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Seeing Beyond Sight Photo Challenge by Loki

October 2nd, 2007 11:39 AM

INSTRUCTIONS: Seeing Beyond Sight has partnered with SFZero to challenge you to see the world differently - with more than your eyes.

Welcome new users: SFZero is an ongoing game in which you can choose to participate (or not) after you do the Seeing Beyond Sight Challenge.

Click here for new user registration.

1. Blindfold yourself.
(wear shades or tape your eyes shut)

2. Go out in public and make your way in the world.
(go 1 block, 1 hour or 1 roll of film; go with a friend or alone; make up your own process)

3. Photograph things you notice. And, just notice.
(What do you notice differently about objects, people, actions, interactions?)

4. Embrace the whole experience as much as the picture taking.
(Engage. Have a conversation with people you encounter. Take it all in.)

5. Share your story.
(For each photograph write a caption about your experience - a few lines or several paragraphs if you want.)

6. Challenge some friends to do it.
(email them the link:

Please don't post all the pictures from your shoot, but chose 1 to 3 that are the best images or are most telling of your experience. Caption the photos describing something about your experience - that is as important as the image itself. Longer stories are welcomed and may be added to

If you depend on your eyes to get around, then it is hard not to use them. Although you can tell us about how difficult it is to be blind, focus more on what you noticed about the world as you embarked on this journey.

This experience isn’t about blindness – it is about seeing, noticing and paying attention with more than your eyes.

This challenge was inspired by SEEING BEYOND SIGHT: PHOTOGRAPHY BY BLIND TEENAGERS, a new book published by Chronicle Books.

STOP! Don't vote for this!

Thanks for all the votes. I'm flattered. But, I don't want to take Lank's high score fleurette. Go vote for him instead. Or, if you feel this interpretation deserves two votes, vote for us both. Or, if you refuse to vote for Lank and feel compelled to vote for something, go find some under-appreciated task completion and vote for it instead. (Burn Unit has a nice list of them on his player page.)


I traveled a meandering 1.8 mile route without assistance from my apartment near People's Park in Berkeley to the turnstile of the Downtown Berkeley BART station while blindfolded.

In just over three hours, I crossed eight streets and most of a university campus, took 157 photos, and made a continuous audio recording. I panicked and cheated once (and returned to the starting place of my journey to begin again), was aided by kind strangers three times, got cussed out by an angry drunk, and became intimately familiar with the landscaping and architecture of my neighborhood. Then I wrote a needlessly long, rambling proof and submitted far too many photos.


On Sunday, I wound up leaving work a bit earlier than expected and realized I had several hours to kill before the DoorHenge bonfire. I had just read another great Seeing Beyond Sight completion on the praxis and resolved to do it myself, so on a whim I tried it.

I figured that I'd start making my way toward Golden Gate Park. Of course I realized that I probably wouldn't make it all the way to the Henge, but I was hoping to at least make it onto the Muni N line before giving up. After all, if Lank could do it, then, I imagined, so could I. Turns out I failed to take into account the fact that Lank is a god while I am a mere mortal. (Lank, after trying this myself, I'm even more amazed by what you did. If imitation = flattery and votes = recognition, consider my completion of this task a super-vote for your completion of this task.)

In the end, it took me more than three hours to travel from my apartment to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, and by the time I got there I was utterly exhausted and emotionally shattered. In order to make it all the way to DoorHenge, I suspect it would require around four days of travel followed by and several years of treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.

But, despite not having gotten all that far, I'm really proud of this completion. I've done some pretty scary things in my life. (I'll tell you about them someday in a forum my mother is guaranteed never to read.) But, crossing streets while blindfolded is among the scariest experiences I've ever had.

If you haven't done this task, do it! Don't put it off. Don't be intimidated by all the great completions in the praxis. Do it now. Once you're done reading this task, go find a blindfold and just do it. It's absolutely amazing: fascinating, terrifying, humiliating, and really, really fun. You don't have to go solo. You don't have to go far. But you do have to do this task.


I read through all the seeing-beyond-sight completions before starting out on this. Taking a tip from Lank, I carried a thin, five foot long plastic rod as a cane. It proved indispensable for following curbs and avoiding obstacles, and at one point it saved me from stepping off a 5 foot retaining wall.

