Sensory Photography @ RUANG by Think City

Billed as “Malaysia’s first photography exhibition by the visually impaired”, the second-floor space features snapshots by seven individuals with differing severities of low vision. How does one who is visually impaired, makes use of the photographic medium to capture an image? What is captured, if composition and technical qualities are put aside, and for what purpose? After the first walkthrough, it is apparent that most pictures possess an oddball quality absent from a typical show featuring amateur photographers. The angle of snapshots taken is lower. Things appear off-centre, yet the focus is intentional. Perhaps most surprising is that photographs do not display dramatic contrasts, a relatively simple approach towards creating visually attractive pictures.

(clockwise from left) Snapshots of Ahar bin Tabe - "Cycle", tactile photography exhibits, "Journey"

What triggered my reflections about photography as a medium, are the displays placed along the windows. 3-dimensional collages made with different textures – hair, rubber, plastic, leaves, etc. – represent the photo exhibits, while visitors blindfold themselves and listen to instructions via a portable set of headphones. When was the last time I looked at a picture of a cat, and thought of the softness of its fur? Or the sharp edges and risk of bleeding, when glancing a picture with rusted nails? Or seeing a picture of a road, a tree and its fallen leaves, that rekindle a memory of a pitstop at a rural town, complete with humid air and light blue sky?

(from l to r) Snapshots of Rashidi bin Abdullah - tactile photography exhibit, "Refleksi"

Organizer Ken Goh, representing the social enterprise Plus Community Partnership, was on hand to brief me about the 10-weeks program undergone by exhibition participants. The lessons – taught by David Lok – dispensed with the history & technical aspects of photography and went straight to cues which participants could learn immediately. A course about light & shadow talks about feeling heat and temperature differences, to deduce the lighting source and which direction is it shining from. Another course relates emotions to music, while identifying textures in making snapshots become a practical task. Understanding this background gave me the A-Ha moment, when marvelling at Jamaliah Mohd Yasin’s (a 60-years old who lost her vision completely) poetic captures taken at the recent KL Marathon. 

Ahar bin Tabe - "Kembar"

Collectively, this exhibition provides a fascinating insight, into the potential of the photographic image, beyond its formal or atomic characteristics. What is captured in a photograph, beyond reflected light atoms on a rectangular surface? Beyond its physical subject matter, its cropped compositions, and its colour filters? In contemporary art, photographs typically function as symbolic containers or narrative devices, which formal aspects are utilized for visual appeal. In this age where everybody wields a mobile camera, the idea of photographs capturing a moment in time, seems romantic. In this exercise, one wants to take a good photograph, without considering the formal elements typically associated to a good photograph. What kind of seeing, is believing?

(clockwise from left) Snapshots of Vivian Kuek Chu Lan - "Chinese Art", "Drama Hari Ini", tactile photography exhibits