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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007

Sight-impaired kids show how photos can come from heart

Special to The Japan Times

YOKOHAMA — Skill and high-quality equipment are not essential for successful photography. In fact, you don't even need to be able to see the subject.

News photo
Maho Otsuka, 10, explains a photograph, projected on the screen, she took of her friend. The event Saturday in Yokohama marked an exhibition of photos taken by visually impaired children. Standing at the back is Hiroshi Suga, who organized the exhibition. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

"What's important is to take pictures with your heart," says Hiroshi Suga, a professional photographer and member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society.

Proving his point, photos by 23 students from the Yokohama City Special Support School for the Visually Impaired are now on show at the "Kids Photographers — They are Geniuses!" exhibition at the Japan Newspaper Museum in Yokohama.

Although more than half of the students are blind and the rest have poor eyesight, they take amazing photos.

The program started in February when Suga hosted a "reach-out-photography" learning program sponsored by the Photographers Society at the Special Support School, which is attended by kindergarten through high school students.

At first, the program's goal was simply to let the students experience photography and exhibit their work at the school festival. But their photos impressed Suga so much that he went on to organize, with help from parents, the exhibition to showcase the students' work.

The exhibition, which began July 3 and runs through Aug. 26, has been drawing large crowds, according to Chang Bo Ye of the museum's planning department.

Suga has also worked to publish 1,000 copies of the program's photo collection. On weekends, the students appear at the exhibition and sign autographs in braille for every visitor who purchases the collection. The original 1,000 are now almost sold out and an extra 700 are in the process of being printed.

Last Saturday, 15 of the students, accompanied by Suga, gathered for a forum to share their photographic experiences with an audience of about 100 people.

Suga told the crowd that many of the students had never used cameras before, and didn't even know how to hold them properly.

"I had to teach them that the side that feels bumpy is the front (of the camera), and where to feel its shutter button," he said.

Once they learned how to use it, each student was given a disposable camera for two weeks and asked to photograph a favorite subject.

Some photographed friends and family members. Others shot scenery, animals or trains. After two weeks, Suga checked the freshly developed pictures and was astonished.

"The first thing that came out of my mouth was 'Wow! They are geniuses!' " Suga said. "In my 40-year career as a photographer, nothing has impressed me that much," because the students took the pictures with their hearts and expressed their feelings articulately through the photographs, he explained while displaying each work on a projector.

For instance, one of the students, Saki Nagai, 9, who was born blind, took a picture of her 1-year-old brother, Shintaro, while he was peacefully asleep at home. The picture was used for the cover of the photo collection. Nagai depended on her brother's breathing to point the camera.

"I thought it really expressed Saki's love for her brother," Suga said of when he first looked at the picture of this cute baby.

During the forum, the smiles never disappeared from the children's faces as they were interviewed by Suga and asked to comment on their photos. Later, they fielded questions from the audience, and when one person asked how they could sense where the subject is, many answered they depend on sound, just like Nagai did.

"I wanted it to be their forum, not mine," Suga said after the event, adding that he has learned a lot from the children. "They made me realize again the importance of taking pictures with your heart."

These past several months have also been valuable for the students. "Although Saki herself can't see the pictures that she took, she really enjoyed taking (them)," said her father, Takeyuki. "It was a whole new thing for her. And she received so many compliments, and the media picked up the students' works. I think it's been a great experience for her."

For another student, Takahiro Tsurui, 14, photography was a new experience as well. "It was harder than I thought," said Tsurui, who shot Odawara Castle in Kanagawa Prefecture because he likes Japanese history. Though it was hard, he said he had fun and wants to continue taking pictures.

The exhibition runs through Aug. 26. More information on the exhibit can be found on the museum's Web site at www.pressnet.or.jp/newspark. Another exhibition will be held at Photo Entrance Hibiya gallery in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12.

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