Seeing in Isolation – workshops

A dozen people sit behind tables in a classroom and some stand, facing a man standing in the front of the room. There are two guide dogs near him.

Students and staff from the Photography Department at Sandwell College and the Multistory team receive training on how to support visually impaired people. Here, Tony, Chairman of Sandwell Visually Impaired and his colleagues address the group, 2020 © David Waldron. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.

In early 2020 I delivered a series of three workshops for Higher National Diploma photography students at Sandwell College with support from Multistory and course leader David Waldron. These formed part of the Photography, Art and Design 2020 syllabus, intended to increase understanding of individual wellbeing.

The first workshop introduced the ethics of photographing blind and visually impaired people, and included discussion on assisting Sandwell Visually Impaired (SVI) members in navigating the studio. Students were made aware that light sensitivity can be a problem and flashlights disorientating. The second workshop aimed to create a Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) that shows what it is like to negotiate a crowd with a white cane. The GIF, produced by Angela Grabowska and Terry Burling from SVI, with my audio description, was shown as part of National Eye Health Week 21 – 27 September 2020 by Multistory, Sandwell Council, and Sandwell Visually Impaired. The third workshop explored how blind and visually impaired people might be fully represented in advertising. Accompanying audio description will ensure that the blind and visually impaired fully understand the advertisement.

Central to each session was the sharing of stories to secure understanding of all that full-sighted, blind and visually impaired people have in common.

The workshops led to a fun event at the Portway Leisure Centre, Oldbury, with me being photographed in the water at the time of an SVI aquafit class. In addition, Seeing in Isolation formed friendships that led to further cooperation and collaboration, for example Stephen Keenan from SVI photographing other members, which was featured in the Multistory blog in November 2020.

A crucial outcome of these workshops was the raising of awareness that blind and visually impaired people have a great deal to offer their community and need not be defined solely by the limitations of their sight.

Woman in foreground with a colourful headscarf photographs a man with a grey hair and beard in front of a dark studio backdrop.

Sandwell College student, Kish, is photographing Terry from SVI. Stephen, also from SVI, photographed them using a large aperture so that Terry is blurred, to try and give the impression of how he and Terry see their surroundings, 2020 © Stephen Keenan. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.

A woman in profile holding a white cane. Bright light flashes across her face, a translucent rainbow stripe across her hand.

Sandwell College student Rhianne photographed me with my white cane. Her intention in this image was to show how visually impaired people may experience light bright flashing light, as I had mentioned this in my workshop talk, 2020 © Rhianne Beetham. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.

A man seated at a restaurant-style table scanning a menu with a rectangular magnifying glass.

Sandwell College student Angela photographed Mike from SVI reading a menu with his low vision magnifier. Mike wanted to show how important it is for him to be able to go out for a meal and not have family and friends read the menu for him, 2020 © Angela Grabowska. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.

A woman wearing a swimming cap and goggles is in a pool, holding a camera in both hands just above the water. She looks at the woman beside her in the pool.

This photograph shows me at the Portway Lifestyle Centre swimming pool, Oldbury. I was with the Sandwell College students (Kish is visible in the image) attending an SVI aquafit class, 2020 © David Waldron. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.

A woman with pink hair holds out her arm for a man, who holds it at the elbow. The man wears glasses that look like cut outs from an egg box painted black.

Student Ellie from Sandwell College was receiving training on how to guide a visually impaired person. Stephen from SVI is wearing sight loss simulation glasses, 2020 © David Waldron. Seeing in Isolation,  produced by Multistory and Karren Visser, 2021.