Photographs by a blind woman: Sonia Soberats lost her vision due to glaucoma, but then went on to learn a form of photographic art called ‘light painting’.
Light painting involves taking photographs in a low-light situation then using a moveable light source, such as a torch or lamp, to ‘paint’ light in the image like brush strokes. Where the light does not reach adequate exposure levels, the photograph remains dark. I love this technique for its painterly imagery that can often be misinterpreted as ‘photoshop’ where no digital darkroom has been used.
Sonia Soberatz is a member of the Seeing with Photography collective, a group of blind and vision impaired photographers. There are a number of similar groups around the world who work and exhibit together; sometimes their work is published in art book format. The way vision impaired and blind people perceive the world – and portray their experiences – in photography may surprise and enlighten.
Legal Blindness, vision impairment and photography – a little background
To be legally blind these days means that a person must have no greater than 6/60 or 20/200 vision, it does not mean the person must have no vision whatsoever. 6/60 vision means that what the blind person read at 6 metres, the non-disabled person should be able to read at 60 metres. 20/200 means what the blind person read at 20 feet, the non-disabled person can read at 200 feet. To have a vision impairment or disability is not quite so easy to define as there are so many different kinds.
An optometrist at Vision Australia told me once that she knew a guy who took up photography after he lost his peripheral vision: by using the camera to bring panoramic views into the narrow range of the viewfinder on a camera enabled him to see the broader view.
For me, using a digital camera to zoom in on a screen held close to my face helps me to see people’s faces and expressions. Taking photos of scenery or events helps me to capture images to try to see then or to see later on a large screen. When I paint or draw something from a large photo (A4 or A3), I really see things because I’m looking closely over a long period of time while trying to recreate the original. That’s why I’ve loved painting things like the Japanese gardens, the paintings that were exhibited in 2007, and the seaweed Trash or Treasure selected by the Adelaide Fringe Festival to feature in the upstART program in 2008.