After reading Wurm's writeup, I decided some head and eye protection was essential. I settled on a bicycle helmet, and used welding goggles with aluminum tape over the lenses as a blindfold. The helmet was a really good idea. I beaned myself hard on overhangs several times and would surely be bloody if it weren't for the helmet. I highly recommend it to anyone trying this task.

I borrowed a friend's crappy old camera (because my snapshot camera needs repair and I'm too much of a wuss to carry my good camera) and practiced using it a bit with my eyes closed. I programmed the USNO talking clock into my cell phone speed dial and practiced checking the time without looking. I stuck a digital voice recorder left on continuous record in my pocket for notes and documentation.

I also prepared two cardboard signs that read "please help me cross the street" and "please help me find the muni station" with textured bits so I could tell them apart and display them the right way up. But, I never actually used either of them, even though I probably should have. My natural shyness turned out to be more powerful than even my fear of crossing streets.

On the way home from work before gowning up for the task, I scoped out the position of homeless camps on the block in order to avoid encounters. "I'm sorry sir. I know I look like a skinhead, but when I stamped on your face with my black leather boot, it really was an accident," isn't a conversation I wanted to have. (For the out-of-towners, there's a massive homeless population centered around People's Park in Berkeley. On any given evening, there are between five and ten people sleeping on the sidewalk along the block in front of my building. I'm on good terms with all the regulars, but not good enough terms to photograph them, much less step on them, without feeling really guilty.)

Starting out

After fumbling for a few minutes with dropped keys, I managed to lock my apartment door, make it down the steps, across the building lot, and out onto the sidewalk. Things went pretty smoothly for about ten minutes. Then I got trapped in an apartment building shrubbery a block from home.

I emerged from the planter disoriented and rotated by 90 degrees. Then I ran into a minor side street that I had forgotten about and mistook it for the one along which I intended to walk. I set off along what should have been the sidewalk, and was puzzled by how wide and smooth it seemed to be. I realized something was funny at about the same time several cars whooshed past me and one honked its horn. Terrified, I tore off the mask and found that I had wondered off a wheelchair-accessible sloped crosswalk and right into the center of a busy street.

Starting over

I considered giving up on the whole thing, but instead walked back to my apartment steps, sat and relaxed for a few minutes, and then set off again on a fresh attempt. This time things went much more smoothly, and I didn't remove the blindfold until reaching the BART station.

Along the way, I noticed the sound of hundreds of people. Footsteps, voices, laughter, and random humans-being-human sounds were everywhere. The vast majority walked past me without a word, even when I was standing on a street crossing and looking timid.

A couple offered to help me. A young woman with a charming voice walked past me near the campus dorms, turned around and came back, and asked if she could help me get to where I needed to be. A British (Irish?) guy rushed out of a cafe to help me extricate myself from a trap formed by two parallel bicycles chained to a post.

Later, as I emerged from campus onto Oxford street I wondered off briefly into the shrubbery. Some guy spent a full minute talking me back onto the sidewalk, warned me that the walk light counter showed only 3 seconds remaining. . . and then walked off without offering to tell me when the damn thing next said "walk." Finally, after my last and scariest street crossing, some guy from across the street yelled instructions designed to take me from the street corner into a Starbucks. Why he thought I was headed for a Starbucks, I don't know. I guess something about me screams "yuppie" even when I've got a shaved head, I'm wearing welding goggles, my hands are black with grime, my boots are covered in mud to the ankle, and I'm feeling my way along the gutter.

Like Lank, I also discovered a lot of people in photos who were silent and I'd never guessed where there. A giggling woman with a camera, a row of frat boys on a porch, and a lady on a bus looking at me with stern disapproval are among the most interesting of the silent witnesses to my ordeal. I was also surprised to see that some of the parked cars I stumbled into and followed with my hand had people in them.

Street crossings are unbelievably scary. I crossed my first street mid-way down the block with no corner, and simply waited to hear a lull in traffic. At the second crossing, I stood and waited for several minutes, listening to the rhythm of cars passing. Eventually a large crowd of people came up behind me and started to cross the street. I followed their voices to safety.

At the third corner, I waited a few minutes and heard a car with a loud radio playing sitting idle at the intersection. That told me that traffic had stopped, and I hoped they would see me crossing and not actively try to hit me should the light turn green. After that, I took to listening for traffic and just walking out into the street during an obvious lull.

