"This self - portrait in landscape orientation has me left of centre among bushes with deep green - and bronze - coloured leaves. In the background is a fence covered in a creeper and a round clay pot with a plant. I am seated on the stone tiles in an orb of flash light. My right leg is bent at the knee and against my chest. Or so it seems, as this part of my body has retained its outline , but the rest is absorbed by the s hrubbery . My left leg is bent and tucked under me. I am wearing a grey sweatshirt zipped up at the front, dark trousers , and trainers. My left hand with fingers splayed and fingertips pressed against a stone tile for support, some of my clothing and my face are in detail. My eyes are small and shaped like oval lea ves . This is accentuated as I look into the distance in contemplation." - Karren Visser
Light painting self-portrait 4 © Karren Visser

Seeing and the Imagination

This summer, Unlimited and British Council launched Round 2 of the Micro Awards Scheme for pairs of disabled artists in the UK and worldwide to develop their partnership together online. Karren Visser (UK) and Guadalupe Campos (Mexico) collaborated via Zoom with the blind light painting photographer, Sonia Soberats, based in New York. Both artists chose to make self-portraits to visualise their surroundings and learn from each other. Karren Visser tells us more about how the project went…

The emphasis of this project is not on documenting individual training sessions and workshops, but on the exploratory value of our creative process. We wished to develop a format for an accessible online digital presentation in collaboration with the Mexican arts collective, Laboratorio de lo Invisible.

"This self - portrait in landscape orientation has me left of centre among bushes with deep green - and bronze - coloured leaves. In the background is a fence covered in a creeper and a round clay pot with a plant. I am seated on the stone tiles in an orb of flash light. My right leg is bent at the knee and against my chest. Or so it seems, as this part of my body has retained its outline , but the rest is absorbed by the s hrubbery . My left leg is bent and tucked under me. I am wearing a grey sweatshirt zipped up at the front, dark trousers , and trainers. My left hand with fingers splayed and fingertips pressed against a stone tile for support, some of my clothing and my face are in detail. My eyes are small and shaped like oval lea ves . This is accentuated as I look into the distance in contemplation." - Karren Visser
Light painting self-portrait 4 © Karren Visser

A 25-minute-long video communicates the concept of this project’s exploration. Its structure consists of a collage of 12 self-portraits made by us throughout the 3-month duration of the project. The audio description of the photographs along with closed captions was composed and recorded by us, and we also speak each other’s words in Spanish and English respectively. While recording the audio material, we discovered how cultural influences determine the choice of words and some of these changed in translation, influencing the meaning and context. 

When working on the structure of the video, we focused on accommodating the blind and visually impaired audience by providing audio description and a brief pause before moving on to another image or explanation. The length of the pause was chosen by the blind collaborators of the project, Guadalupe, Sonia and Jorge Lanzagorta, the videographer from Laboratorio de lo Invisible, who also researched sounds as an alternative to silence. There are two language versions of this video, one in English and one in Spanish. 

Click on link to English video version here: https://youtu.be/VMi0OXZKJcw 

Click on link to Spanish video version here: https://youtu.be/K9LB6Ki5dck 

"‘Freshness’ is Guadalupe’s photograph in horizontal format, in which you see a hanging pot with a plant called a ribbon . Guadalupe included her self in the photograph between the stems . Her gaze is directly ahead. She told me that in her imagination, she sees fresh colors . ‘ Freshness ’ shows that nature is perfect : a blind photograph er and a beautiful hanging plant." - Guadalupe Campos
Frescura © Guadalupe Campos

We hope that what we share may be an immersive experience for all who access the video, as inclusivity is the core of this exploratory creative project. We have ensured the video is: 

  • in a format that is shareable online, 
  • accessible for blind and visually impaired people, 
  • visually clear by limiting background to a black and type to white in a bold font and yellow markers, 
  • can accommodate deaf and hard of hearing by providing closed captions in both language versions of the video, 
  • an opportunity to showcase coherently Karren’s and Guadalupe’s photographs, 
  • informative of the exploratory nature of the project, 
  • an example of bridging together the outcomes from both photographers by identifying common themes and developing a consistent narrative. 

From this project, we identified three themes that are present:

In plain sight

This expression centres around what is evident, visible, clear even though our perceptions differ. Are the subjects in the photographs in plain sight? What is hiding in plain sight? These questions open the door to explorations of apparent limitations all of us face when working with our imagination—be it physical (people walking into frames) or emotional (anxiety, uncertainty, identity, the world we live in).  

"In this photograph in a landscape orientation, I am under my bed. The wooden bedframe and cream coloured linen bedding dominate the composition and are at a diagonal from left to right . I n the foreground covering the wood floor is a Persian rug in dark reds and blues placed horiz ontally so that i t also go es under the bed. In the background, dimly lit, is a radiator and a louvre blind pulled down over a window . The l ight from my flashlight has painted my face , turned sideways, and right hand in blurred and fragmented detail. Part o f my right arm looks like it is liquid and has been absorbed into the rug." - Karren Visser
Light painting self-portrait 3 © Karren Visser

Sense of belonging

We wished to explore being a part of something bigger than the boundaries of our bodies and sensory capabilities, such as a sense of home, community, our work, and interests. Part of this was being able to tell objects, surroundings, environments by multiple senses – seeing a leaf is not the only way to tell that a leaf is there or to imagine its colour. 

The state of presence

This concerns being aware of what’s happening in our surroundings and how this may affect us. ‘The State of Presence’ is concerned with self-preservation and the theme also includes the very human need to be noticed, seen, acknowledged, be it in a social or a physical context – seeing others for who they are is not purely a physical act. 

We hope our video shows that photography supported by audio description and closed captions is an important medium for the non-blind to understand what it must be like to live with limited or no sight.  

A part of ‘Seeing and the Imagination’ that cannot be emphasised enough is that the artists themselves provided material for the audio description of their photographs. We believe it is one of the core values of this project, proving that blind and visually impaired artists can describe their own work and produce the material for audio description and closed captions. This carries both an educational and an empowering message! We believe that it is a strong element of this project and one that needs further investment to ensure blind and visually impaired artists, and not sighted collaborators, are responsible for describing their own work.  

"México ’ is a photograph in horizontal format by Gua dalupe Campos in which two people appear . O ne is Guadalupe with her white cane and the other a person who approaches her casually to ask her if she need s help . T he flag of Mexico appears behind them . I t is the month of September and there are many symbols with the national colors . This image shows a small stall selling merchandise celebrating the independence of Mexico."
México © Guadalupe Campos

‘Seeing and the Imagination’ is very much an exploration of a creative process that could embrace other areas of interest, for instance, how blind and visually impaired people of varying ages and from different backgrounds explore gender identity and representation, or how they perceive the climate crisis.