Seeing in Isolation – digital stories

 A screenshot of a Zoom meeting shows four women smiling and the backgrounds indicate that they are at home.

Photograph of Perm (on the left, wearing orange) sharing her story with Karren, the photographer, and Becky and Jess from the Multistory project team over Zoom, taken in October 2020 © Karren Visser. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.

The Seeing in Isolation project from March 2020 to May 2021 coincided with the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, halting the original plan to gather content via in-person workshops and this forced us to adapt our approach to gathering personal stories.

In order to continue the collaboration with Sandwell Visually Impaired (SVI) to produce the work we embarked on a series of digital workshops via Zoom. Unable to make photographs in person, I found other ways to connect with participants, including giving one-to-one tuition and advice to SVI members.

A unique aspect of Seeing in Isolation is that we, as blind and visually impaired people, were instrumental in crafting our own personal digital stories and providing the audio descriptions. The process took time, as mutual trust was the bedrock of this project.

Throughout the project we discussed how we could obtain an engaging outcome for both the sighted and non-sighted community and, as part of this, we worked with Kirin Saeed, an accessibility consultant, to consider the practical processes and outcomes. These included how we can work on Zoom with consideration and make sessions comfortable and inclusive, and how digital videos can incorporate audio description in a simple and empathetic way.

The approach we took with the audio descriptions was to make them a part of what we wished to create, like a bridge that joins the sighted and unsighted worlds.

Multistory and I wanted to make sure that each digital story included the interests of the individual. Helen’s film showed her love of singing. Rickie wanted to share his passion for music, and support for the homeless and rehoming of greyhounds in his community. Craig’s story illustrated through animation created by Sedat Savas what it is like to have Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Perm spoke of friendship, her love of art and colour. Jean expressed the importance of her Christian faith, shared with her husband, Stephen, and the pleasure flowers give her. Michal gave an insight into how he communicates through social media to connect with his friends, family, and meet likeminded people.

Stephen, SVI member and project participant, said:
“I have always had a camera in my hands since the age of 10. But, later on, I started to slow down with photography because of my changing eyesight. In 2018 Karren spoke at the Sandwell Visually Impaired AGM. She was an inspiration to me. Her talk was the reason I purchased a new camera and started photographing again. Karren has helped me to think how to frame what I can see and to get the most out of my photography.”