Blind people shown life through a sensory lens
Mind the camera: Ho Thanh Tung (centre, sitting) and other participants in Photovoice, practise sensory photography. â€” VNS Photo Le Phuong
Huynh Huu Canh has never touched a camera, simply because “how can you use a camera if you can’t see?” That reality is now a thing of the past.
Canh and seven other blind and visually impaired adults in the southern province of Binh Duong have been trained in sensory photography techniques to create, take and experience the world of photography.
The project is part of the 2013 Photovoice project â€“ How has my life changed? carried out by the Institute for the Study of Society, Economy and the Environment (ISEE) in conjunction with a number of social organisations.
It provides cameras and other equipment that the visually-impaired and blind people need. After two days of technical training, the â€˜sensory photographers’ take photos, record videos, or even paint to depict what is going on in their own lives and communities.
The experience has enabled Canh to become more confident.
Helping hands: Photo by Huynh Huu Canh depicts non-sighted Bo Kim Khanh and Vu Ngoc Thuong when they went on a picnic.
“I was happy and excited about taking pictures, but also scared. I was scared of it not working out,” said Canh who teaches music at a local school. “At that point I wasn’t convinced that blind people could take pictures. Now I am convinced that they can.”
Canh used to have a complex about his predicament because he couldn’t take photos the same as his sighted friends whenever they were out together.
“It’s amazing, just like you couldn’t drive, but now you can,” said Canh, as he produced dozens of the photos he had taken.
“Here is Bo Kim Khanh and Vu Ngoc Thuong who both live and work in the province. I took this photo when they went on a picnic in the park,” Canh said, as his fingers moved over the photo.
“Khanh told me that she was devastated when she went blind. However, Thuong comforted her by telling her that he would become her eyes for life. And his words became the driving force for her to confront and overcome her difficulties,” Canh said, adding that he couldn’t see his work but he could feel them and that made him pretty happy.
“I feel extremely confident, not just with the photography. It gives me the motivation and confidence in whatever I will do. It means there is nothing the blind couldn’t do.”
“We hope that Photovoice will convince not only non-sighted but also sighted people of the value of photography to blind and visually impaired people,” said Nguyen Thi Thuy Hong from ISEE.
With the motto “Observe by ear, shoot nice photos”, the project aims to provide an understanding of the concept of sensory photography and some of the methods and techniques that enable visually impaired and blind people to use photography as a tool of communication, self-expression and advocacy, Hong said.
Nguyen Thi Hoa from Phu Giao District jumped at the offer to join Photovoice because she was curious to find out how blind people like her could take photos.
“At first I thought the cameras must be specially-designed for blind and visually-impaired people. It turns out just to be a normal device, for sighted people,” said Hoa.
As required, each photo tells a story in itself. And Hoa has produced a series of photos telling the story of a farmer whose family make ends meet by planting rubber trees, or of sighted children playing happily with their non-sighted friends.
“When my 15-year-old daughter said â€˜You took a nice photo of me!’, it really made my heart warm,” said Hoa who turned blind after contracting scarlet fever at the age of 3. “I never thought that I would be able to take photos of those I love without cutting off their heads and feet.”
That’s also one of the main techniques that the participants are taught.
“The most important step is to gauge the distance. By talking with the subjects, I can imagine their position and angles. In many cases, I have to â€˜touch’ the subjects beforehand to produce a perfect picture,” Canh said.
“I need to concentrate and listen to the noise and feel what is around me. For a wide shot, I need the assistance of the subjects themselves.”
Canh hopes to get a camera someday because he understands that “photos will allow me to keep many precious, beautiful moments that will pass with time”.
An exhibition of their work is scheduled to open in September. â€” VNS