Seeing and the Imagination

Seeing and the Imagination depicting three themes, In Plain Sight, Sense of Belonging and The State of Presence, produced by Karren Visser and Guadalupe Campos with British Council Unlimited funding, 2021.

Seeing and the Imagination was a creative learning experience between blind and visually impaired artists from the UK and Mexico. The project was funded by a British Council Unlimited Micro Award supporting disabled artists. Central to our exploration is the idea that when we form an image of the world, we exist. Inner visualisation is common to all, yet unique to the individual. We can learn from each other! I collaborated with Guadalupe Campos, a blind photographer and masseuse from Mexico working with photography, audio recordings and text. We drew on the expertise and support of Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists and the blind light painting photographer, Sonia Soberats, based in New York.

Woman lit by flashlight seated in her garden at night.

All that I imagined sitting in my small courtyard garden late at night is in this light-painting self-portrait. Except for a restless magpie in the neighbour's cherry tree there was quiet. I was back on the remote farm of my childhood as I painted what I visualised with a small flashlight.

Woman under a bed in the dark with her face lit by a flashlight.

Something about using a flashlight in the dark took me back to childhood and the games I used to play. The fun I had crawling under the bed to make this light painting self-portrait made me wish to show living with deteriorating eyesight in a less serious way.

The emphasis of this project was not on documenting individual training sessions and workshops, but on the exploratory value of our creative process. We wished to develop a format for an accessible online digital presentation in collaboration with the Mexican arts collective, Laboratorio de lo Invisible. Guadalupe was supported by photographer and filmmaker, Daniela Montgomery. Audio-visual editor, Wojciech Wolocznik supported me.

Woman wearing sunglasses, her face lit by flashlight stands against wood panelled wall.

I can recall the feeling that I had when making this photograph. It was a mix of confusion and wanting to assert myself. As a severely visually impaired person I am neither blind, nor am I full sighted. I see in patches if I am looking directly in front of me. What I see is often blurred and frequently either too light or too dark.

Woman climbing stairs in the dark lit by flashlight.

While I was light painting self-portraits my thoughts were on the imminent sale of my house. This was part of a decision to move and be nearer my eye care as my sight deteriorates. I feel strength conveyed in this image, a quiet confidence perhaps.

A 25-minute-long video communicates the concept of this project’s exploration and three themes. Its structure consists of a collage of 12 self-portraits made by Guadalupe and me throughout the 3-month duration of the project. Guadalupe and I were responsible for the audio content to include audio description and closed captions. This is a strong element of our project and one that needs further exploration so that blind and visually impaired artists describe their own work.

Woman with long brown hair wearing a bright red top seen from waist up lying on a rug.

This self-portrait is influenced by television drama audio description. Flashlight creates a dramatic glow in the dark and while I was painting myself with light during one practice session, I began to think of the immersive quality of audio description and its recent influence on my photography. I started looking at my sitting room rug in detail, imagining it as part of a crime scene and how I would describe this to convey the atmosphere.

Isabella Tulloch Gallego, Programme Manager of Unlimited said:

“Their collaboration has been an exploration of the forms that post-pandemic and international creativity can take. Exploring inner visualisation and photography, and how audio description by blind and visually impaired artists themselves is so important. Their project has been well thought-out; producing a bilingual (English and Spanish), multiply accessible, and an insightful outcome of a high standard. This project has gained a lot of traction in starting important discussions about how understanding of the lived experiences of visually impaired people are so valuable.”

© Karren Visser. Seeing and the Imagination, 2021.