At the National Association for the Blind (NAB), a young boy urged me to go through his social media page. A student of class 11 or 12, the boy eagerly scrolled through his smartphone to show quite a number of photographs of monuments, birthday parties and those of friends and family. All the photos were clicked and uploaded on social media by the boy himself, who is visually impaired. Further into the conversation, he revealed that he also composes songs, raps, and runs his own YouTube page.
On a Sunday morning, Express Parenting had reached the institution to meet some visually challenged girls and boys, of class 8-12, who have been learning the art of photography from award-winning fashion photographer Richa Maheshwari. Flaunting their prowess, the kids asked some of us to pose, tell them our exact location, after which they adjusted their camera accordingly with some help from Maheshwari, and kept clicking photos and selfies too. And one wouldn’t have been able to tell they were clicked by visually disabled children unless one witnessed it firsthand.
The kids love their guru of photography and the feeling seems mutual. “I have been associated with NAB for a couple of years. The kids are really inspiring, in the way they love life. Their positivity moves me every time I meet them. Initially, they kept asking me about my photo shoots and were in awe of the glamour attached to it. I always wanted to do something for them and the best way to do that was to teach them photography,” Maheshwari told Express Parenting.
How social media inspired photography
Most of the kids are very active on social media and they love to upload their pictures on online platforms. They have their own Facebook and Instagram pages like every other teenager. The feeling of sharing moments captured in self-created frames and the instant reaction on the photos excite them. And their parents and friends are equally enthusiastic and extremely supportive, the children said. After all, the virtual world is among those few spaces that can blur differences between people, in this case, the difference in physical (dis)ability. Initially, these kids clicked pictures only on their mobile phone but they were eager to learn more. And the attraction of social media is what marked their journey from the mobile phone to the camera.
How to click
For a layman, to comprehend how visually-challenged people click photographs, an art that has much to do with one’s visual perception, is difficult and one has to actually see them do it to understand. The kids at NAB operate the regular, digital, point-and-shoot cameras, which they use with utmost ease. “All the cameras used by these kids are point-and-shoot cameras so that they don’t have to go through the whole process of setting up things manually. The kids picked up the art very fast. Of course, you cannot instill the idea of a frame in every kid–it is a personal sense of aesthetics–but I taught them the basics of photography,” Maheshwari said.
Besides Maheshwari’s guidance, the children are also assisted by mobile apps and softwares like Screen Reader, which help them monitor the frame, distance of the object, colour or the amount of light while clicking a photo. After clicking a photo, they also edit it on a regular computer and upload it on their Facebook or Instagram page. Of course, they have a verbal software guide that helps them in the process but their speed is no less than any sighted individual. “These kids have a very vivid imagination of things in the world and an amazing sixth sense. They have an understanding of colours, of night and day. They have their own set of visual vocabulary. They are technologically very sound,” expressed the proud teacher.
‘Photography is the best tool of expression’
Children, as young as seven or eight years old, can start learning photography, as long as they can handle the weight of the camera and understand instructions, said Maheshwari.
“A lot of children in their growing up years are not able to effectively communicate much of their feelings and thoughts. Photography is the best tool to express oneself. It’s the best tool for expressing ideas and imagination. Photography is the eye through which kids can translate their imagination into something tangible,” asserted Maheshwari.
Maheshwari also talked about how photography has made the visually-challenged kids even more confident. “I have seen their confidence rising along with their hunger to learn more,” she expressed. “If you want to pursue an art form seriously, you will have to put your heart and soul in it. As for these visually impaired children, I have seen them putting in double the effort. They take an entire day to do one assignment and it only speaks of their dedication and level of creativity,” she added.
For now, the kids are busy preparing for their upcoming annual programme. They are busy choreographing, directing and practising plays and dance performances. As we were leaving NAB, we saw one of the girls hurry back to the principal to decide which costume to wear for the performances.