Blind artists' photos focus of new exhibit at human rights museum

A new photo exhibit called Sight Unseen — opening Saturday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg — includes the work of 13 blind photographers, incorporating audio and tactile elements, as well as 3D printouts.

'I don't need eyesight. I have vision,' says visually impaired photographer

Photographs from blind artists highlighted in new Canadian Museum for Human Rights exhibition

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists brings together the work of 13 blind photographers from around the world. 1:32

It's often said art is in the eye of the beholder — but how do artists create visual works, such as photographs, when they're blind?  

That's one question a new art exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is trying to examine. Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists, which opens Saturday, brings together the work of more than a dozen visually impaired photographers from around the world.

Corey Timpson, of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, says a new exhibition of the work of blind photographers is meant to challenge the public's idea of what perception means. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

"The intent here is for us to present something that challenges people," said Corey Timpson, the museum's vice-president of exhibitions, research and design. "Challenges people in terms of what they consider ability to be and disability to be, and also challenges people in terms of what perception actually means and is."

He said the artists use different methods. American artist Pete Eckert, for example, uses darkness and long exposures to "paint" or "draw" images with flashlights. 

But the exhibit doesn't just rely on photographs, it brings together other senses, such as sound and touch.  

Six large 3D printouts of selected images are placed throughout the space, paired with audio descriptions. Raised ink illustrations are also placed beneath photos that visitors can feel.

"It's experienced, it's not told," said Timpson.

He is quick to add that the point of the exhibit goes beyond making printed photographs accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. 

"It's really for everybody," he said. "Maybe the sighted visitor will see the photo on the wall, and then see the representation of it, and then see how those two experiences compare and contrast, and how much more rich the experience might be when it's multi-sensory."

The photo exhibit is timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Tara Miller, a legally blind commercial photographer who works in Winnipeg, is checking out A Close Up View by artist Evgen Bavcar, which is part of Sight Unseen.

Tara Miller checks out a 3D printout of a photograph that is part of the Sight Unseen exhibit. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

She moves her hands slowly across the 3D-printed image, carefully feeling each indentation and crack. She says she can feel the knuckles in the image — even the fingernails. 

"To be able to feel the three dimensions is absolutely amazing for me," she said.

Nearby, Pete Haertel, who is also legally blind, runs his fingers over the raised ink of an illustration paired with a photograph.

"This is great, I'm actually feeling the photograph," he said. "I feel like I'm staring at this with my fingers."

Haertel is a retired pet photographer who said he wishes he could have done something similar with the photographs he took over the years to remember them better.

Pete Haertal, a legally blind retired photographer, feels a raised ink illustration that matches a photograph above. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

Miller specializes in sports photography. She said people often laugh when they learn about her job.

"That sort of fuelled me — being visually impaired — to jump into this and show people that I could succeed at it," Hill said. "I don't need eyesight. I have vision!"

She said she hopes the exhibit provides people with a better understanding of disability. 

"For example, if someone can't see very well, you don't want to just toss them off to the corner, and think well, they can't do anything visual at all. It's giving them a chance."

With files from Cameron MacIntosh


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