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Blind photographer has Edinburgh in focus

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 12:15 -- admin

ANDREW Follows is often seen holding on to his guide dog with one hand and his camera with the other.

‘‘People can often see me [and must be] thinking that doesn’t look right,’’ he laughs.

Born with a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, Follows has no sight in his left eye and tunnel vision and cataracts in his right eye. He has just a metre of clear sight compared to the 70 metres a person with normal vision has.

Despite being legally blind, Follows is proving that those without sight can still have vision.

Fascinated by photography from a young age the Eltham resident bought his first digital camera five years ago. By taking a photo with a digital camera, and viewing it on a television screen, Follows found he could enlarge his images to see what sighted people took for granted.

‘‘That blew me away. I was missing out on so much, but I could suddenly see it – the colours and the textures and the detail.’’

Follows enrolled in a workshop in digital photography with Melbourne photographer Martin Bonnici, who took Follows on for nine months.

Follows says, ‘‘He taught me all the ins and outs of digital photography. How to frame, portraits, landscapes, how to take night photography.’’

Since then Follows has held seven exhibitions, including several major solo shows. Now, the 50-year-old is raising funds and seeking sponsorship to help him with his first international exhibition. In August, Follows plans to travel to the UK to participate in the Edinburgh Arts Festival.

During his five-week artist residency, he will hold a joint exhibition with another blind photographer from Scotland. Together, the pair plan to exhibit a series of photographs of bushfires and night photography.

During his time in Scotland, Follows also will hold workshops to teach both blind and sighted people how digital photography can help vision impaired people see the world.

‘‘I’m challenging the visual arts that you don’t need sight to be a photographer,’’ he says.

The trip will also be his first ever trip overseas. ‘‘It is way outside my comfort zone [but] it is going to be really exciting.’’

Follows will be joined – as he always is – by his beloved six-year-old Labrador guide dog, Eamon. He credits Eamon with helping him to become a photographer.

‘‘If I didn’t have Eamon, I wouldn’t be doing photography. With my sight, there is no way I could get out and have the freedom that I do. He has just given me a whole new lease on life.’’

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