Five stories of blindness

Photo essay captures the daily struggles and joys of people who are blind

Jean Smallwood is one of five visually impaired people featured in Five Stories, a new photo essay by Cindy Titus. Cindy Titus
Cindy Titus
Cindy Titus

For the last year I’ve been working on a photo project that has had a major impact on my life, and it started in the simplest of ways: grocery shopping.

I was on my way to purchase ingredients to make lasagna for dinner, when I noticed a blind man walking with a white cane. His cane had narrowly missed a pole, which he was about to walk into. 

I shouted, “Look out! You’re about to hit a pole,” and immediately realized I had to go make sure he didn’t walk into it.

I approached him and gave him a hand navigating around the pole, and then asked where he was going and if he needed help.

He was also going to buy groceries, so we decided that we’d go together, and that I’d help him find the items he needed.

After we were finished shopping, we walked to the bus stop together, and I waited with him until his bus arrived, at which point we said goodbye, and I’ve never seen him since.

But I’ve never forgotten him.

Since then, I’ve had a growing interest in blindness and what life is like for the blind and partially sighted. 

I’ve often wondered to myself how do they know where they are going? How do they understand how to get around a busy street?

How does someone learn to understand the world around them if they were born with limited, or no vision? How does someone adjust if they lose their sight later in life?

How does a guide dog help someone navigate his or her way through busy downtown streets, and how does this differ from using a white cane?

And then I wondered: how will I learn about all of these issues? And, as a photographer, the answer was clear: do a photo essay on the topic.

I wanted to pair my desire to become a better photographer with my desire to learn what life is like for someone living with vision loss.

I approached the Canadian National Institute for the Blind with this project and they were very supportive of my idea.

They put me through a week of orientation training with CNIB employees so I could meet different people who work with the blind and understand how they help them.

They helped me find all of my subjects, and provided financial support for the project.

I’ve been working on the project for nearly a year now, and I’ve learned so much about what life is like for the blind and partially sighted.

I’ve met the most fascinating people who have shared very personal details of their life with me, and who have trusted me to tell their stories in a way that helps others understand their experience. 

The project has been challenging, fun, emotional and, most of all, very inspiring. 

I am so grateful that all of my subjects have been so open with me, and I am grateful that I get to share everything that I’ve learned.

My hope for this project is that those who see the photographs will learn, and perhaps understand more than they did before, about those that are affected by blindness and how it affects them.

I want people to understand that, while there are struggles for people living with vision loss, it’s not sad or tragic, and that these people are not victims but rather some of the most courageous people I’ve ever met.

Cindy Titus is The Uniter’s photo editor. Her exhibit on blindness, Five Stories: A Photo Essay, is on display at the OnWard Gallery (3rd Floor, Red River College, 160 Princess St.) from Friday, Feb. 11 to Friday, Feb. 18 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Published in Volume 65, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 10, 2011)

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