Kristine Guerra 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Images from the ‘Mind’s Eye’ Abby Griffith has always wanted to make pictures. Every time she smelled flowers or heard the sound of flowing water, she felt the urge to capture them. She didn't believe it would ever be possible. Griffith is blind. “I was always wondering how to take pictures,” she said. “I want to take pictures of everything, but I don’t know how.” Griffith went blind at age 8, when she was living in a small town in Ethiopia. One day, while playing with her friends by the river, a snake spit venom in her eyes. Then, it was all black. Griffith, now 18, and her two younger brothers live in Vancouver; they were adopted by an American couple four years ago. She will never regain her eyesight. But she can make photographs. An after-school program at Washington State School for the Blind has taught Griffith and several other students how to capture images without seeing them. Lion Gary Scott, a longtime photographer, came up with the idea. Last summer, he started a six-week, handson photography class that gives blind and visually impaired students a chance to create photographic art by using their “mind’s eye.” “When a person is blind, they rely on their hands, their intuitive sense of orientation, hearing and other senses that are working on a greater skill level than what we have,” Scott said. “I communicate with them using those other senses.” Scott's technique is pretty straightforward. In Griffith's case, he describes the environment in front of her. It can be a tree, a rock, leaves, a chair or a person. Griffith tells Scott what she wants to capture. She uses her available senses– touch, smell, hearing–to get an idea of what's in front of her. She decides what angle and perspective she wants. Scott then places her behind the camera's viewfinder. The result, Scott said, is an “interpretive representation.” “I’m just the conduit. I let them take the pictures,” Scott said. “We're extracting visuals from their limited or nonvisual world. They have visuals in their minds, but they just don't know how to express them.” Scott uses a slightly different approach with students who are partially blind, like 15-year-old Heather Simmons. He holds the camera up to their eyes, assists them in operating it and gives suggestions. Born with underdeveloped eyesight, Simmons is blind in her right eye and cannot fully see through her left eye. But she can now take photos on her own. “This class made me be more creative and take more pictures and explore the world,” Simmons said. Simmons’ mother, Mary Burdick, who attended classes with her daughter, found watching the students in action inspiring. “Anyone can take pictures," Burdick said. “It doesn't matter how well you can see.” The class is offered for free to the school's students. All the equipment and supplies are donated by the Vancouver Lions Club (Scott’s club) and the Washington State School for the Blind Foundation. The first batch of photography students finished the class in July. Their work is now on display at the Casey Eye Institute on the Oregon Health & Science University campus. Scott, who volunteers his time to teach the class, said he simply wants to give back. “There's a point in your life when you want to give back to society,” said Scott, who's legally blind in his right eye. “I get nothing out of this other than the satisfaction of helping the kids express themselves.” On Tuesday, the last day of the class this fall, Scott's 12 students picked their favorite photo and talked about what the class meant to them. For Griffith and Simmons, the class gave them a powerful sense of accomplishment. “I thought before only sighted people can take pictures," Griffith said. "I'm proud because blind people can take pictures, too.” The next class starts in the summer. Griffith said she'll keep at it until she can make a picture by herself. “I want to show my mother what I did.” ©2011 All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission by The Oregonian.
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