Tag Archives: Inclusion

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

 

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.

 

 

 

black and white photo of a blind and a sighted woman positioning a camera to photograph another woman in front of them together.

Common prejudices blind and visually impaired photographers encounter

What’s the point in being interested in visual arts when you can’t see? You should do something with sound instead.

This is an attitude blind and visually impaired people working or being interested in visual media and arts encounter frequently. What’s the point in going to the cinema, a dance performance, a comic convention or an art exhibition, if you can’t see? Especially some completely blind people agree with this sentiment, and that’s their choice. Equally some sighted people enjoy listening to audio books, but aren’t interested in art galleries. My point is that everyone should be able to choose his or her interests independently. There are many blind musicians and DJs out there, and while it is possible that they work with audio media partly because their hearing is better trained to compensate for the lack of vision, first and foremost they do it because they love music. It may be hard to imagine for a sighted person, but our visual impairment isn’t the most important aspect of our lives.

You are blind, therefore you can’t appreciate visual art the way sighted people can.

To be honest that’s a rather impertinent assumption, especially if you have never met me before, and I hope my friends wouldn’t say things like that. Probably all you know about me is that I’m visually impaired which seems to be all you need to know to categorize me. I could be an art student or a visual artist, you don’t know. Additionally, appreciation is subjective and not measurable. People have told me long enough what I can and cannot do.

Considering you are visually impaired, your photos aren’t too bad

This is probably meant as some kind of complement, however a very condescending one. I doubt you could tell the difference, when presented with works of blind and sighted photographers or abstract art displayed side by side in a gallery. Comments like that are the reason why some blind artists choose not to disclose their disability.

You should add that you are blind when your work features in an exhibition, that makes it more interesting.

This ties in with the previous comment and again is probably meant as helpful advice. Nevertheless, disclosing or not disclosing a disability is a very personal matter and we want people to like or at least respect our art, not to pity us.

You won this price because you are blind and the jury was impressed and pitied you.

This is the flipside of “you should sell your disability to your advantage”. Whether we disclose our disability or not, someone will always disapprove of our decision, therefore it is best to follow intuition instead of people’s advice. Many artists reflect on their disability and its consequences in their works. I said before, that it is not the all defining aspect of our lives. Still it is there and we have to deal with it in some form or other every day. It would help enormously, if society would stop stigmatizing disability as something negative; it can also have creative potential. Some great works of art would not exist in the form they do, if the creators would not have had a disability or some physical or mental illness. Disability can be a way through which to explore art. It can raise awareness and create more positive representations.

You should be grateful that people book you as photographer, therefore you should work for free or charge less than sighted photographers.

Firstly, yes there are visually impaired people working as professional photographers. If you book a photographer for an event, you should meet and talk to him or her first. The person will more than likely tell you about the visual impairment; show you how he or she works and bring sample work. If you like what you see and hear, great! Employ the photographer, if not find someone else, but don’t ask disabled people to work for less or nothing, just because you assume they deliver lower quality results or need more time for the same amount of work. This attitude is simply discriminating.

Give me the camera! I take the picture for you.

Personally, I can live with: “Would you like me to take the picture for you?”. I would never give my camera or phone to a total stranger who demands it. He or she could simply run off with it. Overly helpful people mean well, but please ask if help is welcome, before forcing it on someone. I prefer to ask for help, if I need it, instead of being asked at every street corner. The tenth time, I’ll probably react annoyed and you’ll feel rejected and I’ll feel sorry for having being so abrupt later.

This photo is wrong; you missed the main object in the scene.

There is no right and wrong in art. Maybe I focus exactly on what I want to capture. I’d appreciate if you’d say something like: “Can I help you directing the camera towards what you want to photograph?”, instead of trying to take the camera away from me or to judge my art.

A blind photographer? You are not really blind! How many fingers do I show?

This question makes me feel like a curiosity in a freak show. The only person who gets an answer to that question is an optician. But now that you’ve asked already, in fact the majority of blind people are not completely blind.  Most still see some shapes, colours or light.

You don’t take your pictures yourself

By saying this you accuse me of plagiarism. I really don’t have to proof and justify myself and my art before you.

