They all have their stories to tell. Jamaliah Mohd Yasin’s world went dark, literally, after being diagnosed with glaucoma. Rashidi Abdullah gets by with partial tunnel vision, knowing that it is only a matter of time before he loses his vision entirely. Theng Sze Young, an engineer by profession, lost his sight in a car accident.
But today, they are among the blind and visually impaired group whose works are featured in a photography exhibition at Ruang by ThinkCity in Kuala Lumpur.
Sensory Photography – For Our New Malaysia presents 70 photographs by seven photographers who are visually-impaired.
The first of its kind in Malaysia, this exhibition is a culmination of work from a 10-week photography programme (March to June this year) led by commercial photographer David Lok, and assisted by Lim Sok Lin, of Studio DL where the participants were taught the basics of photography.
The programme was conceptualised by social enterprise Plus Community Partnership, in collaboration with commercial photography studio Studio DL and the Malaysian Association for the Blind, to empower the visually impaired community and teach them the art of photography.
Tackling an art form that is conventionally dependent on sight meant that the participants had to really tap into their intuition in telling their stories. It was feel more than see, instinct more than reason – often with varied and surprising results.
“In photography, you rely a lot on your sight. So to teach the visually impaired to take photographs without seeing is definitely a challenge. What surprised us the most is that even without their sight, our participants are able to capture raw emotions that could be clearly seen in the photographs,” shares Lok.
“Participants rely a lot on their other senses; for instance, their ears to know there is a helicopter passing overhead, their skin to know where the sun is, and hence, where shadows will fall. It is wonderful and surprising to see how each individual’s personality effects how their photographs are portrayed,” he adds.
From this pilot programme, Lok has compiled the lessons into a handbook on teaching the blind the art of photography, the first of its kind in Malaysia.
According to Ken Goh, the co-founder of social enterprise Plus Community Partnership, it was crucial to them that this programme be more than just a potential earning opportunity for the blind community.
“We thought it should also be an empowering programme that offers 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,” he says.
The Sensory Photography exhibition includes 28 tactile photography accompanied by audio descriptors, enabling visitors to feel the stories in these photographs through physical touch and sound.
“This programme promoted a sense of inclusiveness and equality, 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 is more inclined to the sighted,” says Monica Chen, Plus Community Partnership co-founder.
“Blind photography is relatively new in Malaysia, and we are 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.” says Lok.
Sensory Photography – For Our New Malaysia runs at Ruang by ThinkCity, 2, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur till Sept 27. Open 10am-6pm on weekdays, 12pm-8pm on weekends. Closed on Sept 19. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Sensoryphotographyexhibitions.