Category Archives: Interpoint

Street Photography – By and For the Blind

Tim Tonachella’s voice is unmistakable. I’ve learned its texture, its subtle turns and the meaning behind the sounds. It’s got some gravel in it; it throws stones playfully. Over several phone calls with the Michigan photographer this past year, though, when we talked about his life, his approach and his raw, explorative photography – the main thing ringing in my ears was that he didn’t want the first bullet point to be that he’s blind.

We talked a lot about how describing things affects how they’re perceived, and my intention was not to congratulate him for being the first legally blind guy to pick up a camera (he’s not, in case you’re wondering).

I reached out to ask if we could use his work in an exercise to help explore the  process and practicalities of describing artwork for a blind audience. He was kind enough to say yes, and today we’re able to present never-before-seen photos along with a conversational, round-table audio description from a few folks who have spent time at the intersection of blindness and visual art: UC Berkeley professor Georgina Kleege, SFMOMA curator Peter Samis and San Francisco photographer Troy Holden.

Before we dive into the audio, a bit more about Tim Tonachella. He came to photography later in life, and when he first picked up the camera, everyone seemed to scratch their heads. He had gone to the Michigan School for the Blind with the likes of musician Stevie Wonder and our own Enchanted Hills Camp Construction Manager George Wurtzel, and though he still wryly jokes that he “never really liked blind people” much, his legal blindness was a constant throughout his life. When he picked up the camera in his fifties though, he suddenly had access to new worlds. The telephoto lens wasn’t, as many might assume, a confounding tool only for use by sighted folks, but instead opened up environments and enhanced his ability to see much in the way it would for those who clock in at 20/20 on the eye chart.

On January 27, Tonachella’s show “Growing Old On the Street” opens at the Downriver Council for the Arts in Wyandotte, MI. The collection is full of portraits, candid and posed, that reflect  the toughness of Tonachella’s human fabric. The show, which also showcases the interpretative works of dozens of other artists, reflects Tonachella’s core sensibilities: generous, honest and a bit rough around the edges. Tonachella’s process is a labor of love, and often involves sitting patiently to hear the stories and take in the realities of the quietly persevering souls that cities have left behind.

Listen to the whole discussion in the playlist above or click each image to be directed to its associated Soundcloud link. Find out more about Tim Tonachella’s upcoming shows at the end of this post.

Photograph 1: A man sits on a concrete ledge and leans his weight into wrought iron fence. His wears a bucket hat and the smoke from the cigarette curled in his right hand catches in the light. A bottle of hard liquor is perched next to him on the ground, slightly concealed by an angular concrete block. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 1: A man sits on a concrete ledge and leans his weight into wrought iron fence. His wears a bucket hat and the smoke from the cigarette curled in his right hand catches in the light. A bottle of hard liquor is perched next to him on the ground, slightly concealed by an angular concrete block. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 2: An old man clasps a cigarette in his wizened mouth, below his salt and pepper mustache. He wears a bucket hat and a worn polo. His eyes are closed. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 2: An old man clasps a cigarette in his wizened mouth, below his salt and pepper mustache. He wears a bucket hat and a worn polo. His eyes are closed. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 3: An old, closed-down, shuttered candy store. A clutter of old boxes and furniture appear through the gaping window. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 3: An old, closed-down, shuttered candy store. A clutter of old boxes and furniture appear through the gaping window. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 4: A man in a knit cap, denim jacket and hoodie looks at the camera with a steady gaze. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photograph 4: A man in a knit cap, denim jacket and hoodie looks at the camera with a steady gaze. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photo 5: The same man breaks into a toothy grin. The shot is farther away and reveals the piano he sits at, his gloved finger pressing into ivory keys. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.
Photo 5: The same man breaks into a toothy grin. The shot is farther away and reveals the piano he sits at, his gloved finger pressing into ivory keys. Click the image to hear the corresponding audio file.

