Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
By Robert Frost
I can’t think of a simpler way to describe the omnipresence of the beauty that lays outside and inside of us. This beautiful world that we call home is the single best blessing that we could have. However, it’s heartbreaking that about 15 million people can never see the world as we do. They cannot see the monstrous sky at its thundering best, marvel at the mundane of a busy street, blush with the changing colour of the leaves at the local joggers’ park, or even be amused at the silliness of it all! India is home to the largest blind population in the world. So many people are bereft of the joy of colours and sunlight!
However, the lack of sight doesn’t mean a lack of perspective. If you’ve met a blind person in your life, you know what I am talking about. Their precision in measuring distances and seeing things accurately with touch is profound. What’s even more fascinating is the way they perceive the world in their mind. We both could be looking at the same thing, yet our imagination would perceive it so differently; for I would believe what I see, while they would believe what they feel.
To bring forth this very world that takes life in the mind of a blind, Partho Bhowmick started “Blind with Camera”. What might seem a paradoxical word-play is as literal reality as it can get. Blind with Camera is an initiative of Partho who want to equip a blind person with a camera to unleash the beauty of this world. He stumbled upon this idea accidentally in 2004 when he read about Evgen Bavcar, the famous blind photographer based in Paris, who gradually lost his sight, hence started capturing the world through his lenses by 16. Partho, a photography enthusiast himself was deeply moved by the thought of a visually impaired person capturing a visual. He made contact with Evgen to explore more of his work. Inspired, Partho spent the next two years self-studying in-depth about the “non-retinal” art culture, blindness, and works of other such challenged artists.
His research gave him the confidence to start Beyond the Sight, a not for profit organization aimed to display the artistic expression of the blind through photography. He conducted his first workshop with just one blind student, and over the years he has had more than 500 students under his wing. He teaches the nuances of photography to them and encourages them to make the camera, an extension of their self to explore the world around. If you’re not able to fathom how a blind person can possibly do photography, Partho explains, “Various tactile, audio clues, visual memories of sight, the warmth of light and cognitive skills are used by the visually impaired to create “mental image” before they make the judgment to take a picture. They use the camera as an extension of their “self” to explore the visual world, gain deeper insight while recording their imagination and point-of-view.”
His workshops and awareness campaigns gave the much-needed confidence to the blind community, who were always looked upon with pity. Going a step further, he puts up these photographs for display and sale in exhibitions, thus earning appreciation and income, both for these artists. Each photograph is a touchable-raised image i.e. the photos are printed in large size in Braille notes, and other visual aids so that the photographer himself can savour his art.
Beyond the Sight has many wonderful initiatives apart from the “Blind with Camera Workshop”. They all revolve around equipping the blind with confidence and knowledge to explore photography and offer a stage to their talent.
It’s amazing how so many people around us are shattering various societal stereotypes, such as these, and in the process inspiring all of us to push our limits; because we all have miles to go before we sleep!
Note: If you’d like to explore these photographs, or contribute to any Beyond the Sight initiative, you can check out their website.