Don’t See The Point of Blind Photography?

I came across a post by blogger Will called “Blind Photographers.  I can’t see the point.” He states in his blog that blind photography is “a ludicrous idea” that “just makes no sense.”  He points to the photos of one particular blind photographer, Rosita McKenzie, who recently had an exhibition in Edinburgh.  He does not find her photos to be worthy of an exhibition.  Will states that he respects blind people and that he values their strength and courage.  He summarizes his position “But blind photography? No.”  With those four words, he dismisses something I love and, in d0ing so, me.

What I do cannot exist in Will’s world.  What I see has no value to him.  If I were to accept his verdict – “Blind Photography? No.” – it would change my outlook on life.  If the answer is NO to blind photography, then it might as well be NO to reading and there would be no audio books.  If blind photography is ludicrous, then a blind person climbing Mt. Everest is insane and Erik Weihenmeyer should have just stayed home.  And the newly developed car for drivers who are blind?  Preposterous.

If Will’s post is deflating, the comments are worse.  One response by Adam states flatly that, “Photography is an artform of that of a visual nature where a photograph expresses what he/she sees at a given point in time. I’m afraid if a person is unable to see, the photograph then has no meaning, or feeling behind it.  It impossible to feel the emotion behind a shot if you cannot see what is there in the first place.”  I would direct Adam to the blind photographers group on Flickr and ask him to look through the photos posted there.  I believe he will find plenty of meaning and feeling in the photos.

Will makes the point that, even with auto-focus, point and shoot cameras (such as the one I use) “You end up taking hundreds of photos, and to pick just a handful of perfect shots?”  He is correct with this one.  I take a LOT of shots that are complete garbage.  After I upload my photos to my computer and enlarge them so that I can see them clearly, I am often disappointed in most of the pictures I have taken on any given day.  Is that a problem?  The joy, for me, is in finding some beauty within some shots.  Many days, I don’t even have a “handful” of usable (much less perfect) shots.  My role as an artist is to take the raw material from my camera and turn it into something beautiful through cropping and editing.  I love this aspect of photography.  I don’t believe that the fact that I delete a significant number of my photos diminishes the value of the final photos that I produce.

I responded to Will’s post with a comment, including some of my photos and links to a couple of my posts where I talk about why I love blind photography – what it means to me in terms of bringing reality into focus.  He was kind in his response to me, but I think his underlying bias against blind photography remains.   He (and other commenters) seem to accept some value in my photos because I have some sight.  I have to ask, Who is he to define the word blind?  Who is he to determine who is able to produce art?  As a final slap in the face to blind photographers, Will responds to a comment by “Bat From Hell,” who wrote to defend the idea of blind photography.  Will sums up his position,  “Ultimately this isnt photography in any even remotely artistic sense. This isnt photography for the sake of sharing. This is point and shoot polaroid capture the moment. And wasted on a blind person.”  Wasted.  On a blind person.  On me.

If anyone reading this would like to see beautiful photography by blind and visually impaired photographers, they may visit Tim O’Brien’s website and the Blind Photographers group on Flickr or one of the many other sites that feature photos by blind photographers.  The work of some of these blind photographers is gorgeous.  I don’t understand how anyone could look at these beautiful photos and not see the point.

The more I have thought about Will’s post and comments, the more sickened I feel.  Prejudice and discrimination all stem from this type of ignorant clinging to a biased viewpoint.  Will doesn’t see the point of blind photographers.  I can not see the point of minimizing the efforts of any group of people to attain delight in life, the world, and the arts.  One thing I have learned through my journey into low vision is not to put people in boxes or build walls to confine them.  Will can’t see the point of blind photography.  The point is to allow people to express themselves in any form that they enjoy.  The point is to honor people for breaking boundaries.  The point is to set people free.  Photography does this for me and many other people who are blind or visually impaired.  We see the point.  Unlike Will, we say – Blind Photography? YES!

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21 thoughts on “Don’t See The Point of Blind Photography?

  1. My name is Chelsea and I am a visually impaired photographer. I really enjoyed this article. I don’t believe it matters what other people think. As long as you enjoy doing what you’re doing. You’re always going to run into people that think that you can’t do it because of your vision loss or lack of vision. Be strong believe in yourself and keep on going. I really enjoy meeting other blind or visually impaired photographers. I started a blog called Blind all around the world. And I’m always looking for more people to add to my blog. If anybody is interested in reading the blog or being a part of it here is the link. http://blindallaroundtheworld.blogspot.com
    Allso here is my personal blog which doubles as my website for now. You can always contact me using the contact form on this page. Also if you are not blind feel free to contact me. I’m always open to at answering questions and chatting with people. Thank you Chelsea Stark
    http://chelseastarkcom.blogspot.com

  2. I love this post! As someone struggling with macular degeneration, whose primary creative outlet before was photography, it’s been hard for me to accept the changes. I find hope in seeing the work of other blind or visually impaired photographers. I can’t imagine why anyone would feel they have the right to define a creative art form! Thanks for sharing this.

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  6. It’s good to see this constructive discussion. Sorry to say that anyone who gets off their butt and does something a bit unusual will inevitably meet up with bigots, naysayers and blokes in the pub who seem to think we’re pulling off some kind of swindle.