Tonachella’s exhibition at The Downriver Council for the Arts runs from January 27 through February 10, 2017. Downriver Council for the Arts, 81 Chestnut Wyandotte, MI 48192

He’ll also be featured in two other shows in Michigan coming up in July and October this year.

July 2017: Village Theater at Cherry Hill, 50400 Cherry Hill Road, Canton, MI 48187 (exact dates to be announced)

October 2017: Tim’s solo show will Exhibit during National Visual Impairment month. Y Arts, The YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, 1401 Broadway St, Detroit, MI 48226 (exact dates to be announced)

Hear a New Blindness Story in This Week’s Pop-Up Magazine – Win Tickets

Win two tickets to Pop-Up Magazine at the Paramount Theater in Oakland this Thursday, November 10: email “Pop Up” to wbutler@lighthouse-sf.org.

When we started LightHouse Interpoint this spring, we had a vision of a literary magazine featuring stories by the world’s best blind writers. So far we’ve published work by world travelers, parents, professors, journalists, and regular blind people who have something interesting to say.

The LightHouse has always imagined Interpoint being bigger than just online essays, though, and this week we’re proud to announce that we have an Interpoint story, written and edited by blind people, going on tour with Pop-Up Magazine. The piece premiered at the Los Angeles Ace Hotel Theater on Thursday night to a massive audience response, and will be performed on all the stops of Pop-Up Magazine’s November tour, which means you can see it live in San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Boston, and Brooklyn.

Below find the full tour schedule and links to buy tickets. More about Pop-Up Magazine:

Called “a sensation” by the New York Times and referred to by the SF Chronicle as “Fast-paced, loose, often funny, and wholly unpredictable,” Pop Up Magazine is a signature San Francisco event which takes the live storytelling of radio programs like This American Life to the next level: in the form of a live, unrecorded show. With events that have sold out venues such as Davies Symphony Hall and the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Pop-Up presents the highest calibre of storytelling with all the excitement of a live concert. This month, our writers will be sharing the stage with the likes of Ira Glass, Gillian Jacobs, Joshua Bearman and Mallory Ortberg, among many others.

A huge thank you to Pop-Up Magazine for collaborating so closely with the LightHouse to develop yet another unique, untold story in the Interpoint series. See you at the theater!

Pop-Up Magazine, Dates and Tickets:

11/3 – THE THEATRE AT ACE HOTEL – Los Angeles

SOLD OUT

11/9 – NOURSE THEATER – San Francisco

SOLD OUT

11/10 – PARAMOUNT THEATRE – Oakland

BUY TICKETS

11/12 – HARRIS THEATER – Chicago

BUY TICKETS

11/15 – WILBUR THEATRE – Boston

BUY TICKETS

11/17 – KINGS THEATRE – Brooklyn

BUY TICKETS

Dinosaur: On Drawing While Blind

LightHouse Interpoint is the regular literary supplement from the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Read all of the previous installments here, and if you’re a blind or visually impaired writer, feel free to pitch us.

sketch of a dinosaur in front of blue sky

“Draw with me,” my five-year-old son Langston insisted. He picked up a coloring book of the easy and cool things to draw collection and dumped out a box of crayons. They skittered across the table, and one jumped to the floor.

I stooped, picked up the crayon from the floor and handed it back to him.

“No,” I told him as gently as I could, “you can draw by yourself.”

I couldn’t tell him the complicated truth: a confession of just how unprepared I was to draw with him. He knows his color now, so I hadn’t labeled the crayons in braille. More importantly, I can’t draw.

This was something I thought he knew. Whenever we were out in public with sighted friends, waiting in diners with menus and crayons, he always asked them to draw with him, not me. Now he was issuing a challenge:

“But I want someone to draw with me!” he wailed.

My shame deepend as my voice became firmer. “No,” I said with the questionable authority which came both from my position as a parent and the fear which drawing would uncover. the fear that he would see me at my very weakest, “You can do it.”

He burst into tears. No drawing happened that day.

