Tag Archives: Interview

„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.

 

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.

Follow Chelsea

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Christian Ohrens – Blind Photo and Video Blogger

Christian wearing a shirt saying: "Starrt mich nicht so an ... ich bin doch nur ein blinder Fotograf" = Don't stare at me like that I'm just a blind photographer"

All sites and videos referred to in this text are in German, nevertheless we want to share this interview hoping it may inspire some of you to start a similar project. In the introduction to his blog, Christian tells his readers what inspired him to take up photography and filming as a blind person, and how he works:

Why photography and film?

When I was in college, I worked a lot in audio-visual media, mainly film and TV and I always wanted to film something myself: a place, an interview, anything really. There have been numerous blind people who allowed camera teams to follow them to document their everyday lives. But I wanted to hold and direct the camera myself, as blind director of my own film, so to say.

The resolution to take photos came shortly before my last trip abroad. Why always describe my experiences exclusively in words? The majority of my friends are sighted and I wanted to show them where I’ve been. Why shouldn’t a blind person take holiday smaps to bring home some memories? I also thought it would be interesting to take pictures based on chance and intuition instead of being guided by sight only, thus focusing on the obvious things everyone can see.

How do you take your photos and videos?

I use descriptions by passing people, sounds and landmarks I can touch such as walls, stairs and doors as guidelines. I ask people to describe the surrounding or explore an area on my own and than decide whether a place or object interests me or not.

Christian doesn’t strive for perfect and exact photos. He regards his work as an experiment and the best shots often happen by chance. Through his commentaries in his videos, Christian’s viewers get his personal take on places. By combining what is to hear and see they get a bigger picture.

What equipment are you using?

Currently, I’m using an Exilim by Casio, because it has useful automatic modes as well as automatic corrections on lighting and angle. It’s light and compact. For filming I’m using the action-camera Sony SDR-AS15, which can be easily attached to a small tripod.

How do people on the streets react when they see you?

Many sighted, but also some blind people don’t understand why a blind person takes photos. Often they can’t or simply don’t want to try to understand it and admittedly the way I photograph looks rather random at the first glance. Other people mean well and want to help me immediately. In the past people have tried to guide my hand or even to take the camera away from me to take what is in their opinion a better picture.

“Beware … Blind Photographer”

To stop people from ‘interfering’ but also to raise their curiosity for something they regard as unusual, I started wearing a T-Shirt saying: “Don’t stare at me like that … I’m just a blind photographer” on my photo and video tours. It gets the message across in a funny way without sounding too harsh: We are blind, but we have the same interests as everyone else. We don’t make fun of sighted people listening to audio books either.

Did you take all the photos on your blog yourself?

Yes, about 80% of the pictures shown on my blog are taken by me. I often asked people to describe my surroundings and aim according to them. The other 20% are pictures where people guided my hand or took the photo for me. The photos are as they are: original, no photo shop, no selection, even if one object is depicted ten times, even if it is blurry and even if only a white wall or parts of the motive are depicted. Many of my photos would have been deleted by sighted photographers, but that’s the whole point of my experimental project.

Some of Christian’s Works

He already did photo and video trips to Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Trier, Recklinghausen, Marburg (all in Germany), Scandinavia and even Jekaterinburg in Russia. He also works as DJ and Radio presenter. You can find out more about him on his German blog and YouTube canal.

translated quotes and photo copyright by Christian Ohrens

 

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

 

 

 

Will Phillips: “I want to be known as a worthy photographer and not a person with a disability who happens to take photographs.”

Pigeon flying from a pigeon hole.

“Wings of Victory” by Will Phillips: Photo of a pigeon flying from the porthole of HMS Victory at Portsmouth Dockyard. Taken with a Canon Digital SLR in sepia.

I met Will Phillips at the photography workshop in Canterbury and when he sent me an email with some pictures he took of me, I asked him if he’d like to give an interview about his experiences as a visually impaired photographer. So, here’s the interview:

How much and what do you actually see?

My right eye retina detached in 2011. So the vision in this eye is distorted. My left eye’s vision does not allow me to pick out detail and has another of floaters. Both eyes are very sensitive to light so a bright day makes it very difficult to see much because of glare. On the reading chart I can make nothing out in my right eye and only the top letter with the left eye.

Did you take pictures before you became visually impaired? And how has your visual impairment changed the way you take and look at pictures?