Do you have more examples? Or do you want to write a post from the perspective of someone who met a blind photographer?  Share your thoughts in the comments or send them to us at picdesc@gmail.com

Photo by Stephan Wilke

 

 

 

App Review: can Image recognition Apps be Useful to Blind and Visually impaired photographers?

Nowadays the app store offers a large variety of free and paid image recognition and magnification apps. Most of them are designed to help blind and visually impaired people to identify everyday objects such as written documents and household items like cans or bottles. However, all these projects take visual impressions and convert them into text or speech output, which in a way makes them similar to our photo descriptions. Of course our descriptions are written by real people, putting their own interpretations and associations into the texts, and not by machines, using image databases to recognize objects. Still, we were wondering, if some of the apps could be useful for artistic purposes e.g. to help blind photographers to identify what’s in front of their camera or to sort photos after they were taken. I found numerous detailed tests of the various apps, but none of them focused on the artistic aspect.

Work in progress

Throughout the next weeks we are collecting apps to feature in our comparison. The aim is to get a comprehensive list of apps and to test them not on household items, but on photo motives such as landscapes, people and animals and artworks like paintings, sculptures and photographs from our blog. Therefore, we encourage you to send us names of image recognition apps and pictures of the above mentioned things as test motives. Of course you can also do tests yourself and send us your results to be published here. Are there any other apps you use to take or modify pictures? I’ll do my tests with an IPhone and IOS apps, but Android tests are also welcome. Some of the below mentioned apps work with live-recognition, so I’ll try them on potential photo motives.

I’m especially interested in how the apps deal with more complex motives such as portraits, group shots and images working with light and shadow as well as subtle colour shades. Are the live-recognition apps good enough to focus on an object before taking the actual picture? And are apps working with already taken photos good enough to help us to sort pictures or even to decide which ones are ‘good’ and ‘bad’?

Here are my initial lists of apps and thinks I want to try them out on. This is just a very general outline of the test, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments below or e-mail us at picdesc@gmail.com

Apps to test

Some of the apps are especially designed for visually impaired an blind users, others are shopping and price comparison apps.

  • Aipoly Vision (iOS, Free)
  • CamFind
  • Leavesnap
  • TapTapSee
  • ThirdEye Technologies Inc. (iOS, Free)

Test objects:

Naturally I can only test things I’ll find in my surrounding or objects we have pictures of in our blog. This is just a random list of things coming to my mind at the time of writing.

  • Different animals
  • Beach, mountains
  • reflection in water or glass
  • sky, sunset, moon
  • fire or candle
  • Portrait, only part of a body
  • group of more than 2 people
  • tree, leave of tree, flower
  • house, staircase
  • car
  • food
  • writing on a sign or wall
  • shop window
  • statue,
  • painting

Please feel free to send us items to add to the list of apps and objects. We look forward to reading your suggestions.

Facebook Group Challenge: Find the Blind Photographers in “Photographers with Disabilities”

I recommend the Facebook group “Photographers with Disabilities” to everyone wanting to get in touch with other disabled photographers. As the name suggests, it is not specifically for blind and visually impaired photographers, and personally I like the openness of the group. It helped me realize that other disabled photographers require different equipment and working environments to photograph. While I need a big display, speech software or tactile buttons an someone to help me to select the good pictures, others may find it difficult to hold a camera, or to get the right location and perspective while sitting in a wheelchair.

Most members post examples of their work in the group. Sometimes with comments where, when and how it was taken, but without alternative text (caption describing in more detail what is to see in the picture). I’m “guilty” of this myself. Thus, while being a member of this group if you are completely blind, may not be that rewarding, there are occasional links to articles about disabled photographers and discussions about photography and equipment in general. The group currently has around 450 members, but not all of them are constantly active, so there isn’t too much traffic. It offers a great platform for questions, discussion and inspiration.

Challenge: Find the Blind Photographer

I recently posted a link to an article by a fantastic blog called Sandy’s View entitled “How do blind people take pictures of things” under which some blind photographers contributed their motivations to take pictures. Out of this discussion developed the idea to ask EVERY group member to post one of his or her best pictures in the comments. Subsequently, everyone who wants to take the challenge is to like every picture which he or she thinks is taken by a blind or visually impaired photographer. This is not intended to single anyone out and it doesn’t really matter if you guess right or wrong. It’s just to make people think and to show, that after all there isn’t such a difference between sighted and blind photographers. It’s more about the photographs themselves and the emotions and feelings they convey, than about the person who took them. However, to make this  a meaningful experiment please share a picture in the comment to the link posted to the group by Tina Franziska Paulick on the 15th of January and don’t forget to like only the pictures which you think were taken by blind or visually impaired people

Join the Group Here.

