“Visions of the Blind” is photography that conjures up a surreal world, where we’re not sure if we’re looking at reality or some alternate universe in which we might possibly exist. These luminous creations of blurred, glowing forms are beautiful to behold to the naked eye. Julie Turkewitz of The New York Times describes the photographs as joyous, yet at the same time haunting or even schizophrenic.
The Seeing with Photography Collective (SwPC) formed in 1997, when mark Andres’ class at an institution for the blind in New york was defunded. Andres and his students decided to continue their work together on some more serious projects outside of the classroom setting, and on their third project, they attempted “light painting”. Exploring this as a group—and the project’s undeniable success—led to the formation of the collective as an organization of blind, legally blind, and sighted individuals working together as colleagues.
Andres originated the idea of working with flashlights in the dark to create images. It was a form of making photographs that seemed to be fertile ground for people who see differently, or see with their mind rather than their eyes. “Instead of 1/250th of a second, which is a teeny slice of time, light’s coming in the camera, and it keeps coming until you decide it’s finished,” says Andres.
As is plain to sighted individuals, the collective’s pictures are quite different from ordinary photographs. looking at their amazing photographs, one cannot help but wonder how these extremely talented sight-impaired artists manage to create such wondrous images of beauty. The technique of light painting is as different from regular photography as night is to day.
To begin, the artist describes the space in which the image is to be shot, as they determine the elements they wish to use and how those elements will interact within the space. Every sight-impaired photographer is assisted by a sighted member or volunteer, who helps set up the camera to conform to the space the photographer has described. This is followed by a discussion of the roles different members of the collective will play in helping to bring the artist’s vision to fruition. Who will light? Who will pose? How will lighting be done? How will the background be dealt with? These are some of the myriad questions answered before shooting begins.
Then, the space is plunged into darkness. Over a period of time lasting as little as a minute or as long as an hour, the shutter is opened and the image is built with flashlights.
The cooperation and teamwork between the sighted and sight- impaired is wonderful to behold, and makes real the vision of those who have no vision. The Seeing with Photography Collective breaks the stereotype that photography is an individual experience, as it operates totally through teamwork. There is a wonderful interplay where ideas and photographs are created together as a team. The sighted and partially sighted members handle setting up the cameras, and the creative process is shared by everyone. The collective creates a feeling and space where the loss of sight is truly not a disability, empowering the blind to express their creativity.
From its humble beginnings in New York, Seeing with Photography has spread its wings, and while the collective is still based in NY, its seeds have been planted around the world. Anja Ligtenberg worked with the group as a valued member for a couple of years in New York. When she returned to her home in the Netherlands, she continued the project there, teaching classes and giving workshops. Sonia Soberats, a totally blind collective member, has been exhibiting her own work and giving workshops in many venues in Venezuela and Columbia. In addition, the group has given workshops in Wyoming, Massachusetts, Georgia, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Russia, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
In addition to conducting workshops and lectures, the Seeing with Photography Collective relies on donations and sales of art to help them continue their work.
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