 

***

It was Friday afternoon, I was in third grade, and it was once again time for art class. The art room reverberated with a hum of activity. The tile floors, metal chairs, high ceilings and noisy classmates made it feel both vast and crowded. Continue reading Dinosaur: On Drawing While Blind

Notes from the Dark: Diaries of a Blind Restaurant Server

A picture of a fork silhouetted in the dark

I stood on the industrial carpet in my shiny new working-girl shoes and wiggled my foot experimentally, trying to find and follow the electrical tape that had been laid down to trace a tactile path through the room. It was my first night as a server at a restaurant, and though I’d expected to spend the evening doing my best to stay out of everyone’s way, I was already dealing with twelve guests and some overactive adrenal glands.

As a blind person, there are several career paths I’ve always considered closed to me: gem cutter, brain surgeon, air-force pilot, and of course, restaurant server. Never in two and a half decades of job searches did I come across a position for which my visual impairment was not an inconvenience – or a deal-breaker – but a requirement. So when I saw the job listing for servers at a “dine-in-the-dark” restaurant, I ignored my misgivings and soon found myself in the interview chair for this most unlikely of occupations. Continue reading Notes from the Dark: Diaries of a Blind Restaurant Server

How vs. Why: Advice from a Blind Filmmaker

 

LightHouse Interpoint is our new literary supplement, featuring written work by some of the world’s most interesting and engaged individuals who are blind or have low vision. Read our submission guidelines here.

The world of a visual storyteller is a world of promises and challenges: how to find the best shot; how to capture the best shot; how to get back to the studio without accidentally erasing the best shot. And as you can imagine, when people see my white cane, they want to know more than ever about these promises and challenges. Above all, they want to know, how do you do it?

What they don’t immediately understand is that I’ve had the good fortune to see some remarkable sights, from the sun rising over the white sands of a New Mexican desert to the moon over El Capitan. I’ve seen the joy on the face of a marathon runner breaking the tape at the finish line, and the anguish of a parent steering her child through another round of chemotherapy. I’ve been a reporter, a photographer, an editor and a filmmaker my whole life, and I can hardly remember a time where I’ve worked more than a few feet from the lens of a camera.

Michael Schwartz holds a camera

Beyond all the day-to-day challenges and promises of visual storytelling, though, filmmakers all face a more important question, the question of not how but why. I can weave those shots together, but why do it unless the story makes the viewer feel something? Continue reading How vs. Why: Advice from a Blind Filmmaker

Warriors: Shaking Off the Underdog Narrative

LightHouse Interpoint is a literary series featuring perspectives from blind writers around the world. We started  with a Month of Blind Women in March, and proceed into April with a timely reflection on sports and identity from Bay Area native Diego Kusnir. Here Kusnir reflects on the Golden State Warriors’ long arc from underdog to victor, a life trajectory to which many of us can relate. If you’d like to write for Interpoint, please first examine the guidelines here.

Image: A clock radio reading 73:9

by Diego Kusnir

 

Something happened when my vision got blurry as a kid. I went from just playing basketball to also, suddenly, being obsessed with sports radio, and specifically the Golden State Warriors.

I listened to every game. I obsessed over players like Latrell Sprewell, Chris Mullen, and Joe Smith. I listened to sports talk religiously, clock radio pressed against my ear, buried under my sheets so my parents wouldn’t hear, insatiably hoping the radio hosts would mention the Warriors, even though back then the Warriors were such an embarrassment that absolutely no one wanted to talk about them. Continue reading Warriors: Shaking Off the Underdog Narrative

LightHouse Interpoint: Perspectives from the World’s Best Blind Writers

Interpoint LogoIn recent months LightHouse has been on a mission to reach out and collect work from some of the world’s best blind writers who are blind or have low vision, to bring them all together in one place. In March we introduced Interpoint, our new literary supplement which will publish a fresh perspective on blindness regularly on the LightHouse blog.

“Interpoint,” strictly speaking, is a term used in braille production to describe a two-sided braille page. Both a non-visual marvel and a clever embossing technology, Interpoint represents everything that LightHouse for the Blind stands for and continues to promote — a chance to learn about blindness from both sides.

