Helping Blind People 'See' Great Artwork

10 February, 2016

An American photographer is making copies of great artwork available for blind individuals and those with very poor eyesight.

At least 285 million people worldwide are either blind or considered visually impaired. They are unable to see or enjoy visual fine art.

Romeo Edmead lost his eyesight when he was only two years old. But that has not stopped him from living life to the fullest. He went to college and studied journalism. He now lives in New York and produces a podcast about the city. He depends heavily on his other senses.

But he cannot experience the great works of art in New York City. He remembers a visit to an art collection with his grandmother.

"So we went to this museum and I just sort of like wandered off somewhere and I started touching something, and all of a sudden alarm went off. And a guard came running over, and my grandmother was all humiliated, ‘Oh I am sorry. You know, he is blind and what have you...'"

Romeo is now able to use his fingers to trace art paintings. He can get an idea of the appearance by following the markings.

John Olson once worked as a photographer for LIFE magazine. He developed a printing process to make the art of Da Vinci and Van Gogh tangible for visually-impaired individuals.

"I began to realize how important images have been to me, what they have allowed me to do. And it caused me to wonder what it was for the blind, not having access to images."

Olson's company is called 3D Photoworks. It produces copies of artwork in three dimensions: height, width and depth.

Olson says this is how the process works. First, a painting is scanned, and a 3D computer image is created. Then it is sent to a machine that digitally sculpts it. Then the original image is printed on top of the relief. The whole process can take up to four weeks.

Olson says that creating art in this way gives a blind person a new experience.

"When a blind person can interact with art and create their own opinions, it's freedom to them. It represents freedom, independence. People tell us it's a basic civil right."

Nihal Erkan lost her eyesight completely when she was 6 years old. Now, for the first time, she is experiencing Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous work, Mona Lisa.

"Her bottom lip is a little curved, because her upper lip is a little dented."

A painting called "Washington Crossing the Delaware" shows a major event during America's Revolutionary War with Britain. Romeo Edmead just experienced the painting for the first time.

"This is something that I would have never experienced in the past growing up, you know. This is a completely new experience for me."

Thanks to new technology, 3D art may soon hang in art museums all over the world. It gives the visually-impaired the chance to experience the beauty of visual art.

I'm Marsha James.

Victoria Kupchinetsky reported on this story for VOANews. Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

humiliatev. to make someone feel very ashamed or foolish
podcastn. a digital radio show
tangible adj. easily seen or recognized
dented – n. an area on a surface that is lower than the rest of the surface especially because of being hit or pushed in.