sean Mac Erlaine, Eleanor Methven and Shane O’Reilly

Links

WillFredd Theatre Company

Arts & Disability Ireland

Photo by Marcin Lewandowski: L-R: characters Marie Ruane, John Doran, Paul Curley, Maaike van der Linde

all quotes are taken from http://willfredd.com/

Read my review of last year’s Abbey Theatre production of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats

 

close-up of a white and pink blossom with yellow in the middle

Interview with visually impaired photographer Chelsea Stark

Tell us something about your self and why you are passionate about photography.

My name is Chelsea Stark and I am a 36-year-old visually impaired woman. I started taking photos when I was about 12. I found that it was a great way for me to see the world around me. And I really enjoyed it. Over the years I have had several kinds of cameras. The two cameras I really enjoyed using so far are my IPhone 6 and my Sony a 6000.

 

How did you and do you learn to take good photos?

I have not taken any formal classes or training. All I know comes from practice, practice, practice. I tend to take a picture when I see something that interests me, or something I want to see up close. And sometimes just that little act of wanting to know what’s around me helps me to get some amazing shots.

 

Do you get inspirations from works of other photographers?

My inspiration comes from my loving husband Robert Park. He is a fine art landscape photographer. He has some amazing skills and amazing images. I learn so much from him every time we go out.

 

Small waterfall surrounded by green

What equipment do you use and did your visual impairment play a role in choosing the right camera and accessories?

 I have used several different kinds of cameras. Recently I have been using a Sony a 6000 and an IPhone 6. For each piece of equipment that I have used or purchased over the years one key factor was that it must have a live View Setting or capability. It is the only way I can see what’s around me and compose a photo.

 

What are your preferred subjects to photograph and do you think your choice of objects and styles is influenced by your visual impairment?

I like to photograph animals, flowers and occasionally landscape when it moves me. I use the camera mostly to get a better view of my world around me.

silhouettes of horses on a beach

How do you find your subjects as a legally blind person? Do you have an idea in your head before you go out to take pictures?

I do not go out with any plans or ideas. I find that my best images just appear. I just go out with my equipment and shoot what presents itself to me. I have found that planning sometimes leads to disappointment. And that random photo that you never expected tends to be the best photo you’ve taken all day.

 

How do you choose which photos to post on your blog and social media? Do you get sighted people to describe them to you?

When I decide that I want to post something on my block or social media, I usually just post what I like. Sometimes I will get an opinion here or there. But It is my page with my rules and my images and I just go with it.

 

You always write a short text to each photo where it was taken. How important are the location and the story behind the picture to you?

I give a location if possible because the first question I always hear is: where was that taken? By putting the location out there that question is no longer a problem. I believe it’s very important to write a little something about each image that you post. It helps people to get in the right frame of mind while they look at your image. Plus it helps with Google’s indexing.

 Inside of an Southern European looking restaurant

Do you use photo shop programmes and how accessible do you find them?

I use either a program called Aperture or IPhoto. But often I will use built-in features on my IPhone or IPad. The latest version of IOS does a decent job on photo editing. If it needs more work than that, I will have my husband or someone else do some minor tweaks to the image in their photo editing program of their choice. But a lot of times it’s just straight from the IPhone or IPad. The already mentioned Aperture is fairly accessible and also allows me to catalogue photos.

 

Do you think photos taken by visually impaired people are different to those sighted people take and do you think it is fair to compare them?

I believe every photographer has their own style. And everybody’s images are different, regardless of whether they are blind, visually impaired or fully sighted. I’m not sure if it is fair to compare photographer’s work based on whether they have vision or not.  But if vision is left out of the equation being compared to other photographers is perfectly fine with me.

 

Would you disclose your visual impairment if you were to enter a photography competition and why yes or no?

Yes I would disclose my visual impairment. I belief letting people know about my visual impairment helps them to understand my work better and makes them see the artwork in a different way.

 

How do people on the street react when they see you taking pictures?

I’m not really sure. I’ve had nobody say anything to me regarding me taking photos. But I’m sure I’ve gotten some weird books once in a while.

 Three bottles of sauce

Could you imagine making photography your profession? And what are your aims for the future with regards to photography?

It would be cool to make photography my profession. Right now my goals regarding photography are just to take some interesting images around me. And maybe sell some here and there. But at the moment it’s just for fun.

 

Do you have some general tips for blind and visually impaired people who want to take up photography?

My suggestion for any visually impaired or blind person who wants to get into photography, is to get yourself an IPhone 6. It may sound like a silly thing to start with. But it is easy to learn and will cost a lot less then a good camera.  If you find that you actually enjoy photography and you want to get something that will give you the ability to have larger images, the next step would be to do some research on cameras and see which one fits your preferences and your capabilities with your hands and eyes.

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Guidelines for picture descriptions

These guidelines were composed by the blind art historian Anja Winter in German. The list focuses on paintings but can also be applied to photographs. You can find more suggestions in how to describe pictures to blind people in our “Your Description” section.

