By definition, blind people have not been able to enjoy visual arts. If you can’t see it, how can you appreciate it? When blind people visit art museums or galleries, they most often have to rely on recorded audio guides or other people to describe the works. Not only is the level of engagement with art much less for blind people, but it’s also easy to see why some could feel left out. New York-based 3D Photoworks is setting out to change the way blind people experience art by creating 3D versions of great works.
3D Photoworks was co-founded by John Olson, a former Life magazine photographer. The company has three approaches to bring art work to life for the visually impaired. The first is their signature process, called 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing. With 3D printing Photoworks can replicate existing art works in sizes up to 60” x 120” x 1.75” in relief depth. They can also combine multiple pieces to create much larger pieces. With nearly two inches of depth, in a pieces designed to be touched to be appreciated and even understood, the technique uses the “viewer’s” brain neuroplasticity to form the image from the tactile data of the third dimension. To add to the experience, 3D Photoworks also can embed infrared sensors that, when touched, activate audio to describe what was just touched. In addition the company creates a scripted audio experience with information about the artist, the work itself, and any history about the work.
In conjunction with The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, 3D Photoworks is presenting at Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists through September 18. Much of the exhibit is devoted to art, particularly photographic, created by people with different degrees of hearing loss. This exhibition is the first time 3D Photoworks has been exhibited in a museum. The company converted some of the museum’s photographs created by visually impaired artists to 3D images for the exhibit.