Sight Lines

A black and white photograph of pedestrians under a bridge waiting for rain to stop.

The pragmatist in me tries to look ahead and to imagine living with less sight. How I shall maintain my independence in the future to be able to work and navigate my surroundings is a constant preoccupation. © Karren Visser. Sight Lines, funded by Arts Council England, 2021 – 22.

I am deeply grateful to Arts Council England for funding from June 2021 to June 2022 to develop my creative practice as I live with the uncertainty of what is happening to my eyesight. There is no cure for degenerative myopia. Any treatment for my glaucoma may not stop the deterioration. The eye specialists told me to prepare for going blind. Sight loss affects me in many ways. I was in the minority of disabled people outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, and this made me realise how quickly we disappear.

Sight Lines focuses on four areas to enhance my resilience and increase productivity. The first is to further develop the socially engaged approach to my photography improving its accessibility for a diverse audience. I received audio description training from VocalEyes working with Louise Fryer to add information to my images relevant to what I see and to encourage an inclusive dialogue about my work.

The second area, based on experience of navigating my surroundings with a white cane, includes an exploration of how I observe to maximise what I see and to map my environment mentally. My application included working with a street photographer for me to gain the confidence photographing in busy public settings to accommodate my restricted peripheral and patchy vision. Quiet streets during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns made me question why I need to put myself under pressure to make work in places, full of distracted people and congested traffic, where I am immediately at a disadvantage. Instead, when Sight Lines began to take shape, initially as social media posts, sharing stories within my audio descriptions on my website this led me to develop Site Navigations as a separate body of work.

Learning how to promote myself on my website and social media as a visually impaired photographer who can deliver accessible workshops online is the third area of interest. This is crucial for seeking wider disability arts engagement. My slow and methodical approach is best suited to working on more formed pieces than frequent posts signposting work in progress. I received access support from Arts Council England to work with Wojciech Wolocznik, a graphic designer, typesetter, and a ‘retired’ front man of an experimental pop band, an excellent cook, someone with an enviable sense of fashion. Wojciech is helping me to explore visual presentation in unexpected ways looking more closely at layout, typography, and presentation with my deteriorating sight in mind.

Central to my fourth area of interest is the wish to be part of a socially engaged creative community raising awareness that blind people enjoy the visual arts. I have been co-developing photographic workshop material to include blind and partially sighted people interested in photography challenging the notion that sight is needed to appreciate photographs.

In sharing an excerpt from a letter of support, I received from Matthew Cock, Chief Executive of VocalEyes I hope, in his words rather than my own, to show the significance of Arts Council England’s investment in me.

Matthew Cock, Chief Executive of VocalEyes:

“Karren’s work – both the photographic and the written word – are examples of the incredible potential contained in bringing blind and visually impaired people together with art and creativity. Karren came to ask us to support her develop her creative practice as her eye condition changed. We’ve worked with her for over a year now, exploring audio description in various ways, and it has been an incredible privilege for me, as a non-blind person who shares Karren’s love of photography. And what Karren brings is extraordinary. In the words of Professor Hannah Thompson, ‘Blind and partially blind people benefit from access to a multisensory way of being which celebrates inventiveness, imagination and creativity. Non-visual living is an art. But blindness gain is also about how blindness can benefit non-blind people.’ Karren’s images are gentle, controlled and powerful. And her descriptive texts the same. The texts don’t seek to give answers or tell you how to feel or what to think; instead they invite you in, slow your gaze, and share in her humanity.”

© Karren Visser. Sight Lines, funded by Arts Council England, 2021 – 22.