1.  Facts

  • painter
  • title and genre
  • format and measurements
  • technique
  • time of origin

 

Description

  • composition (fore – middle and background)
  • main object (only what draws the viewer’s attention immediately)
  • colours

 

2. Impression, Mood

  • detailed description of what is to see in the picture
  • avoiding personal interpretation

 

3. General background information

  • (If extra knowledge is needed to interpret the picture)
  • Biographical dates of painter and if existing of client
  • Style and epoch
  • Distinctive characteristics from an art historian’s perspective
  • Historical or religious background

Copyright tastkunst 06. 2012

 

Describing Photos in Teamwork

This text is an afterthought to the description of  Darek’s windmill I wrote together with a friend.

We are always looking for new sighted people to describe the pictures on our blog to the blind and visually impaired photographers who took them and of course to all our other readers.  Most of our “picture describers”, as we call them are students from our workshops in Berlin or people who write professionally or as pastime. However, you don’t need to have a background in journalism, blogging or creative writing. In fact you don’t even need to be an expert on photography or visual arts. While knowledge and interests in these fields can be helpful, everyone can describe a picture. Processing and reflecting visual stimuli comes naturally to everyone who can see something, even if it’s just blurry shapes or light and shade. We do it all the time in our everyday lives and take it for granted without even noticing.

The Fear of the Empty Page

Since I write for this blog, I’ve talked to quite a few people, who said they are interested in our project but wouldn’t know how to describe a photograph to someone who can’t see it. Personally, I think the most difficult thing is to get started and simply try. It’s like writing an academic essay, prose, poetry or even a letter. We are afraid of the empty page, or nowadays the blank screen staring back at us. Once we’ve done the first step and simply started to write something, more words and sentences start to come naturally. Additionally, what we write in this first outburst doesn’t have to be perfect; it can always be changed, edited or even deleted.

The Process of Writing as Teamwork

For me,  writing blog posts and photo descriptions is actually easier than composing academic essays, because it gives me more creative freedom and there aren’t any guidelines, except those we set ourselves. Obviously we want readers to follow our thoughts and like our texts, so they have to be readable, structured and not full of mistakes. And I assume most of us want to write about something that matters to us and our followers.

Especially when writing academic papers, I try to get someone else to read and comment on my text. After reading them over and over again, we tend to overlook our own mistakes. Because we spend so much time developing them, the way we put our arguments on paper appears completely logical to us. Discussing our thoughts with another person often helps to express ourselves better and clearer. And finally we get to talk to another human being instead of sitting alone at our desk all day.

How does that help me to describe a Picture?

It only occurred to me recently, that describing a photograph could involve even more teamwork than editing academic texts, because the whole process of writing it can become a dialogue. It’s like having a jogging partner, if somebody else is involved and to some extend relies on your commitment, chances are you will be more likely to overcome your doubts or laziness or whatever it is that makes you hesitate, and actually do what you set out to do.

So one afternoon I sat a friend down to compose a description with me. We had talked about doing this for months, but never actually got around to doing it. This friend has no prior experience in creative or journalistic writing and only a casual interest in photography. He said his main reservations against writing a description on his own were, that he wasn’t sure how to compose a text people wanted to read and which aspects of the photo were relevant.

Questions over Questions

I still have some sight. Thus, I saw the general outline of the windmill, the blue sky and the green grass and I guessed there were trees. Starting from there I asked general questions to get a better understanding of the outlines of the photograph:

  • What are your first spontaneous reactions and associations?
  • What are the prominent objects?
  • How much space does the windmill take up?, Where in the picture is it?
  • Describe the mill in more detail: shapes, individual parts, colours, textures …
  • From which side are we looking at it
  • Can you see people? How many? Where are they in relation to each other and the mill?
  • What can you see of the people? What are they wearing? What are they looking at? What are they doing? (Body language, communication between them)
  • What else is there in the background? What kind of trees? Where are they in relation to the mill and the people?
  • Are there other details you wouldn’t notice at the first glance? Any objects captured by accident?

After a while I came up with lots of questions. One often led to another. I found the trick or secret was to give my friend prompts and suggestions he could use as a starting point. To find answers to some of the more specific questions like “What do the people wear” he had to look very closely. Sometimes he couldn’t see details very clearly and had to guess and speculate. The picture became almost a story. For example did the orange tiled roof belong to a visitor centre or just storage shed for equipment?

And what if I can’t see anything in the photo?

While being able to see the main objects in the photo helped me to start the dialogue, I think this method would also work for someone who is completely blind. You would just have to start with the very basics. Maybe after a while the blind person could tell the image he or she has in her or his mind so far, while the sighted person compares it to the photo and adjusts the description accordingly. Feel free to try it out and let us us know how it went.

A photo is like a person, you have to spend time with it to get to know it

I wouldn’t have noticed the little people on my own and if we wouldn’t have talked about it in such detail, we both would have flicked over the picture quite quickly. After spending some time with the picture it became more to us than just a nice shot of a windmill in the countryside on a bright summers day. We speculated where the mill is, who the people are and how they know each other.

Nowadays we see hundreds and thousands of pictures in the news and in social media. While it is great that almost everybody can take and share photos nowadays, sometimes I think this mass distribution lowers our appreciation of them. So, if you want to spend some more time and thought on an individual photo, describe a picture for our blog and maybe even do it with a friend.