Partho Bhowmick is the founder of the ‘Blind with Camera’ project, which has trained hundreds of visually impaired photographers across India. Photographs emerging from the ‘Blind with Camera’ project have been showcased through inclusively designed exhibitions in India and abroad. The project is the first of its kind in India and is part of the international Disability Art culture.
In 2004, I came across an article on Evgen Bavcar, one of the world’s most accomplished blind photographers, based in Paris. It was the epiphany in which the visual world of blind people opened up to me.
My passion for photography made me contact Evgen Bavcar over the Internet, and get profoundly influenced by his work and philosophy. I engaged in self study on blindness and the visual arts and, in the process, came in touch with several blind artists and photographers around the world, as well as people providing new insights into blind people and their artistic expression.
By the end of 2005, I decided to start photography workshops for the blind, but it was not easy to get around endless queries, doubts, even disbelief. Finally, after months of trying to enroll blind participants, the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind, Mumbai, offered its support in getting the workshops started.
The workshops were not just about spotting something and pressing a shutter button to prove the point that the blind can take photographs. Instead, they were developed to show that pictures are as realistically composed, or formed, in a clear, unsullied, uncrowded finely-attuned mind’s eye as when they—pictures, objects, images—are physically seen or sighted.
The nebulous concept of photography by blind people gains clarity in answering the most frequently-asked question about it: Why would anyone who could not see wish to take photographs? The simple answer is a basic human need for images. Evgen Bavcar says: “What I mean by the desire for images is that when we imagine things, we exist. I can’t belong to this world if I can’t imagine it in my own way. When a blind person says ‘I imagine’, it means he, too, has an inner representation of external realities.”
The power and potential of any creative undertaking is to engage oneself and create a dialogue with an audience. Photography is not just the use of a camera, but a process that engages all the five, even six senses in one’s purpose to understand oneself, dialogue with others, and impact or alter perceptions. The photographic medium is used to communicate the emotions involved at the very moment the image was taken. The language of images is so strong that, by producing and sharing a photograph, you naturally start a dialogue.
Photography remains one of the most prolific and popular mediums of modern times, and serves as a social platform. It is fun, accessible, helps one connect, is sociable and satisfying. The sharing of photos through albums, e-mails, social networking sites and mobile phones is something people take for granted now, though they would not describe themselves as “photographers”, but being denied access to such social media can be isolating.
Many blind people are, therefore, excited to have the opportunity to take pictures and get involved in the visual world—a world they have been hitherto been excluded from—to connect on a common social platform. It can be immensely rewarding for the blind photographer when someone describes what they see in his images to him, and thereby initiates a dialogue that enables him to share, in greater depth and detail, his perception of the world.
Photography by blind people is a social equaliser: it challenges perception and inspires social change. Many of the participants in the ‘Blind with Camera’ project have expressed delight in the fact that they are doing something many people would not have thought possible.
‘Blind with Camera’ is an ongoing project of creation, expression and communication that helps address feelings of isolation and provides the means to engage in society and create a forum for dialogue between the seeing and non-seeing world. As blind photographer Pete Eckert puts it: “I slip photos under the door from the world of the blind to be viewed in the light of the sighted.”
Partho Bhowmick is a Mumbai-based independent photographer educated in business management and information technology. He works full time with a corporate house in Mumbai, but photography remains his passion.
A self-driven researcher on art by the blind, and Founder of the Beyond Sight Foundation, Partho launched his Blind With Camera project in 2006, to teach photography to the visually impaired, and, in 2010, launched the world’s first virtual e-school of photography for the blind. Hundreds of visually impaired individuals have trained as photographers under him, and some of them have turned trainers.
He has been a speaker on the convergence of renewed photography and social change at several cultural and social forums, including TEDx. He has a number of books to his credit, including ‘In Touch With Pictures‘, ‘Facing the Mirror’, and See As No Other