My eyesight has also been bad from birth but has continued to get worse and I am getting older. My father was a professional photographer so I have been brought up with cameras. I studied photography as my secondary subject with Product Design at Portsmouth Art College. Eventually I got a job as a Collections Officer with the local Museums Service. I eventually became responsible for the historic Camera Collection which I built up over a number of years. I then did a lot of studio photography. This was mostly photographing museum objects.

As my eyes have got worse I did find that the type of photography I liked to do which was abstract was becoming impossible. I was retracted to taking general views of scenes. It is only since I have been mixing with other VIP* photographers that I have found I can again take abstract photographs as well as other types of images. I do not like studio photography, I like taking photographs of ‘the moment’, getting ‘out there’ and photographing something great.

Do you think visually impaired photographers approach photography differently than sighted photographers?

Yes but every VIPs eyesight is different. So I cannot remark on how other photographers approach their work. It is a case of making adjustments to the equipment you use and choosing subjects that you feel happy taking.

How do you choose what you want to photograph? And what subjects do you prefer?

I enjoy taking abstract images, see an object, objects or a view usually close up to isolate shape and sometimes colour to achieve an interesting image.I find you do have to study the subject more intently to find what you are looking for. Also changing the aspect, moving around a scene or object changes your view and you see something to photograph you did not expect. Also luck is a factor in taking interesting images. Being in the right place at the right time to take the perfect image.

What camera types have you used already and what are their advantages and disadvantages for visually impaired photographers in your opinion?

I have used 35mm film SLRs (Single Lens Reflex cameras) and compact cameras. My father used Leica’s. He used for his work a Leica 1 and two Leica IIs. These cameras dating from the 1920s and 30s. I used these cameras when I was younger and my eyesight was up to using the small viewfinders.

My first camera I think was a Kodak using 127 roll film. My first SLR was a Zenit EM. It was nicknamed the ‘Tank’ because it was so heavy. At Art College I moved onto the Pentax MX the smallest manual 35mm available in the early 1980s. All my friends had MXs or ME Supers**. These cameras had viewfinders which made these really easy to use.

I purchased my first digital camera in about 2002. A Kyocera Finecam S3. It is a credit card sized camera with a very small LCD screen but it has a viewfinder. So I could use it for everyday photography. After that I purchased a Kodak EasyShare ‘bridge’. This had a viewfinder and a large LCD screen also a very long zoom lens. I took this to Australia and New Zealand in 2005 and came back with 2,500 photographs. I then used Panasonic TZ2 then a TZ8 compact travel cameras. I had to fit each camera with a fold down shade so I could see the rear screen.

What is your favourite camera, and why?

Difficult question, since I have joined with a group of VIP photographers via Blind Veterans UK and found I could still take interesting photographs I have gone a bit ‘mad’ purchasing different cameras. The camera I bought to replace the Kodak was a Panasonic TZ2 travel compact. I then later bought a TZ8. Then I left it a few years and now have a TZ60 with a 30x optical zoom. Which has a great advantage over the earlier models now having a viewfinder. I always have this camera in my ruck sack.

How do you select the best pictures for exhibitions for example? Do you ask sighted people for their opinion?

I select the images via my computer. Yes usually only my sister and brother in law.

Do you have a special system to sort your pictures in order to find them again, e.g. renaming them?

Only Windows Photo Gallery, then I work on the images with Photoshop Elements.

Do you want people to know that you are visually impaired when they look at your pictures or do you prefer not to tell them?

It depends who I am dealing with. Usually no as I want the image to be judged not me.

What reactions do you usually get when you tell people you’re a visually impaired photographer?

Surprise

Do you think the work of visually impaired photographers is measured with different standards than that of sighted photographers? For example some people might be afraid to criticise your work or they say something like: “It’s good for someone who has limited sight.”

By what I have heard yes. I have had no personal experience of this issue. I think some sighted photographers can get upset if their work seems lacking against a VIP photographer.

Do you know of resources for visually impaired photographers, e.g. websites, workshops and virtual and real life groups and communities?

Look at this website, www.accessphotography.org. It is set up for photographers who have a disability.

Can you give some tips to people, who want to take up photography but don’t know where and how to start?

Get some advice on equipment. If possible make adjustments to the equipment to make it more accessible. Try and get some help from a competent sighted photographer who could accompany you on your first forays into the unknown.

What are your plans for the future?

To continue taking photographs as long as it is possible with my eyesight. Also to have my photographs see by the public. I want to be known as a worthy photographer and not a person with a disability who happens to take photographs.

*VIP = Visually impaired

** Are Pentax 35 mm SLRs from the early 1980s. The MX was a manual camera. The ME Super was a manual and automatic camera.