With each post that we write about Julia Fullerton-Batten her portfolio of work seems to have grown to accommodate the latest of her brilliant projects, and in what seems to be a never-ending string of stunning concepts her latest series Blind is perhaps the most challenging of all. Photographing a series of blind models against their choice of background, the photographer challenges the limitations of a medium which relies on vision, and causes the viewer to question their own notion of normality.
Fresh from celebrating her nomination for the Taylor Wessing photography prize, we caught up with the photographer to find out what she learned from shooting the Blind series, and the research which went into it…
What made you decide to make the Blind series?
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? What’s more, my father-in-law is going more and more blind each time I visit him. I am conscious how much his focus is changing; he used to look at me, but now he practically sees through me.
How did you relate to your models?
I met each of my models on several occasions before the shoot to hear their stories. It was interesting visiting them in their homes. They would let me in, and the room would be very dark, but they would be aware to switch the light on for me. They were all very welcoming, and when I interviewed them they were very open.
How did you go about selecting the backgrounds for the photographs?
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 explained their choice of background. For example, Richard rides a tandem through the countryside close to Farnham, Surrey, and 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.
How do you feel about the series, and the people you shot for it, when you look at it now?
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.
Has making this series changed the way you go about taking photographs?
Life is precious, and we should all make the most of it. I meet so many photographers who lose their confidence to believe in themselves or their ideas. They end up doing nothing. We all need to make the most of what has been given to us.