Never Seen: Developing the Digital Stories

People looking at plants

First, an apology for my long silence. Since I last posted I’ve been in hospital twice and have had to focus on my health. Hopefully, all is now sorted out and I can get back to everything I’ve been putting aside.

When we last spoke, I told you about the amazing experience we had during a sensory tour of nature at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with renowned botanist Rupert Koopman. Up to this point, my role on the Never Seen project had been mostly assisting with the planning and being Karren’s hands and feet in Cape Town, under her guidance from the UK. But, this was where my skills as an artist in my own right began to be of value to the team.

My role was to work with the participants, Nurjawaan, Charlie and Grant, to help them define the message they wanted to share in their short digital stories, craft their thoughts and words into a story that would be compelling to those who engaged with it, and fitted with the images they had taken on the Kirstenbosch visit. The overall aim was to give the viewers a sense of the personality of each of the participants and a taste of what life is like for a young blind person living in Cape Town.

As you can imagine, this drew on my skills as a writer and a speaker, and my background as a coach and mentor. Which meant I was firmly in my happy space!

I decided to work with Grant first. He and I chatted about the basic message he wanted to share with the world – about how he relates to nature now that he is blind, and how his blindness has made him appreciate the power of nature in his work as an aromatherapist. A few days after we spoke, Grant sent me a script, which we worked with to draw out certain elements of his story and the visuals he wanted to include. His story is personal, nostalgic and educational and his ability to recreate his images in words is powerfully evocative. As Grant began the process of recording his audio track, I moved on to working with Nurjawaan.

When asked what she wanted to share in her digital story, Nurjawaan said she hoped to show both blind and sighted people how she, as a blind person, could engage with nature independently. Nurjawaan’s bright personality shone through her content as she spoke about the importance that her other senses play in helping her visualise her surroundings. Each image she chose to share brought with it a memory or quick story that she wove together into a whole, finishing up with a direct reference to how she explains the techniques she uses to her sighted colleagues and friends and how important her senses are to the way she navigates through the world.

Charlie’s story took us in a totally different direction and was complicated by tight deadlines due to his work and life situations. Rather than providing me with a script ahead of time, Charlie decided to work directly onto audio and then for us to decide how best to structure the various elements of his story. The idea he had in mind was to show two different sides of Cape Town – on the one hand, what he experiences in his home environment in and around Khayelitsha, and on the other hand, the peace and tranquility of nature as experienced in Kirstenbosch. My most vivid memory of working with Charlie’s story was feeling increasingly stressed as our deadline approached and waiting, phone in hand, to receive his final audio clip which brought the story together. Thankfully, Charlie pulled out all the stops and we got everything done in time. But it was close!

Meanwhile, as we gathered all the information, Karren, Elizabeth and Wojciech were working hard putting everything together into the beautiful digital stories that were the final product of the project. Elizabeth worked tirelessly to create transcriptions of the audio tracks and check them against the spoken words. Karren and Wojciech were responsible for putting everything together and packaging the videos to form a polished, professional product.

And, here they all are. I’ll leave it to you to discover how each of the participants brought their own story to life. Each video is about five minutes so I’d encourage you to watch them all to compare the different approaches.

As we finished off this part of the project, we were delighted to be asked to put in a proposal for additional funding to help us share the results of Never Seen, which is where we’re going to go next.

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