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Blind photographers break barriers with new exhibition in Toronto

05/19/2015 06:00 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT
How would you take a photograph if you couldn't see?

That's the question asked by a new exhibition called The Mind's Eye, currently on view at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Centre in Toronto.

The installation, which is part of the city-wide Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, challenges misconceptions about blindness and vision.

"A lot of people have a misconception that people who are blind or partially sighted live in complete darkness all the time," said CNIB spokesperson Suzanne van den Broek. "In fact that's completely not true."

Unstoppable passion

One of the five photographers in the show is Nanaimo, B.C.'s Rose Kamma Sarkany.

As a teenager, she was diagnosed with Usher's Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which causes deafblindness, a substantial degree of loss in sight and hearing.

Now 50, she has only 10 per cent of her vision remaining and could eventually lose that, but she hasn't let it slow her down. She's a marathon runner and painter, as well as a passionate photographer.  

"With me, it's like with the view finder, that limited view through the camera is what I see," Sarkany told CBC News.

"So in my case it's a good hobby to have."

Sarkany admits that people are surprised when they hear she's a photographer. She credits the advent of digital photography with allowing her to take many pictures to get one good one.

'A way for me to see'

Dylan Johnson was born blind with congenital glaucoma, but thanks to various surgeries he now has partial vision, although he's still categorized as legally blind. 

He took up photography a few years ago as a hobby.

"Photography has always been a way for me to see in the way that I never actually could growing up," said Johnson, who makes part of his living as a professional portrait photographer in Ottawa. 

While his website is clear about his situation, when meeting prospective clients he hopes the quality of the work speaks for itself.

"It's not the first thing I lead with because I'd probably scare a few people away if I tell them I am a legally blind photographer, contact me," he said.

Johnson said that he likely prepares far more than a photographer with normal sight since he knows he must pay greater attention to every detail.

As for the exhibition, both photographers are excited that it will bring their work to a wider audience. 

"I hope that people look beyond our disabilities and just see us as photographers," Sarakany said. "We're definitely capable of taking pictures and being creative."

The Mind's Eye runs through May 22 at the CNIB Centre in downtown Toronto.

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