Over the last few months, Sense has been working on a very exciting project with PhotoVoice, the charity specialising in making photography accessible and whose vision is for a world in which no one is denied the opportunity to speak out and be heard. The workshops delivered by PhotoVoice explored how to make photography accessible for people with sensory impairments and culminated in a public exhibition for Deafblind Awareness Week 2015.
John Kirkham, the assistant day services manager at Sense’s TouchBase South East centre in Barnet, explains why the project was so valuable and enjoyable and what everyone got out of trying photography in a new way.
The PhotoVoice Project was something new for us all at TouchBase South East; the majority of the people we support had never touched a camera and staff themselves had never supported them to try photography.
Being a very new concept didn’t matter once we met Becky Warnock from PhotoVoice who came and showed us some amazing techniques and helped train staff around thinking about how best to support someone with a sensory impairment to try photography. From this point we knew it was going to be a fascinating and, most importantly, an accessible project!
Whenever I got to visit the sessions I would walk in to find everyone in the room smiling, laughing and always in the middle of taking some great photos. The feedback after every session was also so positive that it was clear that the sessions were a huge success from the start.
Becky was instrumental in this success as she was skilled in helping the photographers think in new about taking photos and really pushed everyone within the group to develop their own style and ways of working. She also did some amazing research prior to the initial sessions around the group’s support needs. This lead to some really interesting switches; my favourite being the addition of a ‘bite switch’ which enabled a young man with limited movement in his limbs to choose when to take a picture by biting down to release the camera shutter. Truly an innovative way to access photography!
The sessions were tailored to the groups and everyone brought something different and unique to the sessions. For some photographers it was another way to connect to their peers, for others it was a way of expressing their hopes and dreams through a media that they could understand and access.
The exhibition was a great end to the project with the photographers choosing their favourite images to represent their work. More than 50 people came to view the work curated by our recently discovered stars! The photographers help to set up the exhibition itself and were on hand to conduct guided tours around the work to show off and explain their work, why it was important to them and how it made them feel. The feedback from all the visitors was so amazingly positive that we even had people offering to buy images!
But by far the best outcome of the day was the enjoyment, sense of achievement and self-esteem written all over the faces of the photographers which was mirrored almost exactly by the supporting staff who were also so proud of this work.
This project was made possible by the wonderful, responsive and carefully planned work of PhotoVoice and Becky Warnock in particular who was absolutely amazing the whole way through the project. Thanks for making this project possible and for bringing a new form of communication, enjoyment and skill to those we support – what a great project!
The photos will go on permanent display at TouchBase South East in Barnet and a link of the online gallery will go up soon. Watch this space for more photography from Sense!