Teaching Photography to the Blind for Visual Expression

By Sara Sweetwood

The art of photography is not something one may normally equate to a blind person. To most, vision is vital to composing a photograph. Blind photographers, however, have been learning to photograph their surroundings using senses other than sight.

In 2003 JHP, then called Rehabilitation through Photography, began to work with Visions at Selis Manor to provide equipment to their popular photography program, taught by Mark Andres. Visions provides free social services, volunteer services and therapeutic recreation programs to adults in the Greater New York area who are blind or visually impaired.

Victorine Fludd, a JHP alumna, lost her sight in her teens due to diabetes. Of her inability to see her own photographs, she said, “Even though I can’t see the pictures, I enjoy that someone enjoys it.” Victorine does not use autofocus, she instead uses sound, and asks her subjects to speak to her so she can place their distance in her mind and compose her photograph. Victorine, along with Mark Andres, who taught Victorine at Lighthouse for the Blind before he began his work at Visions, have gone on to join the Seeing With Photography Collective. The SWPC is a group of photographers from New York City. The members range from totally blind to partially blind to sighted, however they all share an awareness of sight loss.

Photographers in Mark Andres’ classes work with assistants to create their desired background or scene. Then, using a timed exposure in a completely dark room, the photographers use a flashlight to paint their image, lighting up the subject. Because many of the program’s blind photographers lost their vision later in life, the students often stage their photos in class based on memories from their past. One such example is the photo below, which is a recreation by Victorine Fludd of a clear night in Antigua from when she was young.

Of their methods, Douglas McCulloh, who is the curator for the blind photography show “Sight Unseen,” said, “The whole trajectory of modern art for the last 100 years has been toward the concept of mental construction, and blind photography comes from that place. They’re creating that image in their head first — really elaborate, fully realized visions — and then bringing some version of that vision into the world for the rest of us to see.”

This upcoming year, JHP is excited to once again to offer programs for blind photographers. This spring, we plan to partner with the New York State Commission for the Blind and instructor Mark Andres to create a program for young transitioning teens. These young adults have spent their lives in schools meant for the visually impaired, and are now gearing up to integrate into schools and programs not specifically for the blind. JHP hopes to help ease their transition and offer a medium to them through which they can express themselves visually for others to see.

To learn more about SWPC, visit www.seeingwithphotography.com

To learn more about the programs JHP offers, visit jhproject.org/programs

An Inside Glimpse into the Veterans and Programs at JHP

 Photo: Veteran and JHP Student Anthony Soto

 By Katie Despeaux – January 21, 2014


            “I see a lot more than I would just looking at something.”

This statement from a veteran-student of the JHP, Mr. Anthony Soto, simplifies yet embodies the mission of the Josephine Herrick Project. I spent a week with the JHP in order to see how beneficial some time behind, or in front of, a camera can be for veterans. I was given a glimpse into the world of Josephine Herrick and veterans that revealed the origins and future of the JHP. This experience working with a variety of images and visiting the St. Albans VA gave me, a weeklong volunteer/intern/student, an opportunity to be involved with a deep and intriguing organization that is close to my heart.

            The beginning of my project and week included sorting through hundreds of photographs from the 1940s, the early days of the JHP. These depicted the veterans from World War II being taught photography at the St. Albans VA by the women of the V.S.P. (Volunteer Service Photographers), a.k.a. Josephine Herrick and her friends. Darkrooms designed to be portable are featured heavily in these photographs; the men too injured to venture around the hospital were thus able to have the same artful experience. As the years progress, the photographs change from ones documenting the soldiers’ lessons with the women teachers to their own art. Their models at first were each other, so that the end products could be sent to the veterans’ loved ones. My favorite images, however, are the ones where a pinup model would visit the hospital.

            Photographs from the St. Albans VA were the most common that I came across, as it was the first hospital to accept the VSP in 1942. These men with a variety of health concerns proved that beyond the veteran or disabled or any other label, there was also a creative side. Contests began in the early 1950s for these individuals, where any one of their photographs could be submitted for the annual prize. One soldier was given first place for an image of a Korean orphan during the Korean War. He stands on crutches with Josephine Herrick herself in a photograph depicting his win and his artistic contribution. Others look to nature or loved ones, a theme still present in the JHP veteran’s programs.

            One such program was brought back to St. Albans last spring by the JHP. These men are not the young veterans we see on the news from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the ones from Vietnam and still even WWII. Given wheelchairs for mobility and cameras as an eye, these men were able to capture their lives at the St. Albans VA similarly to those from the 1940s. Images of hawks outside of windows, or the hands of a fellow vet holding one of the newer Canon digital SLR models show a simple but apt eye for the photography world. These men no longer need portable darkrooms; instead a printer is brought after the annual Holiday Party, and family members are able to immediately take away that prized image of a loved one.

 Photo: Maureen McNeil, Executive Director and Katie Despeaux

These opportunities bring a newfound curiosity to these men. This whole project “gives them something they can think about,” as fellow vet Mr. Soto told Maureen and me during our St. Albans’ visit. The drive to learn something new and do something better gives the veterans a hobby in the hospital, particularly in the summer months. But just the simple printing out of a photograph brings joy to these individuals, as Mr. Soto emulated: “And the photographs, like, wow, I did that?” With a push to continue and expand the program at St. Albans with exhibits and a certificate program, it was easy to see that even 72 years later Josephine Herrick’s influence still reigned strongly.

