Scene Unseen

As Ship of Theseus puts the spotlight on blind photography,here’s a look at how Anand Gandhi tackled the subject on screen and those who practise it in real life

Written by AMRUTA LAKHE | Chandigarh | Published:July 2, 2013 4:23 am

After writing the story of his movie Ship of Theseus,director Anand Gandhi visited Mahesh Ummrania,a visually impaired musician in Mumbai,to study photography at the city’s Beyond Sight Foundation. In the movie,the character Aaliya Kamal,a visually impaired photographer,undergoes a cornea transplant surgery and finds it difficult to adjust to her newfound sense of sight. Seated in Ummrania’s hostel room,Gandhi remembers reading out the story to him and feeling a great sense of relief when the former gave his appreciative nod.

Initially,Gandhi toyed with the idea of a blind hockey player as one of the three protagonists of the movie. But when his director of photography,Pankaj Kumar,told him about Evgen Bavcar,a blind photographer from Paris,Gandhi was sold on the idea. “It was a very intriguing story. I knew I was going to take it beyond the novelty of blind photographers and raise questions about the subjectivity and objectivity of the art,” says the filmmaker.

This demanded a lot of research. Gandhi,32,studied works of blind photographers from across the world,and had actor Aida El-Kashef,who plays the character of Aaliya Kamal,follow the direction of sound and movement while taking pictures. In the trailers of the movie,El-Kashef is shown responding to the flapping of bird wings or to the sound of a hammer being brought down,while pressing the shutter. “Photography by the visually impaired is a fascinating area. They have an exceptional sense of environment. I’ve noticed their work covers broken light — incoming light from a window cut by an obstacle,” says Gandhi. He also explains a technology they evolved during the movie that helps Aaliya run her finger over her computer screen,and detect areas of shadows and light.

In Mumbai,Partho Bhowmick introduced photography for the visually impaired in 2006 through his Beyond Sight Foundation in Thane. What started with a class of just one student,Ummrania,has yielded more than 500 students till now. Bhowmick explains that for the visually challenged,the technique for capturing a photo is based predominantly on touch,as the photographers can then place the object in the frame of their mind. Reacting to sound comes next. Bhowmick plans to help incorporate photography as a regular subject in schools for the visually impaired as well as start an annual art festival for them.

Ummrania loves capturing human emotions. Having lost his sight at the age of nine,he says it has become difficult for him to remember details of human faces. By clicking pictures,he feels he can recall faces and expressions. Ummrania,who now doesn’t step out without a camera,says,“There are a lot of gadgets that use the latest technology for the blind. These will help people like me shoot better but they’re not easily available yet,” he says.

The foundation collaborates with different institutes all over India to conduct workshops. These sensory workshops have been conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Alternative Photography in Goa,at the Poona School for the Blind Boys and Girls,and Xavier’s Resource Centre for Visually Challenged,Mumbai. Visually impaired photographers,along with Bhowmick,help the participants handle the point and shoot 35 mm or SLR cameras. When participants with normal eyesight attend the workshops,they are blindfolded.

The works of these photographers have travelled around the country. The exhibitions offer touch and feel pictures with Braille notes,visual aids and audio descriptions next to the pictures. Before Ship of Theseus,short films such as Light on the Dark Side by Geeta Singh,have touched upon the subject. “Films are a much popular medium to reach out to a large audience. A movie such as Ship of Theseus will help familiarise people with blind photography,” says Bhowmick.

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