A special perspective – photography and retinitis pigmentosa

This post is an edited version of an article I wrote which was  featured in the Warwickshire Vision magazine for December 2015 

Photography has been in my life from very early on. When I was 5 years old my mum bought me my first camera and photo album. Both my parents are keen photographers and had SLR cameras which they would alwaysplay around when they travel.

I believe this is how I developed an interest for photography. My main interest always was capturing the moment, not so much understanding how cameras worked technically.

This interest gradually started to blossom into full passion when I owned my first digital camera. It was great to see the results of my experiments straight away, but it was when I discovered the macro option on a mobile phone camera that my word shifted.

I started taking close up photos of flowers as I walked around Warwick town and loved it. Capturing those moments reminded me I could appreciate the small beautiful things in life & helped me cope with the stress of daily life. I would often share these images with others and get very nice reactions, it feels like I was making their day better.

Yellow flowers - Septermber 2015
Yellow flowers – Septermber 2015

This is no small feat as I suffer from a mild case of Retinitis Pigmentosa a condition that deteriorates my peripheral vision. In a way having this condition made my ability to notice and capture images even more significant.

Photography has become a form of art therapy for me. It has become a way of transforming the way I perceive living with a progressive visual impairment.

The need of better means to capture images naturally drove me to improve the cameras I was using. So I went from smart phones to a Nikon Coolpix Compact and to my current camera, a Cannon G12. I have recently upgraded to a Nikon D3100, my first ever DSLR!

Photography subjects have also evolved from flower macros to trees, landscape, urban and my latest favourite gig photography.

In the journey to expand my photographic passion I’ve also been able to meet wonderful fellow amateurs. Five years ago I collaborated in organising two editions of the 4amproject in Warwickshire. A project that captures life at 4am in the morning. The concept fascinated me as I’ve always been a night owl.

4am project - Shakespeare Birthplace - November 2011
4am project – Shakespeare Birthplace – November 2011

No doubt these two projects presented challenges due to night blindness related to RP. But I was still able to capture great images. Each edition brought together 16 to 18 other amateur photographers in a local historical site to which we were given free access of which I was the only one with a visual impairment.

In 2013 I collaborated with a good friend of mine in promoting local musicians through a project called Plug and Amp. This involved going to gigs around Warwickshire which she would review and promote through a blog and social media, occasionally using my photography as part of it.

More than once we found ourselves in venues with dim light which can be a challenge. But I won’t let my night vision get in the way for my passion for music. As a result my photography has been published in two local newspapers!

Rosetta Fire - July 2015
Rosetta Fire – July 2015

I feel this whole process has highlighted the importance of using creativity as an outlet to cope with vision loss, and most importantly not to succumb to my own internal dialogue of ‘I can’t do this because of my visual impairment”.

Breaking those barriers is key to maintaining a positive attitude which is absolutely key in facing life challenges.

Over the last year sight loss has started compromising my central vision too.  I have recently been registered legally blind. In the beginning I feared this would stop me from doing photography, but as I adjust to the new changes in my sight so do my techniques and subjects. I am also discovering new ways to edit photography and experiment with digital modifications.

I can’t see detail as well as I used to which means the camera is becoming my eyes.  I have learned how to frame scenes and what looks good, but I keep being surprised by what I can capture with the lenses once it is magnified at the big monitor back home.

For a long time I thought I was one of the few visually impaired photographers.  This is until I started doing more research and found hundreds of blind and visually impaired photographers out there.  The work of a few of them can be seen in the Blind Photographers Flickr group.

A few well known blind and visually impaired photographers around the world are Peter Ecker and Tammy Ruggles in the US, Andrew Follows in Australia.

In India Blind with a camera runs courses for blind and visually impaired photographers, Photovoice  has been doing the same in the UK for several years.

On a personal level being able to produce and share images gives me a great sense of achievement, it is also way to communicate my perception of the world with others and  challenge misconception about blindness and visual impairment.  I intend to continue doing photography for as long as I can.

You can see more of my work on 500px, Instagram and Flickr.

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