These humble origins as a community service provider, however, set the foundations for the growing influence the JHP would have on the New York City community. Under the name of V.S.P., these women extended their reaches to the other VAs in NYC and eventually to rehabilitation clinics, children hospitals, Autistic children, and blind individuals. During my week at the office, it was clear that there’s a desire to further these programs to a variety of different groups. While still maintaining the existing programs, one goal is to extend the camera’s reach to female populations, including veterans. The camera is an easy way to engage a group of people who may feel left out or misunderstood, which the JHP understands inherently.

 JHP student, intern,  photo book creator, Akeem Bonaparte


I was able to firsthand see these influences from my meeting at St. Albans and an interview with current JHP star, Akeem Bonaparte, who published his own JHP project in a book this past year. The importance of this project extends beyond providing an interesting skill or hobby to individuals, but to giving a sense of hope, purpose, or belongingness. One week provided a glimpse into this blossoming world and yet it’s something that will stay with me and inspire me to continue working with veterans, just as Josephine Herrick intended.

About the Author

Katie Despeaux is a senior at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. She found out about the JHProject while on the Humans of New York blog. She ia a Clinical Psychology (and French) major with an Art/Art History minor. She is passionate about the veteran population.  Her future goals include studying clinical psychology on a doctorate level and to one day work at a VA hospital. Photography has also been one of her passions since I she was 14 years old. Katie spent a week with us at JHP as a volunteer intern immersing herself in our archives, visiting veterans in our current programs and learning how the “power of photography” makes and amazing difference to their lives.



Photograph​y Enhances Lives-Please Support Us This Holiday Season!!!


Dear Supporter,This has been a fantastic year of growth for the Josephine Herrick Project, which for seven decades has enhanced the lives of more than 100,000 Americans by teaching them the basics of photography—for free. Our nonprofit organization changed its name this year to honor our founder, whose twin passions for PHOTOGRAPHY + SERVICE we put into action every day.Through our free programs, military veterans, kids and adults with autism, at-­‐risk youth, formerly homeless New Yorkers, and other people in need connect with the world and share their experiences in their own photos and writing.And it’s all thanks to your help! Our programs depend entirely on the time and talent of our volunteer photographers, equipment donated by the photo industry, and funding support provided by people like you. Please join me in continuing Josephine’s legacy of photo & service.Donate now and help us create 2014 programs for students on our waiting list! Go to our website, www.JHProject.org, and send $50, $100 or $500 via PayPal or credit card. Or simply put a check in the mail to: Josephine Herrick Project, 64 Fulton Street, Suite 905, New York, NY 10038. JHP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit—please keep a record of your tax–deductible donation.Yours Sincerely,

Miriam Leuchter
American Photo and Popular PhotographyChairperson,
Josephine Herrick Project Holiday Appeal

“Nousha showed us how to use the camera. Now, when I am depressed, I go outside and take pictures and it just helps me relax.”
— Benjamin Marrero
JHP Bronx VA Program

“Photography makes me peaceful.”
—Akeem Bonaparte
JHP Student,
2013 Award Winner from President Obama for his volunteer services.

© 2013 Josephine Herrick Project

JHP Featured in Wall Street Journal: Teaching With Cameras

Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

Dominik Parra, 7, snaps a shot as a teacher watches


Teaching With Cameras

Ralph Gardner Jr. Explores the Block Institute’s Partnership With the Josephine Herrick Project

By Ralph Gardner Jr. – The Wall Street Journal – October 15, 2013


As I waited in the lobby of Brooklyn’s Block Institute to meet Jay Silverstein, its head of children’s services, two adults walked by. Between them was a child they appeared to be restraining, one adult grasping each arm. A minute later, a similar trio passed: two grown-ups to one kid.

This may not be the image the average school would want to project, especially with a visitor present, but the Block Institute isn’t your typical school. It specializes in meeting the needs of developmentally disabled children and adults; the challenges they face include autism spectrum disorder and emotional disabilities.

“The child is probably aggressive,” Mr. Silverstein explained matter-of-factly when I told him what I had witnessed. “We have biters, hitters, kickers, throwers. People are trained to ensure safety. If they have to escort a child into a safe environment, that’s what they’ll do.”

Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street JournalPhotographs made by students are displayed at the Block Institute.


Considering the challenges the children face—sitting still and paying attention being a moment-to-moment task—teaching them photography might not seem an obvious curriculum choice, and probably not a shrewd investment in camera equipment.

But the Block Institute is doing just that in partnership with the Josephine Herrick Project, a nonprofit that puts cameras in the hands of veterans, the elderly, at-risk youth and children such as those at the Block Institute, to help them better connect with the world.

A class for third- through fifth-graders was being taught by Nousha Salimi, a professional photographer, with the help of Salena Modugno, their full-time special-ed teacher. Ms. Salimi also teaches a second photography course to even younger children.

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