Julia Fullerton-Batten’s Blind Project Beautifully Captures the Visually Impaired
Sight. It is everything for a photographer. We nitpick over which camera body or lens is the best tool for the job, but no lens or camera sensor has yet to come close to what the human eye is capable of.
What so many of us take for granted, fine art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten has chosen to focus on in her new project, “Blind”. Her subjects ranged from those who were born blind to those who went blind later in life. She spent a couple of days getting to know each subject before even snapping a picture. She also allowed her subjects to pick the location of the photo shoot. The resulting images are incredibly moving. They appear to be a heightened version of the world I see. It’s almost as if her photos are the way the world would be remembered by someone who lost their site later in life.
“From the time I wake up in the morning until my eyes close in sleep, my life is full of light and visual images. I see what is going on around me, I can watch my children grow, judge the personality and moods of people whom I meet, I can drive a car and above all, my sight is essential for my career as a photographer. How different my life would be if I was surrounded by dark, blurred scenes of mottled grey and colours. Sight is one of mankind’s five senses. What is it like to be blind, fully or partially? Is it worse to be blind from birth, or to be robbed of one’s sight later in life through illness or accident?
I think all of us, on occasion, stop to think how our life could be even better than it is now, but, sometimes the opposite, how it could be starkly different than how we live presently. It was on just such an occasion that I wondered what it would be like to be blind. How could I cope with losing my sight? How is it for those, who have never seen at all – for example, how do they dream without the background knowledge stored in their memory? I decided to investigate and try to portray the world of the blind sympathetically with my camera.
I met each of my models on several occasions before the shoot to hear their stories. I had already decided to rise to the challenge of portraying my blind models by asking them to choose a background against which they would like their portrait to be positioned. Later they ‘wrote’ their stories in their own words using speech recognition software and Braille keys on their computer keyboard and also explained their choice of background. For example, Richard rides a tandem through the countryside close to Farnham, Surrey; Diane rides a horse in Cornwall; whereas brothers Adam and David represented Great Britain at Goalball in the 2012 Paralympics; and Maryam has decided to move to live in New York!
Relating to my models was a very humbling experience. Their stories weighed me down with sorrow at their misfortune. But, at the same time it was a profoundly uplifting one. Without exception, my models are shining examples of how to continue living with joy and energy even under very difficult circumstances. One thing I realised is that there are many degrees of blindness, and each person is different. And that although they can’t see, their senses of touch, sound and smell are heightened in some form of compensation. I can only admire the courage and fortitude of my blind friends at how they handle their lives in such a positive way.”- Julia Fullerton-Batten
“My eye condition has lead to total blindness in my left eye and periods of complete sight loss from detached retinas but now have relatively good vision in the right. However it is only with a lifetime of maintenance and treatment that it will continue to survive.
I was diagnosed at the age of three with uveitis and secondary glaucoma. I was immediately to have lensectomy operations and then years spent controlling the pressure and protecting my optic nerve from the unpredictability of the disease. Unfortunately there is no known cause of the condition. I have a tube in the right eye which takes full control of the pressure. It was not available when I was first diagnosed. Surgical treatments have been the most beneficial and bought me up to ten years without any more. I am positive about the advances in medical science that my sight will never be lost again.
When asked what images and places came to mind of importance to me, my immediate thoughts where very simple ones. It’s the simple and most obvious things we miss when they’re gone and also those we take most for granted. An image I have as a child was the trees at the back of my parent’s large garden that the light used to shine through. That was an image of home for me. And the simplicity of light slipping through very tall trees could invoke such emotion was a sight that was devastating to be without but never really felt this until it was no longer there for me. I have been given a second chance with my sight and will take pride and pleasure in all these images.”
“I have a degenerative disease of the retina called Lebers Congenital Amorosis. It causes the light sensitive cells in my eyes to die over time. It is caused by a gene mutation passed down from my parents. There is currently no treatment, but I am talking to the Oxford Eye Hospital about taking part in their research to identify the gene through analysing blood samples. There is research being done to grow new retinas and I am hoping that this will one day restore my sight. I have not been able to see how I look compared to other girls and women, and so have always been very unsure about my looks, particularly as my mum has never been complimentary. I fantasised about being like a beautiful princess one day. I love dancing, so I talked to Julia about shooting a backdrop that was like a beautiful ballroom with glittering chandeliers where I could dance like a beautiful princess.”
Nala (by her mother)
“Nala’s left eye has had nerve damage since birth. She sees some shapes and light. She is sensitive to bright light in that eye. In particular we notice this with snow. We have regularly visited eye doctors but we have been told there is nothing that can be done to rectify the nerve damage. Nala’s right eye is short- sighted. She wears glasses for this eye and it enables her to have a normal life and she goes to a regular school and does well. Doctors have said she has learnt ways of coping with just one eye since birth, so with her glasses people rarely notice she has sight issues although during sports and physical education she can struggle with glasses and also with depth of field (ball games etc). We are very proud of Nala.
The background relates to her love of water and swimming. She loves to swim. She glides elegantly through water, wearing prescription goggles. It seems in water that she is much freer and more confident physically.”
“My eye condition is made up of Nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eyeballs, causing difficulty with focusing), and is said to also involve a bilateral form of cataract. My eyes also appear in a disfigured way. When I was a child 4 years of eye treatment were missed which did not help things. So I am clearly someone who believes that there is more to understand about my eye condition and questions to answer, which are yet to be concluded. Over several years the sort of treatment which has been focused on my eyes relate to reducing their pressure through the use of some eye drops. This was aimed at securing the sight that I have, and ensuring that my sight strength remains stable through low pressure readings. Although I have not really noticed the loss in vision from the sight which I already have and sometimes have questioned in my mind in the past the effectiveness of the treatment, it’s always great to be on the safe side. I truly believe that there are potential avenues for improvement to explore during the next few years and throughout my lifetime, and that is just one of the things which excites me in life.
