Tag Archives: photography workshop

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Tina’s photos for the exhibition in Canterbury Cathedral

All participants were asked to select 20 pictures we took during the photography workshop in Canterbury this July to be exhibited at Canterbury Cathedral. Personally, I found the selection process rather difficult and I had to go back to the pictures several times before making up my mind. I tried to choose photos that are not only nice to look at, but also have a story to tell. I hope the captions make some of them appear in a new light. I wrote about each individual day of the workshop in previous posts.

Day 1:

Moon over Canterbury

Moon over Canterbury

During the workshop we stayed in Turing College at the University of Kent. This picture was taken from the window of our room shortly after a rather crazy journey from Berlin to Canterbury. After 32°C, a bomb alarm at the airport and losing my ticket in the London underground, this peaceful scene was a pleasant change. I like the way the window pane breaks the moonlight.

Collage: Pieces of Me

 Pieces of Me

On the first day of the workshop we were asked to take selfies. I usually make fun of people who post hundreds of selfies. So I wanted to do something different: A selfie where the viewer sees parts of me very close up and has to reconstruct the whole person in his or her imagination. However, in the end “blank spaces” remain, because knowing what I look like doesn’t mean knowing me as a person.

I took the individual pictures with an IPad connected to a projector. Thus, I could see what was on the screen projected much larger on the wall. It was a strange sensation to take the pictures and an even stranger feeling to submit them to an exhibition where they will be printed in large format. But I think we shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies. Nobody’s skin or teeth are perfect and they don’t have to be.

A Seagull

A Sea Gull

This big seagull walked up and down the main street, hoping somebody would drop crumbs. Originally, I saw it merely as a blurry white point moving along the sidewalk. It was only later when I saw it’s black and grey parts, the yellow beak and the eye. I like zooming in on objects, because I can see them more detailed in the pictures. Photographs enable me to have a closer look at my environment, because I can look at them on a big screen as long as I like and zoom in and out. After it realized, that we wouldn’t feed it, the gull flew away.

Day 2:

A Sheep Preparing for the Beach

Sheep preparing for the beach

When I walk around, I focus on finding my way and not bumping into people, thus I often fail to see nice and interesting things I would have liked to look at if I knew they were there. On the way to Christ Church University this statue of a sheep was pointed out to me. It’s pretty realistic, even the texture of the wool was carved into the stone. We added my straw hat and sunglasses. I hope the artist doesn’t mind us having a bit of fun with his creation. After all, art is also what the observer makes of it. The hand of the “creator” is still visible.

Collage; Construction Work on Canterbury Cathedral

 Collage: construction work

Our task for the second day of the workshop was to create a narrative of Canterbury Cathedral. 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. The ancient stone and artwork has to be preserved and renovated constantly. The modern scaffolding contrasts with the old walls. We were allowed to have a look behind the scenes at the stonemasonry where 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 occasionally playing cards.

Collage: Stain Glass Windows of Canterbury Cathedral

Collage: stain glass windows.

I simply couldn’t decide which picture to take, so I tried to make a collage. I don’t know much about photo editing programmes and I just put all the pictures on top of another one as background, but it shows different parts of the Stain glass windows from various angles. 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.

Lighting a Candle in Canterbury Cathedral

07 Lighting a Candle in Canterbury Cathedral

I’m not religious, but for some reason I like lighting candles in churches of all dominations. I don’t know if they really bring luck to me and the people I love, but it’s worth trying anyhow. And although it isn’t much, the donated money helps to maintain the beautiful buildings. When I looked at it later, it took me a while to figure out what this picture was. I think the light and shadow contrast makes it interesting. Would you have guessed what it is?

A Pillar in Canterbury Cathedral

Pillar in the Cathedral

I often take pictures of things I can touch, because when I look at them, I remember what the object felt like. Sometimes I also record sounds to go with images. The combination of touch, sound and vision creates more complex sensory impressions. Standing right in front of it, the pillar looked gigantic. It is made of smooth and cool stone. In school I learned how to distinguish the different pillar types by their ornamentation, but I forgot all about it. Still, it is impressive to think of craftsmen with rather primitive tools shaping this massive stone, holding an even more gigantic roof for centuries.

Canterbury Cathedral Library

09 Canterbury Cathedral Library 

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. I couldn’t read the gilded lettering at the time.

Stem of a Tree in the Grounds of Canterbury Cathedral

10 Stemm of a Tree in the Grounds of Canterbury Cathedral

This is the bark 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.

Meeting in a Nutshell

12 Meeting in a Nutshell 

We shared a boat with S. and her 2 lovely grandchildren, because there had to be at least two adults in a boat. She had promised them the trip and we didn’t mind sharing at all. We had a nice chat and watching the kid’s fascination with the water was fun. I took some pictures and sent them to S. I’m not too happy with them, because in this one only part of the little boy is visible. A rectangular frame isn’t enough to capture moments like this. I should have held the phone in a vertical position or made a panorama, but now it’s too late. However, the photo embodies a nice memory and who knows maybe we’ll meet again some day.

