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

Interview with visually impaired photographer Chelsea Stark

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

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

 

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

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

 

Do you get inspirations from works of other photographers?

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

 

Small waterfall surrounded by green

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

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

 

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

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

silhouettes of horses on a beach

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 Inside of an Southern European looking restaurant

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 Three bottles of sauce

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

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

 

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

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

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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.

Hand touching a leaf in the sun, by Katrin Dinges

Dear photo narrator,
please describe this for me!

This is another photo of my balcony. Sometimes I try to take a picture
of my hand while it touches something. The reason is that this is the
most important experience I can get from things: By touching them. So
I can tell something about my experiences in touching and smelling and
others can tell me something about what they see. When we exchange our
different kinds of taking part  in the world of senses, we can learn
something from each other. I have learned so much about seeing through
the descriptions in our German description blog! And  many, many
memories of the time when I was a child and teenager and could still
see a little bit, come back through these dialogues. Also sighted
people can learn something from me. Often someone says to me: “Oh, I
wouldn’t have noticed this detail, if you wouldn’t have
asked me about it!” Or I have a question about a phenomena
connected to sight which is naturally for sighted people, but not for
me. So we learn from each other every time we talk about pictures and
the border of being able to see or not is vanishing a little bit.
That’s what I really like about photography.
A hand and two small leaves

Green tomatoes in the sunshine, Katrin Dinges

Dear photo narrator,

can you please describe this for me!

This is another picture of my balcony, taken a bit later in 2014. I loved
these tomatoes. They were delicious – when they became red. This is a
green one. Did you ever experience the smell of tomato plants when
you’ve just watered and touched them a short moment ago? That’s
something you should be able to take a smell-photo of!!!
Little tomatoes in the sunshine

Flowers on my balcony, by Katrin Dinges

Dear photo narrator,

please describe this for me!

These are some flowers on my balcony last summer. In 2014 I made a lot of photos of my balcony between spring and autumn. This was the first year with my own camera and it was a pleasure to have the possibility to document the process of growing – the opening blossoms during all the weeks and months. I always enjoyed letting my fingers slide over the leaves and blossoms. If I did that, I forgot everything I had to do or think about and afterwards I felt relaxed and full of peace. The smell when I had given them water or it was raining, was unbelievably delicious. I am looking very forward to bring some new green and coloured “friends” there, during the next weeks. It smells already so good like springtime outside! Pink blossoms