Blind people of south London see through their lens

Exhibition ‘Sights Unseen’ Photo: Kyriaki Theochari

Exhibition ‘Sights Unseen’ Photo: Kyriaki Theochari

‘Frozen moments’ of their daily life, captured through sensory photography techniques, is what blind and visually impaired Africans and Afro-Caribbeans of South London, share with us in the exhibition ‘Sights Unseen’, hosted at the Association of Photographers Gallery in Hackney.

Gary is a blind man who lives in Lambeth. Quite often in the past when coming out of his house, he stumbled across a car parked on the nearby pavement. As he states: “Walking around it in the road, I became frustrated”.

So he photographed the car and placed the photo on its windscreen with an explanation of the problems it caused him. His neighbour has since parked on the road.

Gary is one of many the blind and visually impaired in the Afro-Caribbean community of south London, who have been trained to use sensory photography techniques to communicate their experiences.

Sensory photography workshops taught them to use senses , such as their hearing, touch and smell, other than sight to create images. The workshops held by the UK- based international charity Photovoice, took place at the Organisation of Blind African and Caribbean, between November 2008 and November 2009.

Photovoice helps marginalised and minority communities around the world to communicate their reality, and advocate social change through photography. It was their training that materialised the fascinating images showcased at  the exhibition.

Their pictures highlight the dangers that people with sensory and mobility disabilities, face in their daily lives. They are their medium to call for action. The ‘seeing world’ does not realise, how many  simple things like the carelessly managed roadworks captured in a picture, can pose danger for those who do not.

The exhibited works also raise awareness of how prone people of  Afro-Caribbean origin are to blindness. The participants of the Photovoice project use their photographic skills to promote the campaign ‘Believe your eyes’, which suggests regular eye check-ups to prevent sight loss, one of the commonest causes of disability in the UK.

The exhibition offers us the opportunity to understand the power of photography from another angle: what matters is not just the image itself, but the experience and the emotions inspired within the photographer.

In the text accompanying a photograph of Althea titled ‘Self-portrait with flowers’, reads: “Before this project, I have never took any notice of flowers. But since this project, I have come to like flowers for what they represent. I have been blossomed just like a flower. It is like a change, the way flowers as a seed grow little by little, that is almost how I see myself in this project. I have opened up to see, without having any sight.”

Both photographs and texts can easily be accessed by visually disabled people, since MP3 players, available at the reception, provide descriptions for each photograph. Caption plaques in Braille and the tactile diagrams are also available. The exhibition ends 23 January 2010.