At LightHouse, we know that blindness cuts across all demographics and all types of life experiences, and it is our aim to show off this wide diversity of points of view in one active forum. To celebrate the launch of LightHouse Interpoint, and in partnership with the lit and culture blog The Toast, we’ve published pieces by four blind women, including our inaugural article, “On Being Who I Am: My Life As a Tall Woman,” from blind Berkeley professor and noted author Georgina Kleege.

Get started on your reading here.

Firangi: Confessions of an Albino Muslim in India

This is the fourth and final installment in our ‘Month of Blind Women,’ a series of essays by women who are blind or have low vision presented by LightHouse Interpoint, the new literary supplement from LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco and cross-posted at The Toast. To read all of the essays from Interpoint, click here.

image: a yellow auto-rickshaw with a reflective winshield
By Mehak Siddiqui

 

It was way back in the seventh grade when, during lunch hour at school, a little girl told her companion not to sit beside me in the cafeteria. “She has cancer, and you might get it too if you sit so close to her,” was the whispered but audible warning. I don’t know what was more shocking: that the child believed cancer to be contagious, or that she’d somehow assumed I was afflicted. Before I could decide how to respond, the duo had skittered further down the table.

My earliest memories of school are punctuated by this type of scene, and by seventh grade I was already quite immune to the comments about my appearance. A bunch of boys in my class called me ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost.’ They sniggered when I wore a hat and tinted glasses to protect my skin and eyes from the sunlight. I was used to being confronted with blunt and awkward questions, ranging from the crude (“Why are you so white?”) to the intrusive (“Are you adopted?”) and even the downright amusing (“Were you born in America?” — as if place of birth can be the sole determinant of skin color).

That was in Kenya, where I grew up, though I was born in India. I attended a predominantly South Asian school, where in the sea of brown skin and dark hair, I stood out as the pale, blond oddball. At the time, I was too timid to stand up for myself. I ignored the questions. Two decades later, I wonder if I should have been bolder, if in the face of these ubiquitous interrogations, I could have served up the plain truth:

“It’s called albinism. And no – it’s not contagious.”

Doctors have always told me that I see quite well in relation to other people with albinism – low vision is common among those in my situation – but I still have my moments of frustration. Because my eyes are very sensitive to light, it becomes harder to function in the bright sunshine that is characteristic of the weather in India, even when wearing dark glasses. Add to that an utterly chaotic traffic situation, and crossing the street becomes disproportionately stressful, time-consuming, and at times downright frightening. There have been instances when I’ve actually hailed an auto rickshaw at busy intersections simply to get to the other side of the road.

Nonetheless, I walk the streets like everyone else. Growing up, I used to feel disheartened about my eyesight, but I’ve learned to appreciate that despite this challenge I can still function independently. In fact, my eyesight is often the last thing on my mind as I navigate the streets of Ahmedabad, living the life of a foreigner in the town I was born. Continue reading Firangi: Confessions of an Albino Muslim in India

Anthony Don’t: On Blindness and the Portrayal of Marie-Laure in ‘All The Light We Cannot See’

This is the third installment of A Month of Blind Women, presented by LightHouse Interpoint and The Toast. Interpoint is the new literary supplement from LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco. Read previous essays at this link.

Cover Art: All The Light We Cannot See

By Sheri Wells-Jensen

 

When I think of All The Light We Cannot See, the latest, most popular portrayal of blindness, there are many scenes that run through my head. Here are two, summarized, for your consideration:

In 1940, under the imminent threat of German invasion, a middle-aged locksmith and his twelve-year-old blind daughter are fleeing Paris. Everything happens quickly and their escape is urgent. The locksmith is working furiously, but, short of running her hands over a toy model of the city, the blind daughter does nothing. Her father asks nothing of her except that she use the bathroom, and so she waits, passive as an upholstered chair, while he assembles their possessions, packs their food, then buttons her into her coat, and leads her out the door.

