It was a chance meeting with a visually challenged photographer in Paris six years ago that introduced Partho Bhowmick to their world of darkness.
Through 18 months of independent research thereafter on visual art and art forms, Bhowmick got inspired by the lives of at least 50 visually impaired artistes — from painters to filmmakers — around the world.
With this inspiration and a passion for photography, Bhowmick, founder, Beyond Sight Foundation in Kandivli, launched ‘Blind with Camera’ project in 2006. The project imparts basic and advanced tutorials on photography to the visually challenged through physical workshops and an e-school. “This project challenges perceptions and can inspire social change because it can be seen as a social equaliser,” said Bhowmick.
Bhowmick’s project is among 21 innovations shortlisted from across the country in the third edition of Genpact Nasscom Social Innovations Honours 2011. The selected innovations are based on the criteria of bringing about social change through the use of Information Communication Technology. The winners will be announced on February 8 in Mumbai.
Some of the other finalists are Sanjeevani Mobile Tele Oncology Unit that organises screening camps for detection and treatment for initial stage of cervical cancer, a Panini keypad that allows writing in an Indian language on the mobile phone faster than one in English on a similar phone, a Camera Mouse that helps visually impaired read small print on their home television screens as well as a Tsunami Early Warning System to monitor earthquakes in real time, around the globe.
“All the projects have outstanding potential to improve the current infrastructure of the society and create a better environment to live in,” said Rita Soni, chief executive officer, Nasscom Foundation. “Acknowledging these projects will also create awareness among young professionals to learn the art of giving back to society at the very beginning of their careers.”
It's an idea to shoot without sight
Innovation: Blind with Camera
Workplace: Beyond Sight Foundation, Kandivli
Category: Innovation by not-for-profit organisation
This project is best described as an assimilation of existing technologies for the visually challenged available worldwide accompanied by learning photography through workshops and an e-school (www.blindwithcamera.org). From teaching the use of camera, video camera and even the mobile phone camera, the visually impaired are also familiarised with cameras especially manufactured for them. Run by a four-member team, the programme also offers Swell Paper Technology that essentially means raised printing. Here, an artist digitally sketches a photograph taken by a visually impaired person, in shades of black and grey. A printout of the photo is then put through heat treatment, which raises the black and grey shades in the image.
“The visually impaired can then run his fingers through the photograph along with an audio descriptions that are either pre-recorded or recorded with the help of volunteers,” said Partho Bhowmick, who heads the project.
The photographs are displayed at workshops that eventually translate into annual exhibitions in India and abroad. The project also guides sighted photographers to conduct photography workshops with local visually impaired persons.
“It's the non-visual senses that help the visually impaired build images in the mind. Therefore, its important to translate mental images into a medium unknown to the sighted,” said Bhowmick.