Backpacker Magazine Article - Blind Photography

Take a look at the current (June 2010) issue of Backpacker for a brief article about how I learned to become a photographer. Now I know what you’re thinking: a blind photographer is as much of an oxymoron as a blind climber! Well it just so happens I learned to take photographs on a climbing trip.

Last fall, I had the great pleasure to lead a Global Explorers expedition to climb Ixtaccíhuatl (commonly called Ixta), the 17,159 foot volcano near Mexico City. Combining an unlikely team of blind and sighted young adults from Mexico and the United States, it was an extraordinary journey of leadership, discovery, and adventure. For this expedition, Global Explorers has partnered their nationally recognized Leading the Way program with the Mexican nonprofit Ojos que Sienten.

Our goal was to reach the summit of Ixta and, in the process, to break down barriers and misperceptions about disabilities. This trip was made possible through the support of numerous sponsors, including Unilever; think Lipton tea, Bertoli pasta, and Dove soap. Thanks to the generosity of Fundación Televisa and Fundación Cinépolis, in honor of the 15 participants who reached the summit, 15 eye operation were donated to Mexicans who could not afford to pay for sight-giving surgery.

The idea for the expedition started with Gina Badenoch, a trained photographer who grew up in Mexico and the UK. She started Ojos que Sienten after she discovered there were a number of blind photographers around the world creating beautiful images. She teamed up with these talented individuals to teach sight-impaired students that nothing is impossible.

Since my book, Touch The Top Of The World, had recently been translated into Spanish, it was an ideal time for me to lead an expedition to climb one of the best known volcanoes in North America. My friend and longtime climbing partner, Jeff Evans, was eager to help out. We were also joined by Steve Baskis, a US Army Specialist who lost his sight while conducting combat operations in Iraq after an bomb exploded near his vehicle in May 2008. (Both Jeff and Steve will be on our Soldiers To The Summit Expedition in October.)

During our successful climb, Gina taught me and the other blind students how to take photographs with digital cameras. It’s pretty cool! We use our outstretched arm to aim and level the camera. With a little practice, we were all getting some good photos…well, most of the time.

We are planning an art exhibit at a time and location to be announced, that will feature the work of blind photographers. Another exciting aspect is the photos will be printed with a new technology that allows them to be tactile. Invented by George Heinrichs, the cofounder and president of Intrado Communications, these new prints allow a blind person to “see” photographs. He made ten tactile prints from the best images taken by the blind students—they are incredible!

Here are some photographs from our Ixtaccíhuatl expedition, including a couple that I took.

Our goal, Ixta.

Ixta is way higher than any peak in the lower 49 of the US.

At the start of our climb with Popo in the back.

A blind person, Steve Baskis, took this photo of Popocatépetl.
The image gets raves from many photographers for the composition.

Our high camp.

Steve Baskis on the summit.

This is how I hold my trekking poles while aiming my camera.

I found a fallback career too!