A group of visually-impaired people has proved their mettle by making photography a hobby and a habit

Kaustubh Tapal was born blind with a little light perception. A failed surgery took away his light perception too at the age of 8 years. But he found a new vision through photography when he was introduced to Partho Bhowmick in 2010, who is the founder of Beyond Sight Foundation that trains visually-challenged people with photography. Currently, doing his masters in political science, Tapal is a regular at the monthly meetings of ‘Blind with camera’ where he is joined by other members.Around 10 regular members of the group gather at photogenic places along with their trainer Bhowmick and click away. Passionate about photography, Bhowmick has trained over 500 people across India and it all began when he stumbled across a photo magazine in 2004 where he read an article on a successful blind photographer Evgen Bavkar from Paris. After initial research he began with workshops in 2006 with his first blind student Mahesh Umrania.29-year-old Umrania lost his vision to glaucoma when he was 16 years old. When he was at the Victoria Memorial school for the blind at Tardeo, he came to know about Bhowmick in 2007 through a friend.
“Sir just handed me a camera and explained the hardware specifics and told me to click. Since then we have been meeting regularly. We pick places like the beach, museums and sir explains us their space and beauty. We depend upon our hearing, touch or memory of past experiences. You can feel the temperature which tells you if the area is lit or in a shadow. A sighted person sees what he wants to click and clicks it. We take everything around the subject as well but you cannot compare with vision. I cant touch a rainbow, so sir will describe it for me,” said Umrania who is a professional Sitar player.He added that their photography is still in the nascent stage. “We have conducted various exhibitions in India and abroad and want to take it forward but the softwares available to us in India are limited. There are softwares that can describe colours and spaces but we don’t have that. The progress we have made has slowed and because of that we need more technical help to make blind photographer more independent,” he said. For him, the biggest challenge right now is clicking expressions which he is trying to improve upon by himself.Bhowmick has introduced blindfold workshops where he asks people with sight to tie a blindfold and click pictures with training from blind photographers. “We generate revenue from those workshops and mostly it is with corporate companies. With this, we also get our message across to them that blind people are at par with people with sight and that creates employment opportunities. The sale of photos through exhibition also helps the photographers with an incentive and motivates them. We are trying to promote non-retinal art culture in India,” said Bhowmick, who is also coming up with a book, ‘See as no other’, later this year.Bhowmick said that photography creates a little inhibition for women who are visually challenged because there’s the element of touch involved. Nidhi Goyal is a 29-year-old independent photographer, disability and gender activist and former journalist. She learned photography from a media school before graduating from London School of Economics. She lost her vision to a progressive degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa and was a little skeptical about clicking photos with vision impairment.”I didn’t directly start clicking. Photography is known as a visual art and with us it’s more about other senses telling you to click it. When I interacted with the group, I learned how everyone perceives pictures differently. Each individual has a different way of experiencing the world. When it comes to being a woman with visual impairment and clicking photos, I have not faced much of an issue. As a professional, if I had to go to a public space then it may be difficult safety is already an issue for women,” she said.”I have friendly relations with all group members and we go out on our own sometimes to click pictures. The contradiction lies in a blind person with a camera but my perspective has now changed. I take help from the voice and touch of people; I love photography. It’s my hobby,” said Tapal who is one of the recent members. www.blindwithcamera.orgfor blindfold workshops call Partho Bhowmick: 9821474731

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Photography for the visually impaired