Free of the stigma of how a picture should look: Ofer takes a self-portrait for the blind photographers course.Two years ago when Iris Darel-Shinar, and her partner Kfir Sivan, started thinking about a photography project for art school, they proposed the unthinkable: a photography course for the blind.
The results have surpassed their imaginations.
“Two of my students who have no memory of seeing at all, are the best shooters,” says Darel-Shinar, who studied at the Bezelel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. “It’s really fascinating. They are free from the stigma of how pictures are supposed to look.”
Many of the images taken by the nine blind photographers are out of focus. Some have left out the head of the subject, and images are mostly of every-day subjects: a pot of food, a tree, sleeping grandchildren, their own eyes.
But there is something otherworldly about the pictures. It is as though the blind photographers have a window into “seeing” something, which the full-sighted cannot.
Because the blind cannot use their eyes, different elements in the environment help them orient themselves, explains Darel-Shinar. It could be heat from the sun, smells, noises and the wind.
Blind photography as a phenomenon is quite rare. There are a few groups around the world that work with the partially blind, and even fewer who deal with the completely blind.
Before working with their students, Darel-Shinar and Sivan, now professional photographers, practiced being blind. They wore blindfolds, and played around with the different ways one could aim and stabilize a camera.
Holding the camera close to the forehead – at the third eye – gave the best results, they found.
“People say maybe it’s a gimmick. But when you look at the pictures, you can’t believe it. People ask me how they do it, and we cannot really understand the phenomenon,” says Darel-Shinar. “I guess they work with their sixth sense.”
It’s been two years since the two teachers have been volunteering with the group, and the momentum hasn’t waned, they report. No one wants to miss a meeting, says Darel-Shinar.
After seeing what the blind could do, Miki Kratsman, who heads the photography department at Bezelel, invited the photographers to exhibit some of their work at his department’s gallery.
The blind photographers have artistic merit, and “the result is most worthy,” he said. “These pictures could hang in any gallery. They have power. You don’t need to know that a blind person took them in order to appreciate them.”
The exhibition last February was met with rave reviews. And a new exhibition is being planned for the Tel Aviv area in the coming months.
“We’ve made a lot of noise,” says Darel-Shinar. And judging by the thousands of visitors to their online gallery, she surmises that hers might be the most well known group of blind photographers in the world.