Photograph by Palmira Martinez
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Palmira Martinez documents swimmers in a lap pool.

Photograph by Palmira Martinez

Blind Photographers Push the Envelope of Expression

A new book examines the work of visually impaired artists who use sounds, smells, and even touch to guide their cameras.

Mickel Smithen is a dancer and photographer who makes provocative images of bodies in motion. He is also blind. Yet his haunting pictures capture a fluid sense of movement, rhythm, and expression.

An award-winning artist, the U.K.-based Smithen "views the world as a dancer," explains the new book The Blind Photographer, which publishes in September and features the work of more than 50 blind and partially sighted photographers.

"[Smithen] relates to others, and to the objects in their space—pavements, walls, stage, curtains—and to the camera, as a dancer," the book adds.

Another artist featured in The Blind Photographer, Alberto Loranca, uses trigonometry to compose his images. Loranca is able to distinguish between light and shadow and he uses that ability to calculate where to place his camera and what settings to use.

Visually impaired photographers can also use sounds, smells, and even touch to guide their cameras. They can feel an object to see which part is most warmed by sunlight and thus gauge the extent of light and shadow.

The photographers often share their work with sighted friends and family as a means of conveying their experience, much as people share posts through social media or photo albums.

"Photography is something that allows me to give shape to things playing, dancing and laughing in my mind," Loranca writes in the book. "I take pictures because I like it, it pleases me and I take pictures when I marvel at things."

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As a photographer, Miranda takes his blindness into the world as a creative asset.

Examples of Loranca's work include whimsical portraits of action figures in street and everyday scenes. He honed his technique while learning from the Mexico City-based foundation Ojos que Sienten (Eyes That Feel), which helps blind people express themselves through the art of photography with workshops and training.

Such photographs "provoke the blind to imagine the condition of the sighted, and they provoke the sighted to imagine the condition of the blind," writes Princeton Architectural Press, which published The Blind Photographer.

Blind photographer Evgen Bavcar says his images exist first in his mind. Photography began in darkness, Bavcar notes, from the early days of darkrooms to the projections of a camera obscura.

Born in Slovenia, Bavcar lost his sight at age 11, after a series of accidents. He studied philosophy in Paris and became the official photographer of the Month of Photography in Paris. He is widely published and has received several honorary degrees.

Many of Bavcar's photos have an ethereal quality and call to mind memory and reflection.

Another blind photographer featured in the book, the late Jashivi Osuna Aguilar, made a series of highly personal images of paper hearts being ripped apart and stitched back together. The work symbolized both her battle with Marfan syndrome (which damaged her heart) and her dissolving relationship with her husband.

Mexican artist Pedro Miranda works in a variety of media, including photography but also textiles, ceramics, sculpture, video, and music. In The Blind Photographer, he writes, "I feel just like any other artist and I think people who are blind photographers shouldn't include their disability as part of their professional title."

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Smithen's haunting pictures capture a fluid sense of movement, rhythm, and expression

Miranda's textured images often draw on Oaxacan legends and record poignant moments in daily life.

Echoing this theme, blind musician Stevie Wonder said of the photographers featured in the new book, "Visions are not seen purely by the eyes but through the spirit."

These photographers, he added, "break down barriers from both sides and show what can be achieved if you turn your back on the doubters and just follow your dreams."

The Blind Photographer, edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding, is available for purchase here.