In early 2004, Mumbai-based social entrepreneur Partho Bhowmick came across a book that featured pictures by renowned French photographer, Evgen Bavcar. The pictures were great, and Bhowmick was highly inspired when he learned that Bavcar was blind. In 2006, after much research, Bhowmick founded the Blind With Camera Foundation to help the blind learn photography. His objective was to “promote the social integration of the visually impaired through art and culture practices.” The idea, he says, came from non-profit initiatives abroad, started by sighted photographers, who put up lessons on websites. “They made it possible for anyone to teach photography to blind people; it was helping build a blind-centric art culture that spread beyond physical boundaries,” he says.
Since there isn’t an internationally regulated curriculum, Bhowmick started by setting up his own virtual school — at www.blindwithcameraschool.org. The site had stepwise tutorials derived from his longitudinal study of visual art.
At first he had only one student, but people soon began to join. “I dug into my savings and also got corporate sponsorships to help me with the project. Over time, I have managed to train more than 80 blind people,” he says. The group conducted its first exhibition at the NCPA in 2007, and has travelled around the country since. “You have to believe that they’re ‘differently able’, and that any form of visual expression by them is invaluable. They have an interesting way of perceiving and leading their lives,” he says.
Starting out is simple — the lessons are lucid, self-explanatory and supported with photographs. The method principally relies on making use of the auditory and sensory faculties, and gradually advances towards professional photography. “They judge the aperture and shutter speed by the difference in sound; and the ISO by the warmth of light in different day conditions. The approach is to keep things simple in the beginning and later use manual settings,” Bhowmick says.
Photographs taken by the blind are uploaded to a blog on the Web, and are also sold. Workshops are scheduled approximately twice a month. The last two were held in Goa in the months of May and July. In November, the group will travel to the Nehru Centre in London and Leicester Grammar School in the UK to showcase their collection.
By the end of the year, Bhowmick also wants to start a physical workshop on videography besides promoting performing arts and literature among the blind. “They’re such quick learners and their memory is so sharp! The desire to learn and create just makes them instant experts,” he says.