 

 

Comics Empower – Audio Described Comic Books

Cover of the comic book Wynter

Comics Empower, an online comic store for the blind and visually impaired, makes comics accessible to readers who cannot see them. This includes giving people who have lost their sight, back the pleasure of enjoying a comic without needing someone to read it aloud to them.

Comics are the most visual literary genre I can think of. I remember trying to read them with a giant magnifying glass back in my school days. However, I couldn’t share my sighted friend’s enthusiasm. I never saw the illustrations as a whole, because only a segment of the picture was visible in the magnifier and I had to move it around all the time. If they were printed in a fancy font, I couldn’t even read the speech bubbles. From that time on, I was more interested in audio and later electronic books, where I can imagine all the action in my mind. Thanks to many amazing people I meat through this blog, I now know that blind people can be brilliant visual artists and photographers, so when I heard about Comics Empower, I decided to give Comics another try.

How it Works

To Guy Hasson, the initiator of the project “comics are not a visual medium, they’re a storytelling medium. I’ve always been a writer, and at the very origin I come from prose. And in prose, I can make you see anything and feel anything. So it was easy for me, to translate the visual pictures (called panels) into the story behind it”.

An audio described comic is a bit like a mixture between audio described films and our photo descriptions: a sequence of actions is presented in a series of separate and static pictures. Not only the speech bubbles, but also pages, panels, and texts are described in a way that doesn’t break the rhythm of the story. The description focuses on the plot, without slowing down action and suspense. For example colour and style of the pictures are only described if they fulfil an essential function in the storyline.

Twenty-two to twenty-four pages of comics are translated into thirty to thirty five minutes of audio recordings. Readings also include the letters pages, where the editors, writers, or publishers interact with the readers. In one letter a blind reader tells how he talked with a sighted friend about a comic and was told by this friend that he knows the comic almost too well.

The Story behind the Project

Guy writes texts for film, theatre and science fiction for more than twenty years now. He started the Comics Empower campaign to give real people the opportunity to tell their own stories. He talked to more than a hundred interviewees about their personal experiences with Comic books and heard lots of amazing stories, how people were empowered and encouraged by their favourite heroes. Naturally, the participants were inspired by heroes who resembled themselves. Black kids growing up in a white neighbourhood in America identified with black heroes, lesbians with a lesbian version of Cat Woman and so on. Guy realized how important these fictional characters are in many people’s lives. They are models of strength and kindness and remind us of how much we can achieve even in difficult situations.

Aurora – A Comic about a Blind Hero

But there are almost no heroes with a physical impairment, never mind a blind one. To fill that gap, Guy wrote Aurora, a comic that is published in the audio described version before it is reworked into a conventional comic. Every month a new episode goes for sale in the Comics Empower online-store. Here’s what Guy says about the main character:

Daniel Price was blinded in battle. Yet he is the only man who can save Earth, the only man who can activate an ancient robot fighting machine, called Aurora. He can no longer fly it properly, since he can’t see. And he can’t aim properly for the same reason. But the Aurora is the only weapon who will save the Earth. Daniel will just have to find a way to be a hero.

Unlike Daredevil, one of the few other blind heroes who recently made the news, Daniel has no supernatural sixth sense. Like most real blind people, he will never get his sight back; he has to adapt to his new situation. Daniel is here to show blind and visually impaired children and adults, that they can be super-heroes in their own ways too.

Getting Started

If you’re a complete newcomer to comics, have a look at the free First Timer’s Ultimate Guide to Comics to get started. It will tell you what to expect from an audio comic and how the reading experience differs from that of sighted readers. So far all customers of audio comics are blind, because sighted comic fans still haven’t overcome the blockage in their minds, that comics are exclusively visual. Guy hopes, that eventually, audio comics become more widely popular as Audio books did already.

