The photographer with a guide dog
Photographers are not uncommon, but it’s a whole new picture when you find a man with a camera in one hand and a guide dog in the other. Andrew Follows has a vision impairment but he hasn’t let this stop him from holding photographic exhibitions. His work has travelled as far as the Edinburgh Festival.
Andrew long enjoyed documenting events such as air shows. However it wasn’t until the arrival of digital cameras that he was able to load images on his PC and access them with magnifying software.
It opened a whole new world in that I can do something new, something creative, he says.
In 2008 he approached Martin Bonnici who runs workshops in
Photography made easy. Andrew wanted to learn more about managing images.
When I made the initial contact, says Andrew,
Martin was pretty blown away as he’d never had a blind student.
Soon Martin came to understand Andrew’s way of seeing the world and, in a year of acquiring skills through workshops and conducting exhibitions, they developed a good working relationship.
Density portrayed images such as bridges in low lighting, or a fragmented view of a waterfall which focused simply on its colours. He is not just portraying a vision-impaired view of the world, but also aims to stimulate the imagination.
Andrew wanted to step to the next level and took on a mentorship through Arts Access with Marcus Bunyan. Marcus has a bi-polar condition. This presented another challenge for Andrew who hadn’t worked that way with another disability.
One of Andrew’s tasks is to manage the balance and intensity of colour ready for the final print. On one occasion Andrew found an old BMX bike track in Windsor lit by a single street light. The resulting photos evoked an other-worldly landscape.
Andrew is currently working on a project at RMIT University, which involves improving access to the displays on cameras for people with a vision impairment. In this way, vision-impaired photographers can make the best settings to take good photographs.
Andrew’s images will form part of a backdrop for a dance performance called
Free and Ice at the Gasworks Theatre in Port Melbourne.
In another project he and Marcus are each taking twelve images and then editing each other’s work.
Andrew has run workshops for those with vision impairment, and is turning around their perceptions of photography. He has also created a network of other blind photographers, and inspires fully sighted professionals.
On one occasion Andrew was down by a river on a shoot. He needed to get closer and left his mentor Martin to hold his guide dog. Teenagers came past and realised that Martin wasn’t blind. Martin said that it was the dog of the guy down there with the camera. Some of the teenagers were so fascinated they took photos of Andrew taking photos.
It’s very humbling at times to hear people comment back, says Andrew.
It’s been an amazing journey. I just enjoy what I do. I enjoy sharing. I enjoy communicating and letting others know that being vision-impaired doesn’t mean you don’t have to be part of the arts community.
He is keen to let us know he can have it all, both a guide dog and a camera.
Andrew’s images can be found at www.blinkiephotography.com.au
Do you have a vision impairment and any experience of photography?