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Armed with a camera, the blind capture their world

By Johanna Yueh
China.org.cn staff reporter

Sun Zhiyuan, a host and editor for One Plus One's radio program, takes a self-portrait. 一加一网络电台主持人兼编辑,孙致远正在为自己拍摄。

Sun Zhiyuan, a host and editor for One Plus One's radio program, takes a self-portrait.

It's an almost counterintuitive question: Can the physically disabled become artists? The answer depends, to a certain extent, on how one defines art. As the expression of one's personal interpretation of the world around him, art can be created by just about anyone. And, after all, if Beethoven could produce musical masterpieces without hearing them, surely the visually impaired staff of Beijing One Plus One Cultural Exchange Center can become photographers. 


And so they did. One Plus One, an organization run by people with disabilities that aims to provide media outlets and support for the disabled, teamed up in May with the international group PhotoVoice to train eight of its staff to use photography as a way to communicate their experiences of the world around them. After a week's worth of workshops, during which they learned photography techniques and partook of trust-building activities, participants were unleashed into Beijing – sometimes with a partner and other times alone – to record moments in their lives. The result: Sights Unseen, an exhibit of 16 photos that record everything from lighthearted, everyday debaucheries to windows into more intimate secrets. 


"We think this project is a very good way to communicate between blind people and normal people," said Sun He, One Plus One's marketing and public events coordinator. "We hope this project will influence more people in China, and also help the visually impaired build more confidence and communicate with outsiders more." 


In one of the workshops, staff members discussed the things they wanted to show people about their lives. They also learned how to express their feelings and the visions in their minds. Only two are completely blind, but the workshops trained all of them to rely only on their other senses to take pictures. Sun Zhiyuan, the editor and host of One Plus One's Internet radio program and one of the first two trainees in the program, said he would close his eyes, feel for the location and distance of his subject, and snap the picture while holding the camera to his forehead. For more distant subjects that were out of reach, a partner would snap his fingers to guide Sun in the right direction. 

在一次培训课上,学员讨论了他们希望向人们展现的生活,学习如何表达自己的情感和想象中的视界。尽管有两名学员完全失去了视力,但是通过培训,所有学员都可以凭借视觉之外的感觉去拍摄照片。孙致远是一加一网络电台的编辑和主持人,同时也是该项目的最早两个学员之一。 他说,拍摄时他会闭上眼睛,感觉拍摄对象的位置和距离,然后把照相机举在前额,按下快门。对于较远而无法感知的对象,同伴会打响指,把孙引到正确的方向。 

"We all had to put a cover over the screen" of their cameras, Sun said. "Because even us with low vision like to look and see, 'How is it?'" 


After they had taken their pictures, two professional photographers were on hand to offer advice on which shots were better from an artistic viewpoint. But technical merit took a backseat to what the trainees wanted to capture. 


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