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22 November 2010

Colour image of a hand pointing at a painting of a hand

Untitled image by Satvir Yogi

An exhibition by Blind with Camera is showing at the DaDa-Fest International, Liverpool until 3 December 2010. DAO talked to Partho Bhowmick who set up  the project in Mumbai, India, in 2006 after being inspired by Evgen Bavcar, an accomplished blind photographer based in Paris.

I became profoundly influenced by Bavcar's work and philosophy and engaged myself in study on blindness and visual art. In the process, I came in touch with several blind photographers and blind artists around the world and people working towards giving new insight to blind people and their artistic expression.

In terms of visual content the work on display will range from scan shots, to well thought-out content, including traditional multiple exposure, painting with light, and pictures taken using cameras made out of matchbox, pipe and canes. None of the images are digitally changed; only the use of colour correction and cropping to make sequences of images. We also use pipe pinhole camera techniques where photographers make images directly onto photo paper. Along with photographic prints we will also be displaying 14 raised images with Braille footnotes.

This is our first show outside of India; and our first show in a Disability Arts Festival. We are looking forward to interacting with artists from across the world. This will be an inspiration for us to assess our work in a new context. Blind with Camera is the first disability arts project from Mumbai that has become a big success. We have no precedent for a critical view of our work from the art fraternity, or the media. So this exposure in the UK is important for us in terms of networking and gaining a critical perspective.

Blind with Camera’s journey in terms of its creative output over the last four years has made it one of the most successful social innovations in India. In February 2006 we had just one visually impaired participant. Now over 100 visually impaired people have been trained in using photographic techniques. The project has spread from Mumbai to other cities in India.

Our online Blind with Camera School launched in August 2010 – becoming a unique venture spreading the project beyond geographical boundaries. We aim to give visually impaired people guidance in beginning to make photographs and to encourage photographers to start workshops with local visually impaired people.

Most visually impaired participants have no background in photography or art. After some training we exhibit their work in the best known art galleries across India. To date the work of Blind with Camera photographers has been viewed by over 25,000 visitors. 

Our exhibitions aim to be inclusive through the use of raised images, Braille footnotes, large text prints, magnifying aids and live audio tours for visually impaired visitors. We have attracted over 1000 visually impaired visitors, most of whom were first time visitors to an art gallery. 

The impact of learning to use a camera has created a positive psychological shift for many visually impaired people through increased self-awareness. The process of creating a picture can trigger an insightful journey to bring out a potential for creative expression. it can lead to increased confidence and ability to face challenges. And there are earning opportunities for our blind photographers as 30% of the proceeds from sales of prints goes to the photographer.

Visit the DaDaFest 2010 website for more details of the Blind with Camera exhibition. Partho is also due to be giving an illustrated talk about setting up the Blind With Camera project at the Nehru Centre, London on 26 November 2010

To find out more about Blind with Camera and to view galleries of work by visually impaired photographers go to the Blind with Camera website

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