Photography is inextricably linked with vision – photographs by visually impaired photographers not only challenges the norm of what it means to see, but pushes us to break the norm of our own visual prejudices and photography perceptions.
Most cannot fathom the thought of a person without vision handling a camera, much less having an entire photography exhibition featuring 70 photographs by 7 visually impaired photographers.
The exhibition, aptly titled “Sensory Photography – for our new Malaysia”, celebrates our new Malaysia in conjunction with Hari Malaysia. Out of the 70 photographs showcased in the Sensory Photography exhibition, 28 will also be featured as tactile photography and accompanied by audio descriptors – another first in Malaysia, enabling the visually impaired community to feel the stories in these photographs through the combined experience of physical touch and audio.
Stemming from the collaborative efforts of Plus Community Partnership, Malaysian Association for the Blind and Studio DL, a 10-week Sensory Photography programme was conceptualised to teach the visually impaired community the art of photography and to celebrate the counter-intuitive world of sensory photography guided by their intuition and emotion.
David Lok, Malaysia’s famed commercial photographer headlined this first-of-its-kind programme as its lead tutor and devised a handbook on teaching the visually impaired this normally visually-dependent art form.
Ken Goh, the co-founder of social enterprise Plus Community Partnership said, “There are about 488,000 Malaysians who are visually impaired with limited options to make a living. We were exploring programmes for the blind community and we wanted to not only look at potential earning opportunities for them, but also an empowering programme that offered them another medium to communicate their vision. With the Sensory Photography programme, we hope to bridge the divide of what was once considered an alien concept to the visually impaired and inspire them to come forward and cultivate new skills.”
“Blind photography is relatively new in Malaysia, and we’re hoping this pilot will continue to run and subsequently be streamlined. These students have their own vision and story that they want to communicate to the world. All we had to do was to provide them the platform and resources to do so by teaching them to utilise the technology readily available in cameras to find their own voice,” said Lok of Studio DL who ran the pilot programme as the head tutor.
Deputy Women, Community and Family Development Minister, YB Hannah Yeoh who was present to officiate the event said, “As we look forward to a progressive Malaysia, the Sensory Photography programme is a positive first step in empowering the visually impaired with what is considered a foreign concept to them – the art of storytelling through photography. The programme is proof of the power of perseverance and determination in overcoming our own personal barriers.”
Adding further, Chen said, “This programme promoted a sense of inclusiveness and equality. The learnings we got from the Sensory Programme was definitely a two-way street, where both sides of the spectrum learnt and understood more of each other’s world. We absolutely believe that the visually impaired have the potential to do more and offer great artistic perspectives in a world that’s more inclined to the sighted.”
With varying degrees of visual impairment, the students of the programme have to rely on their other heightened senses to capture the story they wish to tell. The programme is designed to empower the visually impaired community with a skill that is generally considered foreign to them, and provides them a unique self-expression channel on top of a potential source of income.
The “Sensory Photography – for our new Malaysia” exhibition will run from 8 to 27 September 2018 at Ruang, ThinkCity Kuala Lumpur. For more information on the exhibition and the featured photographers, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/Sensoryphotographyexhibitions