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