If someone one had told me a month ago about visually impaired people taking up photography, I wouldn’t have believed it. But having met Partho Bhowmick, initiator of the Blind with Camera project and witnessed one of his blind student take pictures, my perception has changed.
I met Partho at Antarchakshu - The Eye Within, an event organized by the students of Xavier’s Resource Center for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) in Mumbai. The event provides a glimpse into the world of the visually impaired. Also on exhibition at the event were pictures clicked by visually challenged students, who had learnt photography under the Blind with Camera project.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. These pictures especially had stories behind them and presented a new perspective. From a professional photographer’s point of view, they may not be all that well framed or composed, but they serve the intended purpose as they provide us with a fleeting glimpse into the world of a visually impaired person.
Who would have thought that a visually challenged person could take photographs? No one; not even Partho, who worked as an IT Manager with Pidilite Industries. This was until he came across a magazine feature about a French blind photographer. Partho, an avid photographer, was intrigued and established contact with him. He says, “I got inspired by his work and his philosophy on why a blind person should engage in visual art. He also connected me to a consortium, Art Beyond Sight, where blind artists could post their activities online. From 2004 to 2005, I did independent research work, interacting with blind artist across the world.” Convinced, he decided to take it ahead in India, and his journey began in 2005. He shared his ideas with the National Association of Blind (NAB), and conducted sessions with the visually challenged to see their reaction. From 10 students in 2006, today he has over 100.
Partho explains how he goes about teaching the visually impaired. “First you need to understand the nature of blindness they have. Somebody who is late blind always tries to recall their memories and tries to reconcile with the visual reality. All these guys, irrespective of the kind of blindness, have a process of generating images in their mind. They cannot escape visual reality, that’s for sure. The image formation in their mind happens with the help of touch, sound, etc. So, for a late blind, there is reconciliation of this memory and the visual reality.
They may take a picture of the shadow, because they know what a shadow is and can feel it due to the difference in temperature. On the other hand, born blind can always end up surprising you. This is because they have no reference points and their images are absolutely abstract. They rely on touch and sound. People with low vision, which includes people who can only see far away objects, and people with peripheral vision distortion, who can only see what’s straight ahead of them make maximum use of their residual sight, and the photographs they take are very true to the ones taken by sighted people.”