Seeing Beyond Sight
By Tony Deifell (KNFP 16)
Chronicle Books, 2007, 152 pages, $24.95
Seeing Beyond Sight In the early ’90s, photographer Tony Deifell was inspired to try to teach photography to blind students from a story about a blind photographer on public radio. After convincing a skeptical administrator, he volunteered his time in an after-school program with students at Governor Morehead School in South Carolina. Providing each with a point-and-shoot camera and some tips on composition, making sure the sun was behind them, holding the camera level, not cutting off anyone’s head, he sent the students out to take pictures.
When the developed photographs came back, Tony admits he was disappointed. Accustomed to photographs looking a certain way, he thought he was viewing missed opportunities in the out-of-focus images, unrecognizable subject matter, and, of course, portraits of people with heads cut off.
But then Tony discovered that one young woman’s photographs of sidewalk cracks, which seemed a mistake, was actually intended to capture a source of inconvenience to her on campus. Leuwyanda’s white cane was continually getting stuck in the unlevel cracks, causing her difficulty. She wanted to document the problem for the superintendent. Suddenly, Tony began to see the photos in a new way. ”As soon as I understood the hidden meaning behind Leuwynda’s sidewalk pictures, everything looked different,” writes Tony. ”All the images became unfamiliar, as if they were puzzle pieces that held a secret about how to see a much larger picture.”
The photography class soon became a mainstay of the school’s literacy curriculum, with students using their cameras to record information for school assignments, or as an outlet for self-expression.
Tony has compiled a number of the students’ photographs and narratives in Seeing Beyond Sight to share with sighted audiences the different ways blind youth perceive their world. In studying the photographs, readers must adjust their own perceptions to ”see” in a new way. The book is a fascinating study of the different ways individuals perceive the world around them, and serves to remind readers how ”sight can get in the way of seeing.”
For more information or to purchase the book, visit: www.seeingbeyondsight.org.