Can photography be accessible?

Post date: 
Thursday, 11 May 2017

Evie is a young photographer who has been preparing work for her University Degree show focusing on the experiences of blind and partially sighted people, and exploring how arts and culture could be more accessible for people with sight loss.

The degree show, titled Interlude, features work exhibited by Evie and other BA (Hons) Photography third year students. She says, “I am extremely passionate about allowing equal inclusivity and access to everyone who wants to experience photography and I want this project to prove that it can be done.” We interviewed Evie  to find out why she choose the theme of blindness and accessibility for her work.

What made you choose accessible photography as the theme for your degree show?

“My motivations for this project was purely based on the research and information that I gained from writing my dissertation. I have always attended and visited museums, galleries and exhibitions from an early age and even then, I was asking the question 'How do those who can't see, view all this amazing art work?' Surely those who want to experience and be a part of art nowadays should have the opportunity. Within that, and throughout my journey of writing my dissertation, I visited several exhibitions and galleries both in London and in other countries (such as Iceland and Dubai) and I realised that sensory exhibitions aren't the norm. Due to secondary research I came across a few that had attempted it, for example Tate Sensorium in 2015 which was held at Tate Britain. According to articles that I read, it was a massive success with not just those who were blind but even those who could see, as it allowed imagination and conversations to spark on a previously unbeknown subject. Another big motivation for me was a family friend who is a radio journalist in Germany. She has sight loss and just hearing her story about the harsh restrictions she's faced with, personally and in her profession, really encouraged me to take this project forward and produce something sensory and tactile for my degree show.”

Photo shows a photo of a man with braille tactile elements to make the photograph accessibleDo you think there is still a barrier to blind and partially sighted people enjoying accessible art and photography?

“Massively. The reason I think this, is purely down talking to some of the visually impaired individuals that I am working with from Sight Support Derbyshire, and hearing their views. One person in particular, Dale, said that he loves exploring and visiting art galleries, and he can make out the work better if he uses his iPhone camera screen. He holds it up to the work to allow him to see the shape, colour and outlines better, which amazingly he discovered he could do by himself! However, he says normally the invigilators in the gallery space think he's taking pictures of the work, when he's not, and some even ask him to stop. What I think needs to change is coming up with a solution where that barrier isn't so restrictive for those who can't see, and allowing equal inclusivity to all.”

How do you think that organisers of exhibitions can be more inclusive of sensory disabilities?

“My approach focuses on touch, however including more senses has proven to be hugely beneficial and inclusive. A few of the individuals I am working with rely heavily on what they can hear. For a curator, I'm sure it's very difficult to please everybody. However, if exhibitions such as Tate Sensorium can achieve this, why can't this become a regular element, not just for those with sight loss. Even visiting places such as the Science Museum and the National Gallery in London, you can see little elements of trying to involve and cater for everybody (for example braille panels in certain sections, and books with larger text so those who can't read the smaller print/texts can read what each painting is about).”

Making the photography accessible to all

Evie has designed her work with braille readers in particular in mind, in that she will incorporate braille which will be placed directly onto the prints. The braille reading individual will then be able to touch, feel and ultimately get a sense of the image. The braille will describe what is on the image. I'm also including brief phrases, for example, 'Dale is wearing an earring in his right ear'. My plan is to have each image A1 size on the wall, and then underneath each is accompanied by two panels. One is a personal statement from the individual in text form and the other is the same statement but in braille form. Although Evie's show doesn't account for those with sensory loss who do not read braille, her focus on blind and partially sighted subjects and efforts to make her work accessible to those who have very limited levels of sight is to be commended. She says, “Hopefully working in museums in the future will allow me a greater understanding of why exhibitions aren't more inclusive, but for now I want this piece of work to be a starting point for me, in terms of pushing this idea forward.”

If you're a braille reader and would like to attend the show, Evie would love to welcome you and give you a guided tour. The opening evening is on Thursday 25th May, with the show running until Sunday 11 June at University of Derby, Markeaton Street Campus, Derby, DE1 1DX. Email Evie at e.knighton1@unimail.derby.ac.uk or phone on 07715343713 for more details.

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