The most striking thing for me was understanding that what they produce is not really a version of an image itself. It’s much more useful to think of what they do as creating a package of information intended to communicate some of the content of an image, to allow blind people to create a mental map. So, they start off with a photograph, and produce a drawing based on what it has been decided are the key elements, and present this along with quite a lot of written (Braille) information.
How it works
The technology that the RNIB use is similar to that we were shown at our first meeting; different areas on a piece of paper can be heat-treated and caused to raise, allowing bumps to appear that can be felt (image 1):
Whilst this is often used with maps and labelling, the same technology can be used to show simplified versions of images, like this Egyptian mask (image 2)
Image 3 shows a complete artwork simplified to get rid of background noise so that only certain elements can be felt. Then, different parts of the same image are explored further in the book in increasing detail (images 4,5,6,7), with different bits made ‘visible’ depending on what’s important. This might not necessarily be the most obvious things – in image 5, for example, you’ll notice that the damaged section of the cat has been made visible. Image 8 shows how specific you can be about what gets left out – here, all the leading in a stained glass window is shown except where it would interfere with understanding the image on the window (please note - this is actually a large-print document, hence the English characters rather than Braille).
I think the way in which this process affects the reading of an image can be a very significant aspect of this exhibition, as is the whole role of intention in photography and selecting which elements are important and the questions this raises about photography.
Andy and Marcus