Never Seen

Nurjawaan — leader of South African Blind Youth Organisation, Western Cape.

Charlie — audio engineer and technical producer at radio Zibonele.

Grant — massage therapist specialised in aromatherapy and holistic massage.

Never Seen: The experience of recognising a situation in some way, yet it seems novel and unfamiliar.

Never Seen was a British Council Sub-Saharan Africa Arts funded research opportunity for me to collaborate with young blind and partially blind South Africans interested in photography. Three participants, Nurjawaan Rawoot, Charlie Dyasi and Grant Baiman learnt to photograph with their mobile phone cameras and create accessible digital stories to share online with a wider audience. The emphasis on acquiring new skills to increase employment and social opportunities for blind and partially blind adults aged 18-to-35 years was central to this project.

Cape Town-based Lois Strachan, a blind professional speaker, disability consultant, author and podcaster was the collaborating artist. Lois provided invaluable guidance on how to structure personal stories. Elizabeth Maphike-Kok, a blind public relations administrator, transcribed the audio recordings. Wojciech Wolocznik helped prepare the visuals for the digital content and social media posts making sure that our material was accessible to a diverse audience. Team collaboration and the importance of sharing posts, asking family and friends to do the same, meant the project had an estimated 25,150 social media reach.

Never Seen explored what it is like for a young person to appreciate nature with limited or no sight. Often discouraged by lack of accessible support and inaccurate descriptions from their peers, Nurjawaan, Charlie and Grant wished to learn new approaches to documenting their interests. A virtual still life photography workshop facilitated by me and a workshop at Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, with the support of botanist and conservation expert, Rupert Koopman, helped them gather their material.

I hope our research experience, albeit small, may contribute to new narratives from disabled people. Nurjawaan, Charlie and Grant’s personal stories, well visualised and crafted into digital content, are encouraging outcomes for creative collaboration that include blind and partially blind young people. As all three show that blind and partially blind people wish to be part of a visual world, engage with their sighted peers who have similar interests, and lead independent fulfilled lives.

Nurjawaan Rawoot, leader of South African Blind Organisation Western Cape said:

“With taking photos as a person who’s blind, it’s given me ideas to go after passions of my own but through photography. Like, taking photos of cars and scenic areas of Cape Town … I tried so many video diaries before on my phone, this is way before the project. To help me remember things better … taking videos of specific things during the day, that’s a life skill take-away from this project. To remember what I was feeling in that moment with a video is fantastic because now instead of just taking photos, whether it’s of people, of family gatherings, I remember to take video clips. So that I can go back and remember the good time and emotion that I had at that moment. So, over-all I think that, getting to put that in to practice also helped me do it for myself now without needing any sort of app and it’s been an awesome, awesome journey.”

Please see Workshop section for more information on the project process and outcomes
relevant for socially engaged photography projects.

© Karren Visser. Never Seen: The experience of recognising a situation in some way, yet it seems novel and unfamiliar,
funded by British Council Sub-Saharan Africa Arts, 2022.