13 The River Stour

13 The River Stour 

Maybe because of the unusual heat this summer, there are too many water weeds and other plants in the river, making it look very green and endangering the fish population. However, in this picture the water looks clean and very blue. It reflects the plants almost like a mirror.

Balancing a Boat

14 Balancing a Boat

This is one of the boats. I love water and want to swim and go on boat trips wherever I can. While taking the picture I saw only the long yellow shape of the boat and multicoloured spots in it. Looking at the picture I saw the people more distinctly and the man who steered the boat waving at us. He must have an enormous balance, standing free on the boat, steering it, waving at us and looking relaxed at the same time. I’d definitely recommend going on this trip. One sees ducks and birds, maybe even a fish and can take a break from the busy city.

Day 3:

Potted Palm Tree with Flowers at Margate Beach

15 Potted Palm Tree with Flowers

These palms can be found all the way along the promenade of Margate Beach. They lent a southern atmosphere to the place.

Crowded Margate Beach

16 Crowded Margate Beach

Initially, I took this picture to show my friends at home how crowded the beach was. It reminded me of Spanish beaches, only the rows of deck chairs were missing. Looking at it through the camera of my phone, I saw only sea and sand covered with dark and moving spots. On my computer screen at home I can distinguish men, women and children in the foreground and what they are wearing. I even see umbrellas and a ball. Thus photography can be a vision aid to me.

Welcome to Margate, Finest Sand in England

17 Welcome to Margate, Finest Sand in England

My mum and I collect sand from beaches all over the world. People started bringing us sand from their holidays; others think it’s crazy. It’s one of the cheapest hobbies I can think of and some of the sands have different shades or textures. We put them in little glass chars with labels on them. In Margate, I collected sand in a container previously containing olives. Maybe the sand smells of garlic now. I’ve never seen a sign praising sand before and it was hilarious that I almost couldn’t see the sand under all the sun bathers.

Beach Huts in Whitstable

18 Beach Huts in Whitstable

On the last day of the workshop we were asked to look for regular patterns and shadows that objects make. It was only later when I came across those huts. They all look the same, standing there in regular rows with a car parked in front of each. I suppose that’s some kind of pattern.

Silver Sea

19 Silver Sea

After five absolutely hot days our last day in Canterbury was mixed. In my opinion this is a nice landscape picture, all in silver grey light and shades with the straight line of the horizon looking close and far away at the same time.

Photographers in a Net

20 Photographers in a Net

This is the last picture I took and my personal favourite. Initially, I only wanted to take a photo of the patterns in which the fishing nets lay on the ground. The shadows were there by chance at first. It is a picture with two layers, showing the intended motive and the photographers at the same time. Many of my pictures are teamwork, because sighted people sometimes help me to position the camera.

About the Photographer:

Tina Paulick (23) is legally blind, but has some remaining sight. She is German and studies in Galway, Ireland. Tina is the main editor of our English blog.

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

Group picture of some of the participants

Photography workshop in Canterbury, England: Part 1

I came across this workshop on the art beyond sight mailing list run by the NFB (National Federation for the Blind of America) and  rather spontaneously decided to attend it.

The Equality, Social Justice and Inclusion Theme Group, Faculty of Education, Canterbury Christ Church University conducted this inclusive photography workshop for blind, visually impaired and sighted photographers. It took place this July for the first time, but the organizers hope to be able to offer it every year from now on, turning it into an international event.

The program was developed in conjunction with Dr Noemi Pena Sanchez, from Valladolid University in Spain, who has expertise in the development of photography courses and workshops for people of all levels of sight and experience. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the workshop herself in the end.

Among other fields, the main organizer Dr. Simon Hayhoe conducts research about the connection between arts and blindness, as well as arts and disabilities in general.

The course was designed for photographers with all levels of skill and experience. The university provided IPads, but participants could also bring their own cameras and smartphones. The main objective was to teach participants camera work and skills through a series of directed photography tasks. Additionally, it provided a great opportunity to meet other photographers and to look at each others work.

Most participants came from Britain and are members of Blind Veterans UK. They are amazing photographers and artists. It is definitely worthwhile to check out their websites.

Mark Pile: http://mip-photography.co.uk/

Keith Harness: http://www.keithharness-photography.co.uk/

Wemdy Daws, Artist: http://www.wendydaws.co.uk

ECO: On blindness, technology and the arts:http://www.blindnessandarts.com/

Please let me know, if I forgot someone’s website. Of course the pictures of the participants who don’t have a website are great too.

I’ll talk about each day of the workshop in a separate post.

Happy photographing!

Tina

About being a blind photographer, by Katrin Dinges

This article is roughly based on a German post by Katrin, reflecting on her participation in our photography workshop in May 2014 and her experiences as a blind photographer in general.

Since my first project in 2012 photography is a bridge between seeing and not seeing to me. I realized that touching sculptures or roses in a park creates some kind of visual image in my mind. Reading the descriptions in our blog brings back past memories; or I think I’m actually able to see the described things in front of my inner eye. Until my teenage years I was still able to see contrasts and shapes, so looking at pictures meant something to me. During my first project it was hard to realize that I now could neither see what was in the focus of the camera nor the captured image. Fortunately, I overcame this pain and continued taking pictures. Thus, I regained access to visual memories I believed to have forgotten a long time ago.

