Thursday, June 28, 2007

Eye-Opening Photography

The July issue of Edutopia has an inspirational article about a photographer, Tony Deifell, who taught his art to visually impaired students at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Yes, visually impaired students. Through the use of their other senses these students were able to create photographs which encouraged dialogue between the sighted and non-sighted, opening doors on both sides as far as what is actually seen and what is perceived.

As an example of what this experience might have been like, let's look at the photo I have posted. When I took this photo at a fair at a nursing home, I used visual cues to compose the image. I saw a sweet young girl trying to feed a goat, and she had been working hard at it. She was a bit nervous at first, and got closer and closer before allowing him to take the seed from her palm. I watched for a while, thinking about how I might capture this experience, then grabbed the shot. Now imagine if I had been blind, but asked to take a photo at the fair. What senses could I have used to try to take a photo? Sound comes to mind first, listening to the child talking to the goat. I would have known by sound that the shot was low to the ground, and I probably could have decided her approximate position. But, there were lots of voices at the fair, so my hearing would have needed to be quite acute. I might have used touch, if I could have gotten close and felt the fence, how low to the ground, where the goat was (he was friendly) etc. If I'd known the child I might have gotten some verbal cues from her. Needless to say, the picture would not have turned out the way this one did, and I would have needed to talk with someone about how the picture turned out. Whether I took digital images, or film, would not have mattered at all.

Seeing Beyond Sight is Deifell's record of his experience at the school, complete with photographs taken during this time. The book was published by Chronicle Books, in April of this year. If you would like to read more about his experience, go to This is a perfect example of how one person's vision has reached out and enveloped others, opening their eyes, literally, to a new world. All through the use of photography.

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