Sights Unseen. Photography by blind and visually impaired people in the UK, Mexico and China

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In partnership with Sight of Emotion (Mexico), the Organisation of Blind Africans and Caribbeans (OBAC, London) and One-Plus-One (China).

PhotoVoice logoIn partnership with Sight of Emotion (Mexico), the Organisation of Blind Africans and Caribbeans (OBAC, London) and One-Plus-One (China).

AIM: To aid blind and visually impaired communities to create a dialogue with the seeing world, and to empower them with the skills and tools they need to influence decision makers and public awareness of the issues close to their hearts.

BACKGROUND: Sights Unseen built upon PhotoVoice's previous project with blind and visually impaired people, Beyond Sight. Working with The Organisation of Blind Africans and Caribbeans (OBAC) in the UK, Sight of Emotion in Mexico, and One-Plus-One in China, Photovoice has been introducing blind and visually impaired people in all three countries to the concept of Sensory Photography. This innovative methodology makes it possible for those with limited or no sight to both create and experience photographs, and to use photography as a way to communicate their experiences and the issues that affect them to friends, family, peers and the wider public.

The Sight of Emotion Process - Sensory Photography

Participants learn to use senses other than sight to create images: hearing to judge distance, touch and smell to discover subjects. Once the photograph has been taken, textures and sounds will be used to achieve interpretation of the image. The idea is to demonstrate that although participants cannot see the photograph, they can feel and understand what they want to communicate through an image. They are able to share their world with the visual world, using their own sensorial perceptions. In discovering their abilities, participants gain a greater sense of self-esteem, inclusion, freedom of expression and independence. Learning photographic skills will give participants a new form of communication and a channel for self-advocacy – a new way of articulating their experiences, needs, hopes and concerns to the seeing world. Their photographs will enable them to challenge the stigma of their daily lives and raise consciousness about the needs of people with sight problems.


UK workshops - Photography by blind and visually impaired people in the Afro Caribbean community in South London

PhotoVoice ran a course of ten photography workshops in the Spring of 2009, providing a group of eleven participants, all of whom were service users at OBAC, with training in digital photography using sensory photography techniques. Following this course, an exhibition of the work produced was held for friends, family and staff at the offices of OBAC in South London.

PhotoVoice then provided training for five of the participants who were interested in becoming workshop leaders in order to be able to run ongoing workshops for other blind and visually impaired service users at OBAC. This group of peer facilitators were supported by PhotoVoice staff to deliver a second round of workshops in OBAC with a new group of participants. Again, this course ended with an exhibition showcasing their achievements in the OBAC offices.

Several participants in the first course also chose to use their new photographic skills to embark upon advocacy projects dealing with issues that they feel strongly about. These individuals also helped design a health advocacy campaign aimed specifically at the Afro-Caribbean community, highlighting the increased risk they face of certain conditions that can cause sight loss. As these conditions are treatable, sight loss can be prevented if the condition is identified early enough, so the campaign aims to highlight to those of African and Caribbean origin the importance of regular eye tests regardless of a lack of symptoms.

PhotoVoice is producing a practioners' guide to sensory photography, which will be available in January 2010. For more details on PhotoVoice's methodology series click here.

PhotoVoice encourages the use of documentary photography by enabling those that have traditionally been the subject of such work to become its creator - to have control over how they are perceived by the rest of the world, while simultaneously learning a new skill which can enhance their lives.

Sight of emotion logoSight of Emotion is the Mexican organisation that pioneered the use of photography as a tool for the blind and visually impaired to express themselves and tackle social and communication barriers. Founded by Gina Badenoch, Sight of Emotion partnered with PhotoVoice to create the Beyond Sight project in 2007, and PhotoVoice is proud to once more be working with SOE to deliver Sights Unseen.