Why isn’t this adolescent girl participating in her own escape?

Four years later, the locksmith is drawing his now-sixteen-year-old daughter a bath, despite the fact that there is a decidedly maternal female character just downstairs. The locksmith washes his daughter’s hair, and she is docile as he explains that he is leaving. At the end of the bath he hands her a towel and helps her climb onto the tile.

Why is a middle-aged man bathing his sixteen-year-old daughter, even if he does step outside while she puts on her nightgown? Who is this girl? Is she the heroine or the victim of the story? Does she get to be both?

***

This helpless, sexless child is the blind girl who is one of the main characters of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a book which first enraged me, then began to haunt me and fill me with a kind of appalled despair. The book has raised neither widespread outrage nor offense in most readers. People love it. It won a Pulitzer. Book clubs are gobbling it up. Every morning, on my way to work, I hear ads for it on my local NPR station. And every morning, I feel the same gut-deep sense of despair, a kind of a mental nausea, as Marie-Laure begins to slide into her place in the public consciousness as a reasonable representation of what it’s like to be blind. Continue reading Anthony Don’t: On Blindness and the Portrayal of Marie-Laure in ‘All The Light We Cannot See’

Stump Speech: A Blind Journalist Talks with a Blind Politician

This is the second essay in LightHouse’s new weekly literary supplement, Interpoint. It’s also the second week in ‘A Month of Blind Women,’ presented by Interpoint and cross-posted at The Toast.

image of the capitol building

By Michelle Hackman

 

Cyrus Habib is a regular politician. Even if you’re a political junkie, you’d be forgiven for not knowing his name. He’s a first-term state senator in Washington State, albeit one who’s already made his way into his party’s leadership. He’s also a declared candidate in the race for Lieutenant Governor — but for all intents and purposes that is a local office, afforded none of the national stature of the governorship.

If you have heard of Cyrus, though, chances are you know him as the whip-smart, Yale-educated, Rhodes Scholarship-winning politician who – and this was probably the subject of the story you read – is also blind. Most stories about him see his accomplishments overshadowed by vague or nonsensical headlines such as “Blind Lawmaker Reflects Biography in Policy” or, in more than one publication: “From Braille to Yale.” Never mind that he is also the first Iranian-American to hold state senatorial office – and far from the first blind person in politics. For years, Cyrus Habib has seen his name in print, always chased by the word “blind.”

 

*

I have heard of Cyrus. Maybe because I’m a political journalist who’s also blind, which means he sits right at the nexus of everything I care about. Or perhaps that’s just what the five or so people who have emailed me articles about him recently must have figured. One such confidant, whose casual musings have more than once inspired the direction of my stories, suggested off-hand that I try to write something about Cyrus.

But what about? “I’d love to write about him,” I told my friend, “but I want to stay away from the ‘blind guy becomes politician’ narrative, and I don’t know him well enough to pick out a different storyline.” I got into this field to write about the high-stakes, messy minefield that is national politics, and couldn’t bear to think that anything I might write would join the slow march of glowing triumph-over-adversity headlines parading across the screen whenever I searched for Cyrus Habib’s name.

Still, I’m guilty: I read those articles. At least six of them. While none stood out as egregious, something about the articles’ tone gnawed at me. There was an eerie quality to them, all containing the same anecdotes relayed in unnervingly similar diction. It seemed obvious that Cyrus had developed a cheery politician’s vocabulary around his disability. Rather than portray annoyance, the most un-politician-like of dispositions, he seemed eager to sell his story in patient, canned detail to journalists who questioned him about it.

Underneath it all, I thought I detected bullshit. How could a Yale Law-educated legislator enjoy molding his own public identity so explicitly around blindness? Did he not want, even if privately, to focus attention on the record-shattering money he was raising or the polls he was topping? Did he not feel somehow minimized? With a mix of curiosity and distaste, I performed one more search: for his phone number.

Continue reading Stump Speech: A Blind Journalist Talks with a Blind Politician