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New exhibit of photography by blind artists redefines sight and ability

News release details

Breakthrough technology enabling blind to "see" artwork also showcased 

A major exhibition of work by some of the world's most accomplished blind photographers opens this weekend at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists explores how the blind can often see in ways that the sighted cannot. The show, which runs from February 20 to September 18, is being presented by the Museum to help mark the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sight Unseen at the CMHR is also the first museum exhibition in the world to showcase three-dimensional, tactile imaging technology developed by 3DPhotoWorks in New York as a breakthrough for people with vision loss – allowing them to "see" photographs and fine art with their fingertips. The new process, based on research into the concept of neuroplasticity, encourages the brain to use tactile information as if it came from the eyes, creating a mental picture of images. Touch-activated sensors embedded in the prints also provide audio information.

"Visitors to this remarkable exhibition will experience reality through the lens of people who are blind or vision-impaired – and be amazed by what they see or feel," said John Young, CMHR president and CEO. "Sight Unseen challenges our assumptions about people with disabilities. And it shows how freedom of expression enhances our shared humanity as creative and curious individuals."

Interactive stations allow sighted and blind visitors to experiment with voice-assisted photography and create raised ink drawings. Throughout upcoming months, related public programming will provoke thought and discussion about disability rights through lectures, performances and special events.

The main part of the exhibition features photographs by artists from around the world with varying degrees of vision loss, who use different technologies and creative methods to express what they see. Their stories are diverse and often astonishing. Evgen Bavcar lost his sight as a child in Slovenia from two separate accidents: a tree branch damaged one eye and a mine detonator claimed the other. Henry Butler is a world-class jazz musician from New Orleans who uses audio cues to compose his photographs. Pete Eckert "paints" with moving light to illuminate subjects in a dark room. Read more about the artists.

The Museum has had some of their photographs turned into innovative, 3D images by former LIFE magazine photographer John Olson, the co-founder of 3DPhotoWorks. His company has devoted seven years to the development of this exciting new technology, with the goal of making art and photography available to blind people at every museum, science center and institution – starting with the CMHR.

"This technology allows the blind to experience images directly, without depending on another person's interpretation," Olson said today at a media preview of the exhibition in the CMHR's Level 1 Gallery. "The words most frequently used by blind people when they describe this experience are 'freedom', 'independence' and 'equality'. That's really important – especially when you consider that one person in North America goes blind every 11 minutes, and there are 285 million blind and low-vision individuals worldwide."

Entry to the exhibition, located in the Museum's Level 1 Gallery, has been incorporated into general admission fees. Please be advised that some of the photographs contain nudity.

The CMHR has a strong commitment to accessibility and inclusivity that applies throughout the Museum, ensuring a rich experience for all people, regardless of ability. The new exhibition – like the other Museum galleries – contains iBeacons that flow information into a unique mobile app when visitors pass near various Universal Access Points, indicated by floor-level cane stops and markers with raised numbering and braille. The information is then available for text-to-speech readers. The exhibition has also been arranged to optimize wayfinding for people with vision loss.

The original Sight Unseen exhibition, now uniquely enhanced by the CMHR, was curated by American photographer Douglas McCulloh, and originated at UCR/California Museum of Photography, an affiliate institution of ARTSblock of the University of California, Riverside. It is toured by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions. The photographs have never before been shown in Canada.

John Olson
3DPhotoWorks

518–392-8161
Cell: 518–365-3036
john@3dphotoworks.com

Media contacts

Maureen Fitzhenry

Douglas McCulloh