Never Seen: The Still Life Photography Workshop

Photo of a white rose, a lemon and a sprig of rosemary

Last week I told you how I became involved in the Never Seen blind photography project, led by professional photographer Karren Visser that was funded by British Council Sub-Saharan Africa Arts. Today I’m going to tell you what happened next.

The first phase of the Never seen project was a still life photography workshop that was held on Zoom.

The project participants, Nurjawaan, Charlie and Grant, were asked to find three items drawn from nature and have them with them when they logged on to the call. These were going to be used by each person to create a still life arrangement that they would photograph.

It may sound counter intuitive since photography is usually considered to be a visual medium, but the workshop was done almost entirely on Audio. The participants had no sighted assistance, and Karren was able to describe the process of how to set up their still life, how to make the best use of the natural light that was available, and then to take the photograph simply using her voice.

I especially found Karren’s advice of how the participants could use their bodies as a human tripod was fascinating. This was a way that they could orientate themselves to the objects they would be photographing. Her instruction on how to use their hands to frame the image was elegant in its simplicity.

One thing I especially enjoyed about Karren’s way of working was how she had each of the participants identify where they had the strongest natural light to illuminate their objects, bearing in mind they could not depend on sight. Grant especially proved sensitive to the ability to sense the impact of the natural light through the sense of touch, by identifying where he could feel increased heat. As a result his still life images had an interesting play of light and shadow that created greater depths in his images. If you watch the video with his image and listen to his description of how he visualised his objects, you’ll see what I mean.

Each of the participants brought something different to the workshop, not only in what they chose to photograph, but in the way they approached the task and interpreted the activity. Having the opportunity of hearing each of them verbalise their thinking as they set up, photographed and then debrief the experience helped me learn about their individuality and how I might be called on to work with them in the later stages of the project. But more about that in the next articles.

In the meantime, you can find out more about each of their experiences and see their images in the Never Seen tab of Karren’s website. Here’s the link, to make it easy for you to access the short videos about this phase of the project.

Next time I’ll be chatting about the main workshop, which took place out in nature at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, along with conservationist and botanist, Rupert Koopman. But more on that next time…

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