I’ve always seen myself as a word person, not a picture person. I’ve heard all the clichés, that pictures paint a thousand words, that every picture tells a story. But I felt very little urge to take any myself. I’ve always thought words were enough. But last weekend, I found myself taking a photography course.
Why I Took the Course
You could blame my lack of interest on my sight problem. But that’s not the reason – at least on a superficial level. Having a visual impairment doesn’t mean you can’t have a visual brain. But I never really developed mine. Pictures just never spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I’m missing the layer of detailed vision that makes pictures more interesting. Or maybe it’s just because my brain is wired for sound.
But in the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware that the world runs on pictures. When I was asked why I wanted to do the course, I quipped that I wanted to get more likes on my social media posts by putting up pictures, and this in turn would make me feel good about myself. But I really did it so I could get a sense of how pictures worked and what makes a good picture, so I can communicate more effectively with pictures.
I spotted a notice about a photography course for visually impaired people in a newsletter I subscribe to. It was given by Carsten Hein, a photographer from Berlin who’s worked with blind photographers before. I felt the course would offer a sympathetic environment for me to develop my skills in the making of pictures.
What Happened on the Course
A group of about twenty of us gathered in the National Council for the Blind’s headquarters in Dublin for the course. Half of us had some form of visual impairment and the other half were sighted volunteers, photography enthusiasts from different camera clubs in Dublin. Carsten divided us into two groups, one to take shots outdoors and the others to do light painting, of which more later.
I chose to do the outside photography, and I took pictures of things that I never would have noticed otherwise. I felt I was seeing the world in a different way. The feedback afterwards was illuminating (pun intended). I was impressed by how some photographers, who had very little sight, had such a precise idea of what they wanted their pictures to achieve and how to position their subjects. It confirmed my belief that you don’t need to have sight to have a visual brain.
Then on Sunday, we all did the light painting. Some of you may be familiar with this technique. The room is darkened, and flashlights are trained on a subject to illuminate it. The camera is set so that it takes the picture a number of seconds after you press the button. The camera transforms the beam into ribbons of light that look for all the world like spaghetti strands. You can use the strands to make beautiful shapes. The most striking was a series of Braille dots which spelt out Breaking Limits.
What I Learned
The course confirmed my belief that you don’t need to have full eyesight to have a visual brain. Some photographers were blind or near-blind, but had a very precise idea of what they wanted their pictures to achieve. Once they were told where to aim their camera, and where given detailed descriptions of what they were taking, they could take beautiful photographs.
I still don’t think I’ll make a photographer. Words will always be my great love. But the course has given me the confidence to complement my words with pictures. I have more faith in my ability to find interesting pictures to take. The descriptions of the pictures taken on the course revealed the layers that lie beneath the surface of pictures, and I’m now going to enjoy looking for those layers.
I put the lessons into practise straight away, when I went to a concert on the Saturday night of the course and was inspired to take this picture of the church where it was held.