Seeing in Isolation

Karren Visser and SVI Members

“In a very short space of time, blind and partially sighted Sandwell Visually Impaired members overcame the hurdles of working virtually and using technology to do audio recordings, photograph even, and share images from their family albums. I am deeply grateful to all of the participants for their time and faith in what I was trying to do.”  Karren Visser, September 2020

Multistory is collaborating with photographer Karren Visser and Sandwell Visually Impaired (SVI) members on a project called ‘Seeing in Isolation’ which aims to challenge traditional ways of seeing. The research and development phase started in July 2019, with Karren working with Sandwell College students with the support of SVI members. Just as we were moving to the next phase and creative workshops were due to start with community groups, to be led by Karren and visually impaired creative practitioners, we were plunged into lockdown and the project, in its current form, was put on hold.

As Karren was unable to visit and photograph individuals and hear their stories in person, we decided to work over Zoom and on the phone and this has led to the main outcome of the project changing from a multi-media exhibition to a series of digital stories which will be presented online. Each person is co-producing their digital story and working with us to choose some of their experiences to share through audio and photographs and then we’ll write and record the script together. The digital stories will be presented online in February 2021, along with a series of public events. Karren speaks of the process of gathering stories and how her role has gone beyond that of a photographer.

“In this instance, I was not an impartial listener, gathering stories from the lives of others. I was, and am, immersed. What this experience has taught me is ‘to cry silently’. There were times I heard of situations and personal experiences that I found deeply moving and, in many cases, I saw my younger, present and future self. In an attempt to protect the person who was so generously sharing their stories from my own fears, I would sit quietly till the feeling passed. Nothing can prepare you for the inevitable and, during lockdown, I lost more sight.

Sandra Troth, Development Worker from SVI says:
“With the onset of Covid and the subsequent lockdown, it was amazing that the project carried on.  Photography is traditionally an art that blind and visually impaired people feel isn’t for them…Then add lockdown and the odds start to look insurmountable.  There’s been challenges along the way that’s for sure, but talented and artistic people, creative minds, determination and resilience have worked together to make the project something new, real and very exciting.  Its given our members involved a real sense of self-worth, to know they have really been involved in something exciting that challenges people’s understanding of sight loss – you don’t need sight to have true vision, that comes from within.  We are looking forward to the final works and are thrilled that we have been part of this evolving project.”

Read more on how this project has been adapted for lockdown in our latest blog. 

The digital stories will be launched on Thursday 6 May 2021, 2pm to 3.15pm and Saturday 8 May 2021, 5pm to 6.15pm via Zoom and will subsequently be available on Multistory’s website.