Sights Unseen

The Association of Photographers Gallery (81 Leonard Street, London) is currently running an exhibit of photographs taken by bind people. (The link leads to a short BBC video feature.)

Possibly because I started with a Lomo LC-A (and all that implies, art-wise), various "non-standard" forms of photography fascinate me. As I suggested to Charlie Stross late last year, perefect sight is not a key component of all photography:
[It] isn't out just because of your vision problems; you just need to get a bit more creative, and get into the more interesting areas.... To address the two specific concerns you put forward, there are (and have always been) lots of cameras that don't use viewfinders, including view cameras and many modern digital cameras. As for focus: modern cameras have autofocus; when you're shooting with wide angle lenses at reasonably small apertures scale focus works just fine (you have a huge depth of field, so it's very hard to get stuff out of focus); and with a pinhole camera, the entire image is always in focus.

In fact, your visual limitations might force you into doing something far more creative than you would otherwise. What about making your own photographic paper and doing contact shadow prints in the sun? Or building your own pinhole camera? There's a huge world of photography out there beyond what people usually think of as photography; even the Holga and Lomo stuff is in the fairly "normal" end of the range.
I also mentioned a fellow who makes photos with a Van de Graaf generator sending electricity through the film, and even a wet plate and tintype artist showed up in the comments. (Yes, I think that's very, very cool. Then again, the one cookbook I currently own is one of recipes for photographic film developer.)

So I'm quite excited by the idea of finding some way, other than looking through a viewfinder or at a screen, of deciding what will be captured on film. My imagination ran wild. How do you calculate exposure? Could you make a touch scale for it? Perhaps we should be printing sandpaper, where the roughness or smoothness matches how bright or dark something is?

It turns out that many of the photographers are partially sighted. (They may not see a curb in front of them, but they'll see a big freaking wall.) That's something I think is not well known in the sighted community: many "blind" people do have vision: it's just not the sort of vision we sighted people have.

I did wonder about the photographers' involvement in the other half of photography: editing. By this I am not talking about going at your photo with Photoshop. (I, having learned in an analogue world, would call that "printing.") I mean selecting, out of all of the photos you took, the appropriate one or ones for some purpose, as the photo editors of magazines do. (Of course this includes chucking out all the ones that didn't work at all. I'm starting to get good at that bit, I think.)

It's quite difficult to be put on the spot and asked to take a good photograph of some arbitrary subject or situation. The ability to do that is why the professional photographers get paid the big bucks. However, if you take enough snapshots, the million monkeys syndrome will kick in faster than you'd imagine and some of them will be great. I have a book by Christian Skrein called Snapshots that demonstrates this: it's a masterful collection of 500-odd photographs edited from more than a million snapshots, and I can spend hours on a few dozen pages of it.

So we must not forget whomever is editing these selections of photographs. But let's also keep this in mind:

The partially sighted photographers have more visual engagement with the world than you might think, and the fully blind have their own means to see what's going on. Perhaps they can, in some way, show you their view of the world, even though you can no more properly understand it than a blind man can understand colour. As Matt Daw says at the end of the clip:
When it comes down to it, photography is more than the creation of something visual. It's a communication of a moment of an experience, of a thought process, and if that moment has been experienced with senses other than sight, it can still be captured in a photograph.

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