My world in Photography: By legally blind photographer Andrew Follows
Nikon photographer Andrew Follows suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative ocular disease that renders him legally blind and reliant on his guide dog Eamon. This is his inspirational story in his words…
Andrew and Eamon
I have always been into photography as it documents my world around me, which I cannot see on a day-to-day basis.
Did I say I can’t see?
Well yes I did. I am a legally blind photographer with a great eye for capturing images in my surroundings.
My eyesight condition is called Retinitis Pigmentosa. I have no sight in my right eye and tunnel vision in my left eye, which is getting smaller. To put it into perspective, I can see, clearly, up to 2-3 meters when a normal person’s vision is around 70 metres. For my day-to-day life it is not the best, so I have a guide dog (Eamon) who keeps me safe when I am out and about. The last thing you want to see is a photographer going over the cliff or falling into a dam. Not a good look but it would be funny to see :-).
My life has always been a challenge for me but now I have turned it around and I am currently challenging the visual population with my photography.
I guess my photography is not that special to the average person, but when they see it hanging in galleries and then they find out that a blind photographer shot the work, the motion of thought goes into overdrive and the question is asked, how the hell did he do that?
I had never completed any professional courses in this field until a very good friend of mine was watching me take photos at a car show in Melbourne. As you can imagine I was getting some funny looks, taking photos and having Eamon, my guide dog in the other hand.
When we got home I viewed the day’s images through my TV. My mate then understood why I take photos. I was talking to him about the photos, what was in them, the colours, and the shapes. My eyes can’t see the colours and shapes clearly but with the camera, I can see all, as if it was with my own eyes.
This was back in 2008. Around this time I heard of Martin Bonnici, who runs Photography Made Easy; digital photography workshops that show you how to get the most out of your digital camera.
I ended up working with Martin for 8 months and through his guidance and care, he opened a whole new world for me in digital photography. Through his networks I had my very first photographic exhibition in Melbourne, My Eye My Melbourne, which ran for 3 weeks. It was a great success and I was totally blown away by it all.
As a result of the success of the exhibition, I was inspired to see what I could do on my own and in 2009 I put together two more exhibitions. The first was held in Narbethong, called Journey of Changes and the second in Box Hill, called Reflections.
The Narbethong exhibition comprised photographs of the area before and after the terrible bush fires the area experienced. The exhibition was a fundraiser for the Narbethong CFA, where I raised $10,000 for the CFA. For a 3-day exhibition we had over 400 people visiting from across Victoria. It also helped other businesses in the area which was truly an outcome I never anticipated. It was magic.
Box Hill was so different and I was still on a high after Narbethong. It truly brought me back down to earth, but my exhibitions were now starting to develop a theme and genre, and taking shape in my work.
I have also been honoured to be a member of an international art group called Mirca Art. Through this I have been deeply honoured to have two of my images published in two international art books: Freedom and Art and Planet Earth.
There is so much I can’t see with my sight, but via photography and the help of the digital age, I can see the reflections, the brilliance of city lights or the landscapes of the countryside. My world has opened up in ways I never imagined.
And without me knowing it, I was starting to photograph the things that people with normal vision can see every day but don’t always seem to notice. Now who’s the blind one?
I have taken a strong interest in water reflections and night photography, and this has become my main specialisation.
With my income on a blind pension, it was hard to get the good gear I needed to further progress my photography.
But late last year I received some funding, through Apex Victoria, to get a new camera. It was time to move up to a DSLR. This was really hard since I didn’t know what was good or what to get. So with a lot of research and looking into what I wanted my camera to do for me, I went with the Nikon D90, and upgraded to a VR 70×300.
I was set, but I still needed to upgrade my computer. My MacBook Pro had become old and slow. With the help of more funding, I now have a wonderful 27 inch iMac. Now I am ready to steam forward and see the world.
Workshops for the Blind
I am really looking forward to my future in photography because next year, I will be running 6 week digital photography workshops for the blind, with assistance from Vision Australia. The highlight of the workshops will be a community exhibition to show off the participants’ works.
The aim for me is to share what I have gained through photography, and to pay it forward to those who like photography but don’t have a starting point.
One of my other exciting projects I am working on is an international exhibition. In September 2012 I would like to have an exhibition in either London or Brighton, in the UK.
The reason I chose the UK is that back in January, Prince William visited the bush fire regions of Victoria. After his visit, I sent him my Narbethong exhibition book with a cover letter. To my amazement, I received a sensational letter back from him, which gave me the idea to go to the UK and see what happens.
Blind photography is huge in the UK and Europe. It is still new in Australia and I would like to show that we can do it down here as well. It will also enable me to network overseas, have fun and explore the UK with Eamon.
To undertake this great adventure, I will be looking for sponsorship, networking and support to make my UK dream trip come true.
Another project I am involved in is a documentary on my blindness, what I do in the community and of course the journey through my photography. The documentary will be shown locally and Internationally in 2012, which will be a great lead up to the UK exhibition.
In many ways, I am setting a benchmark in Australia for vision-impaired people, proving that you don’t need sight to be a visual artist.
I have never been a person to sit on my hands and wait for the world to come to me, as it will never happen. Getting out there, enjoying what you do, ensuring at the same time to have fun, going with the flow and hopefully, making some money so life can be that little bit kinder is all part of my photography and living, as with so many photographers.
Life is truly a venture in discovery; just as in photography you never know what the next image will bring you.
I have created a blog so you can follow my journey of discovery in the world of photography.
Best to you all and keep snapping away.
Andrew Follows and Eamon…