Writing Competition

For those of you who always wanted to publish their own stories, Comics Empower are hosting a competition for blind and visually impaired comic writers at the moment. Check out the rules here and discover the super-hero in you!

 Twitter @ComicsEmpower

 

 

 

Photography workshop in Canterbury, England: Day 2 Canterbury Cathedral

Our task for the second day of the workshop was to create a photo narrative of the famous Canterbury Cathedral. It was founded in 597 by St. Augustine who was sent to England by the pope to spread Christianity. Due to a fire the church had to be completely rebuilt in the 1070s. Following the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, the Cathedral became one of the main pilgrimage sights in Europe and had to be extended. Becket was killed by a group of knights of King Henry II, who in a rage allegedly exclaimed: “”Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”. In the end Henry took public penance and Becket was proclaimed martyr and canonized.

Today, the Cathedral is still the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican community. It is one of Canterbury’s world heritage sights and the main visitor attraction of the city.

At first we had a look at the outside. The walls are decorated with carvings, statues, towers and spires. Unfortunately, the noon sun was too bright and most of the pictures I took with the IPad aren’t great. As Nadine says in one of her posts, the best time for taking pictures is in the morning or in the evening before dawn.

I liked the gardens with their mixture of decorative and useful plants. There were beautiful yellow roses as well as different kinds of herbs.

 Stem of a large tree.

This is a picture of a massive old tree growing in the gardens of the Cathedral. We were told that some collector planted several of these trees in Canterbury; I forgot who and when. We found a second one in the park near the Railway station. It would have been fun to try, if all the participants of the workshop would have been able to encircle the stem. There were little green shoots growing out of the rough bark, thus the tree was young and old at the same time.

Behind the scenes

We got a special tour of the stonemasonry and the workshop where the stain glass windows are restored. Because there are so many processes going on at the same time, I decided to show this simultaneity in collages. I haven’t tried this before and all I did was placing all the pictures on top of another bigger picture as background to cover the remaining white spots. I used Picasa. The programme offers a variety of photo editing options, but I don’t know how accessible it is for completely blind users.

With my simple collages I want to show, that a cathedral is not only a house of god, full of prayer and history, but also a work in progress. While it is a tourist attraction and a place of warship for many people, for others it is also a place of work. People filled and will always fill the impressive stone building with life.

Collage: construction work

The first collage depicts the stonemasons, their tools and their work. The ancient stone and artwork has to be preserved and renovated constantly. On the outside the modern scaffolding contrasts with the old walls and carvings from past centuries. Usually, visitors don’t get to see that much of the work in progress or the people who do it. We saw carvings and busts in different production stages, as well as tools and the workmen taking a break: reading newspapers, drinking coffee and – to judge by the table in the bottom picture to the right –  occasionally playing cards.

Collage: stain glass windows.

The second collage was inspired by the stain glass workshop. It shows different parts of the windows from various angles and perspectives. The upper picture in the middle shows a lady reframing a window and the one next to it shows what the glass looks like when it’s laid out on a table with no light shining through. It looks quite different and I realized that the windows have to be preserved just the same as paintings on canvas.

book shelves in the library.

Next we visited the library, where the surviving records of Canterbury Cathedral and city are stored. Because I can’t read print books without magnification, I mainly read EBooks or listen to audio books. However, walking through a room filled to the top with book shelves, wondering about all the knowledge they contain is impressive. I enjoyed touching the rows of books, looking at the colours and taking one out to browse through it and to smell the paper.

The most impressive part of the Cathedral of course is the insight. With its three stories it appeared to me to be bigger than I imagined it to be from the outside. After seeing the stonemasonry I was even more impressed how already centuries ago men were able to create such a high and complex building without all the technology available today.

We stayed on to listen to a quire performance. The acoustics are fantastic.

I don’t think there were as many young boys in the performance we listened too and of course a YouTube video is nothing compared to a live performance, but at least this video was taken at a concert in the Cathedral and gives a basic impression of what it sounded like.

In the next post, we’ll visit the seaside.

Tina

More posts about the workshop:

Introduction

Day 1

Photography workshop in Canterbury, England: Day 1

Tina and an older woman looking at an IPad.
by Will Phillips

Our group met in the library of the central campus of Christ Church University,  not to be confused with the University of Kent. Canterbury is a real university town and in summer tourists replace the students.

