Share Story

Blind photographer; it’s an oxymoron. To interpret the chaos of the world and reconstruct it through the barrel of a lens is intimidating even to the fully sighted. Now imagine 90% of your vision disappearing. Seem like an impossibly daunting task? Try telling that to Andrew Follows.

Legally blind his entire life, Andrew gained a new lease on life in 2008 when he picked up his first “pocket rocket” – a term he has coined for your standard consumer point and shoot camera. In a world where analogue fetishism disregards technology as cold and isolating, digital photography gave Andrew a lens through which he could finally see the big picture.

Meeting Andrew is a revelation. There is no pretension when he speaks of his passion, simply warmth. Despite being exhibited in cities such as Paris, Edinburgh and Luxembourg, Andrew is open to discussing his techniques and working methods. “[Photographers] don’t like to share. They’re very protective on how they take their photographs. With me I just want to show everyone”.

Andrew uses his incredible story to inspire others. He runs a series of workshops inclusive to both the impaired and fully able, to break stigmas and mentalities of what a blind person can and can’t do.

Behind the camera he is confident and decisive. In front of it he is bashful, shy and almost embarrassed. Perhaps as a way to acclimatise to the situation, Andrew immediately directs our photographer. “Open the windows, you’ll get more light… Maybe you could take a photo in the mirror… I think this room would be best for this photograph”.

Andrew refuses to be defined by his condition. He is a photographer above anything else.

“It’ll look better this way. Trust me,” says the blind man.

Andrew: “My eye condition is called retinitis pigmentosa. It’s an eye disease that affects people differently. So in my case there’s no vision in my left eye and tunnel vision in my right eye. The tunnel would be about the size of a 20 cent piece. I’ve always had it.”

PLGRM: Is your eyesight deteriorating?
Andrew: Yes. Slowly.

PLGRM: Will it ever fully go?
Andrew: Yeah.

PLGRM: Do you have any idea how long until that happens?
Andrew: No.

PLGRM: Isn’t that scary?
Andrew: … Yeah.

“People look at you and give you double takes because you’ve got a camera wrapped around you and a dog leading you around. Like, “what the fuck is going on over here?” A lot of people think I’m training the dog. I don’t look visually impaired, I can still give you the eye contact... I’ve had the police bail me up. They just wanted to know what the hell was going on." (laughs)
“I was finding it hard to do things and finding it hard to compensate. I was trying to be as normal as possible, y’know? Blend in don’t bring attention to yourself. It got to the point where I couldn’t compensate anymore and I was making excuses not to go out and I was becoming a hermit, really. In 2006 I said I can’t do this anymore - I need help.”
“Eamon’s given me freedom and independence. I’m never home, I travel a lot. We’ve only been separated twice over the 9 years I’ve had him..He’s my soulmate."
“If we didn’t have digital we would still have film and I wouldn’t be getting anywhere... It was because you could take the card out and put it though the TV or the computer and all of a sudden I was seeing a lot more than a normal film print. I could magnify it. I started to see more detail; more shapes, more colours, more textures. The camera is my eyes!”
“That’s the reason I do the workshops. A – to show the mainstream what it’s like to be a visually impaired photographer through simulator glasses. And for low vision people it’s to show them that you can use the cameras at all. To see the world that they can’t see, just by taking the photo and putting it through the computer.”
“In 2009 we had the big bushfires and I ended up working with the recovery mob and I was the state co-ordinator putting food, clothing and water into Alexandra and Marysville. Wewere taking trucks up into the fire zones... Me being me... I had to take the photos. It was just horrific. This is over a period of time after the fires. Starting to see changes in the bush. The truck driver said he felt sick. He said to me, “you’re lucky you can’t see.” “Out of that I ended up having an idea – why don’t we run a three day exhibition of the regeneration after the bushfires and it actually brought the whole community together. We raised $11,000 for the CFA. Just from photos.”

Andrew: “I’ve been told by high end professional photographers that if I had 20/20 vision I’d be in the top ten in the world. I have a natural eye for photography.

PLGRM: Even though you only have 10% of your vision?

Andrew: “As far as I’m concerned I’m getting there. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I’ve accomplished in the 8 years I’ve been doing this what usually takes 10-15 years to do. I’m just scratching the surface…A lot of people just sit at home and wait for the world to come to them.”

Photos By Scott Bradshaw

Words By Andy McCallum