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Blind Photographer Paints With Light, Creating Stunning Images

Her photos are modeled after walks through the park or moments on the street that she experiences through sound and smell

Timothy O’Brien, who took this photo, is a legally blind photographer. Photo: Flickr user Oberazzi

What do photographs made by blind people look like? They’re more beautiful than you might think. The New York Times has a slideshow of Sonia Soberats photographs. Soberats’s story is a tragic one:

Until 1986, Ms. Soberats was like many single immigrant mothers — living in Queens, working two jobs and watching her two children grow into flourishing adults. Life began to crumble, though, when ovarian cancer was diagnosed for her only daughter. Two years later, the family received more bad news: her only son had Hodgkin’s disease. He died in 1991, and three years later, so did Ms. Soberats’s daughter.

In between those deaths, Ms. Soberats, who had a history of glaucoma, lost her eyesight. First the right eye went dark, then about six months later, the left.

Afterwards, Soberats sought support in art classes and photography. Her images are made in a studio, with the help of assistants and models, but they are modeled after walks through the park or moments on the street that she experiences through sound and smell. Her assistants help arrange the scene, and then something kind of extraordinary happens. The New York Times again:

Ms. Soberats then asks her assistant to open the shutter, and using various light sources, including flashlights and Christmas lights, she darts about the frame like Tinkerbell, illuminating details within the image. The shutter remains open anywhere from two minutes to an hour.

“You go into the picture and you forget what is around you and that you’re blind,” she said. “Our mind is vast. You can go over and over everything and obtain all the information you need.”

See the beautiful images that result here.

Soberats isn’t the first blind photographer out there. Others have used photography to explore the world around them. Soberats works with the Seeing With Photography Collective, which includes sighted and visually impaired photographers, and there’s a Flickr group for blind photographers. In 2009, the California Museum of Photography put on a show called “Sight Unseen” consisting of work done only by blind photographers. Time writes:

“The whole trajectory of modern art for the last 100 years has been toward the concept of mental construction, and blind photography comes from that place,” says the show’s “sighted” curator Douglas McCulloh, himself a photographer. “They’re creating that image in their head first — really elaborate, fully realized visions — and then bringing some version of that vision into the world for the rest of us to see.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The History of Color Photography
Tasteful Photography

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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