The atmosphere of the whole workshop was informal and very friendly. As a beginner I didn’t feel intimidated or embarrassed to ask questions and the more professional photographers shared their experiences with us. See my first post about the workshop for some of the participant’s websites.

IPads

Everyone who wanted got an IPad and we got a short introduction on the inbuilt camera and photos apps and how to use the IPad with Voice Over. Since I own an IPhone I found the tablet easy to use, but I think someone who isn’t familiar with IOS devices and technology in general might have needed a bit more time. On the other hand they are very user friendly and the ideal device for photography beginners. (See this previous post about smartphone photography.)

I enjoyed looking at the taken pictures on the bigger screen of the IPad. The quality of the display was much better than that of my PC monitor at home. On the other hand it was a bit cumbersome to carry around and I was afraid I would drop it. I think my IPhone 6 Plus is a good compromise. All the same IPads are definitely nice toys.

The History of Photography

After the lunch break Simon Hayhoe, the main organizer, gave a talk on the history of photography. I won’t attempt to repeat everything. His main point was that photography as we know it today wasn’t suddenly invented, it developed over time with different camera types. Here are some of the facts I found especially interesting:

The Chinese made the first pinhole cameras (or camera obscura) 2.500 years ago. Painters like Michelangelo still used them as drawing tools in the 16th century. They reflected their subject onto a surface and retraced it from there. In the 18th and 19th century cameras became more sophisticated thanks to scientific discoveries in chemistry, enabling photographers to take longer lasting pictures and eventually to produce negatives. The word photography – photo Greek for Light and graph for Greek drawing – is used since 1839. With the introduction of the first commercial cameras in the 19th century, studio photography became affordable to almost everyone. While previously only rich people could pay a painter to draw their family pictures, ordinary people too now had their pictures taken. Nevertheless, these pictures of people in their Sunday finery sitting or standing in neat rows were still rare enough to be treasured and to be passed on to the next generation.

Around 1900 the first role film was invented. Most of us still remember the last film roles with 36 pictures all of which had to be developed. My mum used to put them into photo albums with handwritten captions underneath them. Nowadays we take hundreds and hundreds of pictures without even thinking about it. Photo shop programmes offer a much wider range of opportunities to create photo albums, collages and slide shows. I definitely don’t want to go back, but I think it is important to remember from time to time that there is a history behind photography and cameras.

Selfies:

Our first task was to take pictures of each other, trying to convey a part of the model’s personality, which was a bit difficult for me because I met everyone for the first time that day. I attempted to make people look natural and not as if they were posing for the camera. Thus, I made them talk about something, hoping they would relax, but I found it hard to keep up a conversation while looking at the person through an IPad. That’s a skill one has to practice.

Someone taking a picture of Tina. She is framed by the IPad.
by Mark Pile

Finally, we looked at inspiring photos other blind photographers made and Simon encouraged us to take selfies. Although, I don’t like selfies particularly, it was fun to apply special effect filters to my face, until I was unrecognizable; in fact it is even hard to discover the outlines of a face in some of the pictures. I felt like a child in a mirror cabinet.

While taking selfies, I found another great advantage of the IPad for me: I can see my face in the front camera even when I hold it at an arms length away from me, whereas when using devices with smaller displays I often don’t get my whole face.

We attached my IPad to a projector, so that I could see what was in front of the camera projected on the wall. It was a strange sensation to see my face that close up in the middle of the room for everyone to see, but fascinating all the same. I tried to take pselfies from unusual perspectives. For this one I held the IPad behind me to take a picture of my profile.

Tina in profile

A bit of sightseeing

After our first day’s work, we strolled out into the sunny afternoon to explore the city. Unfortunately, by the time we finished in the afternoons most sights and museums were about to close. We managed to visit St. Augustin’s Abbey, or the ruins that are left of it. It offers an audio guide, telling visitors about the various buildings and the history of the Abbey in general. The original Abbey was founded shortly after AD 597 by St. Augustine to mark the reintroduction of Christianity in South England.

Ruins of St Augustine's Abbey

There’ll be more about Canterbury’s ancient buildings in the next post about our day at the famous Canterbury Cathedral.

Tina