My background relates to me because of my love for nature and appreciating the little things in life which can be taken for granted. Secondly when I am out amongst nature (e.g. when engaging with sport), immersing myself with God’s true creation of beauty really brings me lots of joy and happiness. I love nature’s interaction!”
Louie (by his mother)
“Louie has a rare life-threatening condition called Septo Optic Dysplasia alongside with multiple pituitary hormone deficiency. Louie is registered blind and is on life-long medications throughout the day and night to keep his body working which also include injections for his growth. Small things like common colds, tummy bugs, being made to jump from loud noises can make him very poorly as his body can’t cope and his medications need to be upped. Even if he is worried or stressed no matter how big or small, even the noise from fly’s buzzing around is enough to frighten Louie enough which could cause him to slip into a coma as his body does not make the stress hormone cortisol. Life with Louie is pretty different from that of his twin brother Aiden who is fully sighted with no health problems.
Even though life with Louie is challenging and we seem to always be walking on egg shells, we never stop him doing anything. If he wants to climb steep hills we don’t stand in his way (even though it’s pretty hard for me to watch).
Louie loves hills, running up and down them, riding up and down them on his scooter even lying down and rolling down them. Whatever he is doing with them he is a delight to watch and a true inspiration to us all.”
“My name is Adam, I’m 29, from London, registered severely visually impaired. I suffer from something called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has gradually affected my sight in many ways. Large patches of blind spots around my peripheral field cause “tunnel vision”, while blind spots in my central field make focusing on details difficult/impossible. I can’t make out many colours, for instance distinguish between various pastels or dark shades, and this is all dependent on there being good levels of light; in dim conditions such as night time or even a cloudy day, I’m virtually totally blind.
One of the toughest obstacles I have to deal with is people thinking I’m faking my blindness, or simply need to get a good pair of spectacles, and/or that I’m crazy or suffer mental difficulties. I asked Julia to picture me on a beach because I very much enjoy the beach. I love the sound of the waves, I love the sand between my toes. I like it if it’s sunny or rainy, and I love the sensation of being on the edge of a great expanse. Having grown up in the city of London, the beach is almost alien, surreal, and I find it very soothing.”
Adam and David
“Both David and I have Ocular Cutaneous Albinism. This leads us to have just below 10% vision with nystagmus (involuntary eye wobble), very pale skin and we burn very easily. We have both had the condition since birth but have both adapted to it as it is only what we know.
The background in the photograph relates to us because as a family we love to travel. Unable to sit in the sun, we have to find other things to do on holiday. A few years ago we decided to try scuba diving, and that has now become a family passion. When we are under the water (20m down) we are protected from the sun, thus can’t be burnt. Being underwater is a safe world away from the sun and somewhere where we can forget all about our eye condition. (Even though we may not see everything everybody else does underwater).”
Today what I would like to talk about is myself and how things have changed from the day I lost my sight. Many years ago, to be precise in September 1988, I opened a restaurant in partnership with a friend of mine. Even I always been short sight since I was 6 years old, I can tell than my life was perfectly normal. Unfortunately not longer after the opening, I had a little accident which caused the detachment of retina in my left eye. Despite several operations, it has not been possible to save the sight. Meanwhile I started to have problem with right eye, as a consequence of the weakness of the retina, but fortunately this time they managed to save part of the retina and kept me with some sight. Obviously since I have been registered blind in 1993 things changed. Naturally, I could not be physical active and work like before. Consequently, I have to organize myself and do many other things. But what I have found more difficult, at the beginning was to accept and face what was going to be my new future, especially for everything concerning my personal and private life. Personally, I think for myself as a person that doesn’t like to complain but always keep calm and always accept what life has to offer. Because of these I kept my family unaware of the hole situation and also they don’t want to worry them hopping that everything will have sorted out.
At present , my sight is extremely poor, the only thing that I can tell is the difference between day and night, without shapes and colours.
Considering where I was borne in Italy, the background chosen by Julia is the perfect one. The seaside is where I spent the first 23 years of my life before moving to London and it’s just about 10 minutes walking from my parents house, the perfect place for the summer as you can imagine, but also before and after the summer when the beaches are empty and only locals are around. Only then you can really appreciate the true nature of the seaside and enjoy the sound and the scent of it.”
“My sight was fine till I neared 50. But glaucoma can stalk you without much warning. So your eye aches a bit, feels a bit tight. Do you check it out? Not me. Not soon enough. By the time it’s spotted, one optic nerve has shrivelled to a shred, constantly straining after a glimmer of light, as cross-eyed as Ben Turpin (for the silent film buffs.)
But let’s be honest, cosmetics aside, one eye can do ninety percent of what two can do. It doesn’t affect most things. But I’m on guard for further attacks. And here they come. Aggressive glaucoma with complications. Infections that leave you looking through dense fog within half an hour; that need an injection directly into the eyeball. Operations to replace the lens and to free up the eye-ball that’s sticking to the socket like a toffee apple. (‘Bad genes’ cries the wonderful Mr. Watts, the consultant who steered a passage through my crises.)
Now I see through a keyhole, draped with a fine gauze or a thicker gauze, depending on the light. But I still see. With magnification I can read and write. That’s important. And it underlines the vast difference between seeing something and seeing nothing. If I had to adapt further, to complete darkness, I’m not sure if I’d cope.
Julia shot me against a wild landscape because that’s what I’ve always related to. Not the gentle midland farmland I come from but the Pennines, the Peaks, the Moors. Even now, I can walk to the edge of my village and scan the rim of the opposite hills, getting that sense of space, of distance. Consciously breathing it in. Drinking it in. In case it fades.”