OCA Jose Navarro reflects on blind and visually impaired photographers
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out of sight…out of mind?

Frenetic © Bruce Hall

The Olympic and Paralympic parade in London a couple of days ago was the closure of an extraordinary summer of British sport. For me, the biggest achievement of London 2012 was its contribution to raising the profile of Paralympic sports. London 2012 challenged people to re-think their understanding and views on disabilities. In my own personal case, it has made me think a lot about blind and visually impaired photographers…
It is not a coincidence that Chris Holmes was invited to the launch of the LomoWall at the Museum of London a few weeks ago. The former Paralympic gold medallist and Director of Paralympic Integration for London 2012, a blind photographer himself, also contributed to the 65-metre long collage of analogue photographs that make the LomoWall. The theme of the display was “inspiring and achieving in London’s Olympic year”
Chris Holmes at the LomoWall

I remember the impact that a body of work by visually impaired photographers made on me at last year’s Hereford Photography Festival – sadly, there has been no festival this year. The work was part of the project Sights Unseen, coordinated by Photovoice in 2009 and 2010 – listen to Gary Waite talk about his involvement in in the project.
At the same time as Photovoice was running Sights Unseen, the University of California Riverside, in partnership with the California Museum of Photography, hosted the eponymous exhibition Sight Unseen.

“I slip photos under the door from the world of the blind to be viewed in the light of the sighted.” (Pete Eckert, Sight Unseen)

Eckert’s metaphorical quote reminded me of the fact than in many non-industrial societies the blind person holds a special aura, a mixture of fear and respect, for it is the blind person who truly sees. The shamanic, out-worldidly connotations of photographs taken by blind photographers are hard to avoid. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why they are so compelling…
Making the most of the Paralympic momentum, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the program In Touch at the beginning of August. It explored the work of Seeing with Photography, a collective of visually impaired and blind photographers based in New York. On the program, one of the participant photographers was asked how they engaged in the picture-taking process. What he said is something that all photographers should reflect on:

“…you don’t take the picture by looking through a camera…you’re making the picture with your mind…”

What triggers the act of taking a photograph then? Is it what you see? Is it what you think? Is it what you feel? Is it what you think you feel, not necessarily just what you see?
May be the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t make that much ‘sense’ after all.

Posted by author: Jose
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12 thoughts on “out of sight…out of mind?

  • This article raises an interesting philosophical conundrum. I don’t feel that ‘seeing’ should be taken as a literal act. No two people will view a scene in the same way. Rather, I feel that a photographer’s trigger is more a reflection of the photographer’s own subjective thoughts and feelings (assuming his or her response is not constrained by commission imposed limits or a need to satisfy a specific audience).

  • That is an interesting point … what makes you press the trigger that releases the shutter that results in an image possibly a photograph?
    Sometimes it is going to be mechanical or determined by something happening directly out there such as a bird flying past but often it is an intuitive response rather than an act being determined by rational thought.
    Guess this is more or less just what Jacqui has said !

    • One of the indigenous cultures in the borderlands between Ghana and Togo has an interesting category of perception called ‘seselelame’. It is a concept that seems to refer to what we know as our five senses, AND also what we understand as imagination and intuition. In other words, for that culture imagination and intuition are, to all intent and purposes, two additional senses. Writing this post reminded me of ‘seselelame’ and its connections with what this post is all about…
      If you want to read more about it go to p.40 (chapter 3) here http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=UiFtWXSkuwwC&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&dq=seselelame&source=bl&ots=JYQWV6VNFE&sig=6Bse0XA6g5Gd4oxJVb3ULpaiYjo&hl=en#v=onepage&q=seselelame&f=false

      • I am interested by the notion of seselelame. In the West, it frequently seems that we can become bombarded by the hurly-burly of modern life leading us to view knowledge as some objective body out there to be discovered, rather than viewing it as a series of culturally determined constructs. I love the way projects like ‘Sights Unseen’ help widen, and maybe even challenge, our understanding of what photography can be.

  • “What triggers the act of taking a photograph then? Is it what you see? Is it what you think? Is it what you feel? Is it what you think you feel, not necessarily just what you see?” Surely there is another reason which is what do you want to portray? Merely “taking” a picture, stealing a moment belies one of the critical opportunities that photographers have, which is to construct an image in such a way as to deliver a specific narrative?

    • …if you want to convey a narrative you must have thought about what you saw, or felt moved by it in some way, beforehand…because the narrative is constructed by you, is not built in the scene that you photographed…or is it?
      I like the way you used the term ‘to construct’ when referring to taking a photograph….

  • Having read the above, this morning I tried to catch myself in the act, as it were, of pressing the trigger. I asked myself what made me suddenly on impulse grab my camera out of my bag, & it was exactly as Jose says, I felt profoundly moved by the sight of miles of empty beach, the sand marked in ruffles where the wind had been, the huge expanse of sky . . . every time I look at that photograph in future I will be reminded of the peace & beauty of that moment, coming as it did after a very stressful couple of weeks.
    But there’s the rub. I’m aware that other people might look at it & feel I took a picture of nothing much, empty space. How to convey what one feels? Won’t this always be the challenge for artists?

  • How to convey the richness of embodied perception into a photograph, something merely visual? Now, that’s a challenge indeed. The photograph you talk about works for you because it makes you recollect your multi-sensory experience. It will not perform that function in other viewers. Interestingly, it may trigger very different feelings…perhaps other people will see – feel? -desolation and loneliness where you felt peace and beauty.
    You might find it interesting to read David Abram’s ‘Becoming an Animal’. The book is all about that realm of experience that, in your case, compelled you to take a photograph of that empty beach.

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