To my own amazement I started to notice my remaining vision again a few months ago. It is really not a lot, merely light and darkness and some extremely blurred shadows. But sometimes it even distracts my concentration or orientation. Once it made me loose the rhythm while dancing tango. Another time I danced into the wrong direction, because I saw something white. As I later discovered it was not a floodlight as I thought but the white wall.

Talking about visual things not only helped me to remember, it also made it easier to explain to others what and how I see. Sometimes I’m not sure where the boundaries between my own sensual perception and the impressions I get from other people’s descriptions are. Emotionally this experience is enriching and confusing at the same time an I would like to investigate this connection further.

A while ago I recommended our German blog to a Russian friend, who is also blind. Her parents, unable to read the German descriptions, described my pictures to her and remarked they looked as if a sighted person had taken them. Actually this is a huge compliment, but I’m not sure how I feel about this, because sighted people helped me to take the photos and I don’t necessarily want to create pictures similar to those sighted people take.

Maybe I should search for some of my first pictures to scan and upload them here. They were taken with an analogue camera and in a more random fashion with less sighted help. It would be interesting to compare them with more recent digital pictures. However, I got used to the help which makes it easier to select motives and depict exactly what I want to depict. Besides, there were too many bad pictures among the analogue ones.

Can blind people read hands?

In my latest project I focus on hands – hands in different positions, engaged in various actions. As a blind person someone’s hands are often the only part of a person I touch. In contrast to that most photographers focus on faces, because they convey more emotions. I also put things I regard as beautiful into hands, to create a different sensual impression. I love touching artful objects or the art of nature – a delicate flower or the cracked bark of a massive old tree.

Hands can tell me as much about a person as their faces. I rarely touch the latter and I would never ask to do so, because touching someone’s face is a rather intimate gesture, especially if you don’t know a person vary well. I suppose most people wouldn’t refuse this request, but it has to come naturally and spontaneously, otherwise it becomes embarrassing to both partners. If a friend offers me to touch her or his face, I appreciate it as an invaluable proof of trust. For example in my new dancing group it is part of our improvised dancing to tuch each other, including our faces. Some of the other dancers also told me that they experienced it as something special and unique. For sighted people the first thing they see of each other are the faces, not the hands. One dancer said she didn’t let me feel her face only to do me a favour, but also because she wanted to know what the sensation would be like.

A friend of mine once jokingly called me a hand reader. Of course I cannot read the future in people’s hands, but I think due to my intensively trained sense of touch I gather from them more information than most sighted people do. It is a pity that smells can neither be adequately described nor captured in a picture to show them to others. Likewise sighted people sometimes find it difficult to explain visual experiences to me, which I have never seen myself. Occasionally these impressions are too abstract and I find no approach to them.

Looking closer and closer

On the other hand my detailed questions seam to change the way the narrators look at things themselves. Often narrators tell me they wouldn’t have noticed certain details, if I wouldn’t have asked specific questions. Writing visual impressions down as a coherent text brings more details to light than just glancing casually at a picture. For example in a photo of a tram one could look through the doors and windows and see people walking behind the tram on the other side of the street. They were blurred but nevertheless clearly visible. My describer said she wouldn’t have noticed this without describing the scene to me. On the other hand, a lady who I regularly meet to read texts and talk, told me since she learns more about the way I perceive things she trys to focus more on her sense of touch. Thus completely different ways of perception complement each other and fuse into an universal perception of sensory impressions. This process of mutual approximation and change of perspective in photography workshops, dancing groups or other projects is a very enriching experience to me.

Our workshops for blind and visually impaired photographers in Berlin

Our first photography seminar for visually impaired and blind people took place in Berlin on May the 10th in 2014 at the Alice-Salomon Academy. It was organised by Karsten Hein, a photographer who also teaches at the academy. Although many sighted people are amazed that blind persons are interested in visual art Karsten already knew some blind photographers and had worked with them on previous projects. Even blind people who had no prior experiences in that area were curious to try it out.

This interdisciplinary seminar introduced blind people to the essential techniques of photography. Students from the academy assisted them and described the taken pictures. Based on those descriptions the photographers decided whether they were satisfied with the result or wanted to change the angle of the camera. People have a more intensive relationship with pictures they have taken themselves.

The main objective was to initiate a dialogue between photographers and students. The students learned that what they see is not as unambiguous and self-evident as they initially thought. Talking with the blind about pictures enabled them to see differently.

Due to the success of last years workshops three more seminars are taking place this May and June. The first one starts today and we are looking forward to seeing many familiar and new faces.

We know that other organisations and individuals organize similar workshops throughout the world. Get it touch with us if you want to tell us about your project, plan a cooperation with us or want to advertise your project or exhibition. The aim of this website is to connect blind and sighted photographers and creative writers all over the world. Thanks to modern technology and the internet there are so many ways to do this.

We’ll keep you updated!