Friday, 7 October 2011

Shooting blind


Teaching vision-impaired students how to take photos

 
Students’ photographs are put on display after the workshop.


Can a blind person be a photographer?
The answer is yes.

Mai, a student at the Pattaya Redemptorist School for the Blind in Chon Buri, is exactly that _ a blind photographer. Before taking the shot, Mai first determined the location and height of the object _ in this case, a young female colleague _ by touching her arm and head, then took a step back, holding the camera close to his face. Click.

A few minutes later, I saw a printed photo of a girl wearing a sunny smile with the perfect lighting.

Mai is just one of 10 blind students from the special school who took part in a photography workshop organised by Pict4all, a volunteer organisation, in collaboration with Canon Marketing (Thailand).

"I am so happy to finally have the chance to be a photographer. I have dreamt about this for a long time," Mai said.

Another blind boy, Nook, was learning how to take a picture of a group of people. His favourite subject to shoot, though, is flowers.

"I told him how to measure the distance between him and the subject by touch. He also learned how to tell the direction of the light from the sun by judging the different degrees of warmth he felt on various parts of his body," said Napadon Panyawuthikrai, the founder of Pict4all, who also taught Mai how to handle the digital camera.

The Bangkok-based Pict4all organisation has 35 members across the country. And since its establishment two years ago, it has conducted a series of photography workshops for blind children, with support from Canon Marketing (Thailand), which has now become its major organiser and donor.
 
One... two... three... say cheese! A volunteer and a student share a fun moment during the workshop.

Canon Marketing (Thailand) recently donated three digital cameras, along with ink-loaded printing units to the Pattaya Redemptorist School for the Blind, now the sixth school to be covered by the project this year.

Each photography training class was originally intended to last two to three hours.

However, after only 30 minutes, most of the students were able to take good pictures.

A blind girl, Gig, took a picture of a public telephone outside the school. She told her volunteer teacher that her younger brother and sister back at her hometown village had never seen a public telephone before. So she wanted to share the pictures with them when she returned home.

"Our goal is to open up a new window for blind and vision-impaired children. Aside from words and gestures, they can also use a camera to take pictures to express their feelings and communicate with their friends and families," Sutthipan Chantapatima, assistant director of the human resources division at Canon Marketing (Thailand), explained.

But how did Napadon, the very first trainer, know how to teach blind children photography?
"I spent two days living in an unfamiliar place, where I closed my eyes to take on the role of a blind person," Napadon said. In complete darkness, he gradually learned how to locate different objects by sound and determine his orientation to other nearby objects through smell.

"Photography is a good way for ordinary people to recognise the potential and capabilities of unsighted people. You won't believe how wonderful the pictures turn out, especially when the setting is right," said another volunteer teacher whose student _ a 16-year-old girl _ took a picture of a yellow flower outside the training room.

Though a successful project, it is not without problems. The biggest concern is the shortage of qualified trainers and volunteer teachers.

"Trainers have to be patient and know how to effectively communicate with blind children," Napadon said. They should also have the ability to look into the minds of the children and inspire them. "And that's not easy for volunteers who have no experience working with visually-impaired children."

Another major problem is the Pattaya Redemptorist School for the Blind's budget.
"The photography course is totally new to the students because in the past we simply couldn't afford it," said Choocheep Saisawasdi, director of the school.Founded in 1987, under the royal patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the school increasingly faces money problems, despite financial support from the government each year. The school lacks a sustainable source of income to buy food and clothing, and maintain educational facilities for the 140 students.

By the end of the photography training class, more than 50 pictures were taken by the students, which were then printed and put on display. The young photographers also added captions on the back of their photos.

"The quality of the pictures is not the focus. But you would be surprised at how good the children's pictures can be," Sutthipan smiled, adding that she hopes the staff of Canon Marketing join the project as volunteers rather than facilitators next year.
"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." And the fact that blind children can become qualified photographers serves Mark Twain's words the best.