The visually impaired, capturing a visual image, sounds a bit strange. Indeed it is a strange story to tell. But it is not the story of the lead character from the critically acclaimed movie Ship of Theseus. We are talking about hundreds of visually impaired students in real life, taking photographs in Mumbai.
What Partho Bhowmick, a photographer himself, started as a workshop on photography for the blind in 2006 with just one student, has successfully grown over time and currently has over 500 students. The school also wants to spread awareness among general public about the challenges faced by the visually impaired and their sensory substitution.
The ‘Blind With Camera School of Photography’ is a school for the visually impaired to learn photography skills and to share their experience. This school is an initiative by the Beyond Sight Foundation, a not-for-profit organization founded by Partho Bhowmick. The foundation wants to spread the art of photography in people with visual impairment and to help with capacity building around the “Non-Retinal” Art culture in India.
He accidently started this journey in 2004 when he stumbled upon an article he found in a old photo magazine he picked up from a pavement vendor in Mumbai. The article was about Evgen Bavcar, a famous blind photographer of Slovenian origin, who lost his sight gradually and started taking photographs by the age of 16.
After reading the article he contacted Evgen Bavcar, who is based in Paris. Following this contact, he was inspired by the artists work and decided to engage in a self-study on blindness and visual art. After nearly 2 years of research and study, he decided to start the workshop.
Bhowmick explains that for the visually challenged various tactile, audio clues, visual memories of sight, the warmth of light and cognitive skills are used to create “mental image” before they make the judgement to take a picture. The camera just acts as an extension of their “self” to explore the visual world, gain deeper insight while recording their imagination and point-of-view.
Photographs taken by the students are showcased in exclusive photo exhibitions, that travel around the country, that are not just a great exposure to their art but also a source of income to the photographers. The exhibitions will help in giving a feeling of pride, improve self esteem and give a sense of belonging to the visually impaired.
The project also conducts an exhibition titled ‘In Touch With Picture’, which help in making the photos taken by the students accessible to other visually impaired by a combination of adaptive ways like touch, feel, Braille notes, large prints, visual aids and audio descriptive tours.
Over the years the Blind With Camera project has culminated into Beyond Sight “inclusive” exhibition travelling across India and overseas.
In 2009 the Beyond Sight Foundation was founded by him in order to widen the scope and improve on the social deliverables of the Blind With Camera Project.
The project has also introduced a ‘Seeing Beyond Sight’ workshop, where sighted people learn how to use non-visual senses like touch, sound, warmth and and other intuitive senses to take photographs. These workshops are conducted by trained blind photographers along with sighted photographers.
As a part of this a multi sensory workshop is also conducted wherein the sighted are blindfold and undergo a series of activities that visually impaired person does every day. This programme is conducted by visually impaired volunteers along with sighted volunteers.
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