Site (sic) Navigation Stories as a title refers to VoiceOver’s incorrect use of S.I.T.E. for ‘sight’. Screen reader accessibility tools are developing rapidly, and such glitches should be resolved soon enough. In the meantime, errors of this kind are frustrating and another reminder to take little for granted in a sighted world.
At first, I wished to explore for my Arts Council England funded project Sight Lines how I observe to maximise what I see, to map my spatial navigations, and be seen without fear of intimidation. I thought it feasible to learn the skills of a street photographer, learning ‘to shoot from the hip’ so that I can photograph with confidence in public. Except I was kidding myself! How am I to anticipate that which I cannot see, in what often feels like a fairground carousel of fragmented images, distortion, harsh light, patches of nothingness?
Once I had acknowledged my denial of thinking I could patch up the sight I have to photograph, searching outside myself for ways of navigating my surroundings seemed less interesting. Sight Lines begins with me moving away from the self-portraits of Seeing in Isolation for the Multistory commission (2019–21) where I was alone, to me placing myself in surroundings with others. This is an important development in my work that has collaborative advantage because of the techniques I am exploring to make audio visual content accessible to a diverse audience. The adaption of my material to share a story or adding myself in like shadow as my navigation feels defined by what I cannot see. It seems apposite to name this part of the Arts Council England funded project, made up of fifteen distinct pieces of work, Site Navigation Stories.
The material I used to put together Site Navigation Stories is a mix of photographs, downloaded newspaper articles, forum excerpts, a poem, eye examination tests, and audio recordings. Each of the fifteen Site Navigation Stories is influenced by its own content. In putting these together, the personal stories I wish to convey determined the layout, composition, typography, and my approach to audio describing. This was done while bearing in mind accessibility for a diverse audience.
Conversations have inspired the change in my creative practice. Bruce Hall, the registered blind photographer whose photographs of his sons with profound autism are remarkable, identified with my need to scoop up everything I see. He said photography is crucial in his seeing “after the fact, not in the moment”. Mel Telford, a retired police officer, urged me not to go for walks on my own around Cambridge. From our walk and talks I learnt another side of Cambridge that most residents and tourists are oblivious of and is best summed up in Mel’s phrase: “When people ask me where I live, I tell them on the edge of cowboy country”. Wojciech Wolocznik, thanks to Arts Council England, supported me with putting together Sight Lines. When I enquired what interested him about my attempt to map my surroundings, he said that he could identify with a similar sense of vulnerability, to the point of feeling threatened, when being in a place where “I don’t feel like I fit in”. Douglas McCulloh, the curator of the exhibition Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists said laconically, “You tell a good story”.
May these be interesting stories put together from the edge of my limited sight and shot with imagination.
© Karren Visser. Sight Lines, funded by Arts Council England, 2021 – 22.