I took this picture at a church in Dublin at a choral concert I was attending. I took it a year ago this weekend. It’s not the first picture I’ve ever taken, but it is the first time I took a picture in response to something I had seen and the first time I felt a desire to capture a moment.
I was halfway through a weekend photography course at the National Council for the Blind (NCBI) training centre in Dublin in photography aimed at visually impaired people. When the course began that morning, we sat in a circle and told the facilitator, a German photographer called Karsten Hein who works with blind photographers, why we were there.
Reasons for Taking Part
Many of the participants said they had been keen photographers before they lost their sight and wanted to rekindle their passion. Or they wanted to use photography to document the challenges they faced as visually impaired people. I cheerfully admitted I wanted more social media likes.
I wasn’t being entirely flippant. I did hope the course would help me negotiate a more visual world of communication. My world is a 1980s pixelated TV screen, so I never felt enticed to record what I saw. Yet pictures carry much more weight than words in the world of social media, and in the world in general, and I needed to stop fighting that fact. I hoped that on the course I would learn to take pictures that would enhance my words. On a visually impaired photography course, the organisers would understand my needs – and my reluctance.
What I wasn’t expecting was that I would enjoy it.
Worlds Open Up
We began by taking pictures of the NCBI garden. ‘Flowers. Boring,’ said my inner gremlin. Until I looked back at one of the pictures I had taken and saw a bee perched on a flower petal. I had not known the bee was there when I was taking the picture. I realised that photographs could reveal the hidden layers of detail that are missing in my everyday life.
Then we all discovered that there was a graveyard behind the garden. We were all highly tickled by this. None of us had known it was there, even though we had all visited the NCBI premises many times. The graves were a little far away for good pictures, but I went all poser-ish and took a picture of the bush next to the gates, to show how easily life and death rest beside each other.
The Inner Eye
Later, we struck out and took our cameras to the canal bank. Volunteers from local camera clubs, who had also been with us in the garden, gave us guidance on what might make good subjects for pictures. Along the way, I took a picture of water flowing over a lock on the canal. The sighted volunteer was a bit shruggy about it, but as I gazed at the gleaming columns of water on the camera screen, I felt a quiet glow of satisfaction. And i wasn’t deluded. When I was showing the photographs from the course to my keen photographer husband, he said, without prompting, that it was a beautiful photograph.
When we came back from the canal, we discussed the photos we had taken. Most of the participants had less sight than me, but had a clear idea of how they wanted their photographs to look, and their photographs came out very strong. Their sight loss has not affected their skill with their camera, and their inner eye is still intact. The eye of their memory fills in the blanks. All they needed was someone to tell them where to point the camera, and to describe the picture for them afterwards.
Karsten asked me which photograph I wanted to discuss. I had so little faith in my own inner eye that I just asked him to pick. He stopped at a statue of the writer Brendan Behan sitting on a bench. It wasn’t a picture I had thought about much. I just liked the look of the statue and snapped it quickly. But now I saw how I had captured the expression on Behan’s face, made it seem as if he was looking back at me. I saw that I too had an inner eye, and there was no excuse for me not to use it.
A Year On
Here’s a pic I took last weekend, almost a full year after I took the course. I’m still snapping away. Have I gained more social media likes? Some, but it doesn’t matter as much as I thought. I enjoy capturing moments, the way photographs give shape to those moments. The photographs give me the chance to absorb detail, as I zoom in on them and spot the little touches that make the images rich. My confidence in my ability to capture images has grown, and I have power over all I see.