Never Seen — virtual workshops

Here goes alt text

Gathered under a tree at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens from left to right are Grant Baiman, Mohummed and Nurjawaan Rawoot, and Lois Strachan and Charlie Dyasi with their guide dogs. Behind the bench are Carol Cornell from Botanical Society of South Africa Kirstenbosch Branch Committee member and botanist, Rupert Koopman, photographing the photographer! © Craig Strachan

The British Council – Sub-Saharan Africa Arts funded research project Never Seen: The experience of recognising a situation in some way, yet it seems novel and unfamiliar was conducted virtually. I needed to visualise the structure of the project, centred around two workshops to cater for blind and partially blind young people who I had not met.

A still life photography workshop aimed to teach the participants the process of photographing using natural light. I shared techniques to frame the subject they wished to capture in preparation for making a photograph. This was done without them having sighted assistance. Grant Baiman’s video shows the incredible capacity of a blind person to visualise, many non-blind people would find difficult to imagine. Charlie Dyasi, with limited sight, saw his still life as a play of light and shadow rather than an arrangement of a banana, leaf and brick on a patio. Nurjawaan Rawoot knew where she wanted her still life of a potato and stones to be on a table near a window. As Nurjawaan has no sight, she relied on her visualisation skills to see the display and share her impression.

The nature workshop provided the opportunity for the participants to use their new photography skills as part of an interactive event with botanist Rupert Koopman at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. I designed the workshop to accommodate the participants’ experience of independently exploring and photographing nature with sighted assistants playing a supportive role. A South African journalist, Florence de Vries joined the workshop and wrote an article for the online newspaper, Die Vrye Weekblad focussing on Nurjawaan Rawoot. Nurjawaan found the experience rekindled memories from her childhood, and this influenced her final digital story. Grant Baiman continued to explore his vivid and multi-sensory approach to his surroundings. Charlie Dyasi was less interested in being in nature and preferred the discipline of putting together his material.

Each digital story included audio description and closed captions making the project accessible to blind, partially blind, deaf and hearing-impaired people. Relevant hashtags for social media emphasised the project’s unique perspective of having blind people create and edit their own audio-visual content. Hashtags were in ‘giraffe case’ making them accessible to screen readers. Social media posts for the project were packaged with a strong visual element to attract a non-blind audience.

Never Seen shows a blind person can photograph and describe what they are photographing without sighted assistance. Digital storytelling is an impactful way of sharing with a diverse audience this experience of recognising a situation in some way, yet it seems novel and unfamiliar – don’t you think?

© 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, 20 22.