    As a blind photographer myself, I’m not going to be put off from following my star, especially as it’s turning out to be one of the most important aspects of my life. It actually took going blind to spark off my interest. It was very good to discover that there were masses of people following in their own ways the same path, this blog included.

    It’s a real privilege to see the photos of all the other blind photographers I have come across – items of real beauty, yes, intimate personal pictures, and some that are downright ugly and represent the challenges of the world we live in as blind people.

    The abiding impression I get from Will’s reactions is that he’s not actually interested in this subject, and doesn’t want any facts to get in the way, but he does enjoy a fight. Well, never mind. I’d rather go off and get some photos than worry about it any more.

    Blind photography is here to stay, and it’s great to be on board.

    • I think that you are correct. I think Will was more interested in trying to draw anger to his blog than engage in a life-changing discussion – and it worked. The fantastic result of his post is that I have met additional blind photographers and found new websites from which to draw inspiration. I am not going to give up my dream of one day having photos good enough to make it into a show just because Will thinks I (and all blind photographers) don’t belong there.

  7. Way to give it to them! Things like this drive me insane, and I admire you for putting a blog out there that defies his ignorant ideas. If his blog is there for people to read, yours should be too.

    I love your pictures, and I’m always impressed with the way you find beauty in even the smallest little parts of what may- at first glance- have looked like a bad shot. I have to take a lot of pictures for my blog and not one of them compares to the photos you shot “blindly.” I never notice the things that you point out, like light/shadows or spots of color.

    In more defiance of the idea that the blind can’t see, so they shouldn’t do things that involve sight, I point you towards the deaf dance company that dances to music: http://dance.gallaudet.edu/

    And to the men (yes, plural) with no arms who plays guitar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiDoYIflqAY and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnUwA6c67k

    • Thanks for the additional examples, Nikki. Anytime I put people in a box and try to decide what they can and can not do, I limit both them and myself. Thank you for your nice words about my photos. Love you.

  8. Correction, blindphotographers.org is not “Tim O’Brien’s website”, it is a collective effort, even though Tim was instrumental in setting it up (then again I provide the hosting and the initial WP set up)

    • So sorry. Tim is the person I have corresponded with, so I think of it as “his.” I did not mean to offend. It is a wonderful website and everyone involved should be proud. Thanks for your work.

  9. Will doesn’t see the point in blind photography? Well, in his case, I don’t see the point in uneducated blogging.

  10. After reading your posting for today I felt compelled to comment but thought it best to let it sit for a while then read it 2 more times. So after careful consideration, don’t give up on people like Will. If anyone in this world can help them to “see” better I believe you can. Art can be an outreach ministry and whether people “get it” or don’t doesn’t diminish your effort nor does it negate their opinion. Some people have small worlds that they enjoy but maybe they can be expanded. Peace

    • I am certainly not giving up on Will! And I’m not going to keep arguing with him. I just don’t want him to dismiss this entire body of work without checking out more of it. As I said in another response, I really hope that Will visits some of the websites of the blind photographers and sees how amazing their work is. I believe that the beauty of their photography will open his eyes in a way that my words can’t.

  11. Thanks for a great essay, Belinda. When you write “Prejudice and discrimination all stem from this type of ignorant clinging to a biased viewpoint” it reminds me of the book “Privilege, Power, and Difference” by Allan G. Johnson. In the 2nd edition he explains why issues of disability are included in the current edition but were not present in the 1st.

    “The main reason is that I, as a nondisabled person, was blinded by my own privilege to the reality of how disability status affects people.”

    And, “Unlike race, gender, and sexual orientation, disability status can change during a person’s lifetime. In fact, as the saying goes, everyone will experience some form of disability during their lives unless they die first. People with disabilities, then, are a constant reminder of the full reality of the human experience–how vulnerable we are and how much there is in life that we cannot control.”

    I’m convinced that folks who maintain belief systems such as Will’s would be well-served to read books like Johnson’s. As the old saying goes, “there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.”

    Bless you!

    • Tom, that book sounds great. It doesn’t look like there’s a “mainstream” audio format, so I will have to check around and see if anyone has converted it to audio. The frustrating thing, for me, is that Will (and company) can make allowances for the individual but won’t give credibility to the group. This is ironic because many of the photographers who have lower vision than I do are much better photographers than I am. I hope that Will visits their websites and sees how amazing their work is. I believe that the beauty of their photography will open his eyes.

  12. Belinda, please don’t “waste” time on those that do not “see the point” of blind photography. Although it may be an interesting discussion, it seems irrelevant to me. Focus on those that value your work, and enjoy what you do. Period.

    The first person that came to my mind while reading your post was Ludwig van Beethoven, “His hearing began to deteriorate … yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven]

    Beethoven remains one of the most influential composers of all time, and we can still enjoy his work today. I’ll leave it at that.

    • Thanks. You are right that my angry reaction is a waste of time. Still, I feel like part of my journey is learning to stand up for myself and others and to educate people who are ignorant about discrimination. It especially bothers me that he is taking it upon himself to define both “blind” and “beauty” for the rest of the world. I have surely been through enough with service agencies to know there is already a definition of “blind,” even if beauty is (as we all know) in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, thank you for your support and for valuing my photos and my blog. And for the reminder about Beethoven. Peace.

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