I got rather good at using my cane to trace the curb. Of course that meant stumbling into every parking meter, street sign, parked car, and power pole along my route - but at least it gave me some directional cues when on the street.

Of all the confusing things I encountered, parked bicycles were the worst. There are a lot of parked bicycles in Berkeley, and they seem to be designed specifically in order to trap the blind. I was constantly tripping over them, getting stabbed in the gut by handlebars, having to take long free-space excursions in order to get around bike racks, and becoming disoriented and lost by each encounter.

I've often wondered who is responsible for destroying the bent-up old bike frames you see chained to poles on campuses throughout the world. Now, it brings me pleasure to imagine the blind avenging all the minor injuries and indignities that parked bikes inflict upon them.

The campus

Once I made it onto the college campus, the absence of cars made things a lot less frightening, but the absence of an orthogonal street grid with curbs also made navigation harder.

Like Lank, I spent at least ten minutes circling within what turned out to be a rather small plaza. I marveled that the clock tower bells seemed to be coming from different directions and pondered where the echos much originate as I traveled along. Then I smashed into a row of newspaper boxes for the third time and realized that I has been the one changing directions. In the end, I found that I did much better just setting off in some direction and using dead-reckoning than trying to hug the perimeters of buildings. There are so many crinkly fjords around campus halls that it's impossible to stay oriented.

My general strategy was to listen and feel around until I identified a landmark and figured out where I was, then set off in the direction I wanted to go. I'd travel a few dozen yards until I bumped into something unexpected, and begin landmark identification again. All the while there were people everywhere on campus, and yet none of them offered to help me. It's strange - the four offers of help and the single instance of abuse all happened during the half of my journey that took place on streets. On campus, I was ignored completely.

Sound was useful for avoiding running into people, reckoning the distance to streets, and occasionally for navigation and identifying locations. I recognized a particular patch of roofed walkway by the booming echoes of footsteps, and traversed a large open lawn by following the sound of Strawberry creek. I tried to photograph a few unexpected sounds: squirrels in a tree, running wafer in the underground drainage system, and the deep grumble of industrial machinery from some unknown location. But, none of them turned out well. The underground water turned out to be an opaque manhole cover, not the open grating I expected.

I also found that I could pretty easily identify a garbage can within about five feet by smell. Unfortunately, I've never paid any attention to the location of garbage cans on campus, so knowing I was near a garbage can was no help in navigation. Still, I took a few photos of them just to prove I could identify them.

For navigation, I relied almost entirely on touch. Concrete, asphalt, grass, dirt, and mud all feel quite different. Following the border of a particular ground cover proved easy, and by the end I could keep to a path by simply tapping my cane back and forth between grass and concrete. As I grew more confident, I'd begin to walk faster and faster, approaching normal sighted walking speed until I smashed into a crotch-height piece of signage or bicycle rack and remembered that I should be going slowly.

A few other random sensory cues - the slope of the terrain and the feeling of sunlight on my skin - were occasionally useful.

Back on the street

About two and a half hours into the ordeal, I emerged from the campus and back onto public streets. The Center/Shattuck block is filled with obstacles: cafes with outdoor seating, signs, bike racks, city utility cabinets, newspaper racks, bus stop benches, parking meters, planters, light poles, utility poles, trees, broken pavement, traffic cones, and a dense flow of pedestrians, dogs, and skate-boards on the sidewalk and cars in the street. I'm glad I didn't start out there - even after several hours adjusting to the blindfold, it was still really disorienting and scary.

Finally, I made it into the Berkeley BART station. As I was working out the orientation of the stairs, an angry man started shouting at me from the far side of the stairwell. As far as I can make out, he spotted me as a blind impostor and was offended by it and decided to rat me out to whoever else was on the sidewalk. I quickly headed down the stairs and into the cool, safe BART station.

I made it all the way to the gates. Exhausted and literally shaking, I knew that I didn't have the energy to interact with any more people, and I figured there was no way I'd get onto a train without help. So, I removed the blindfold before I reached the turnstile. As my train emerged from the tunnel, I was shocked to discover that it had gotten dark during my journey.


The task explicitly asks us to submit only a couple images. I'm going to cheat and submit a whole lot of images for documentation purposes, and then claim that only three of them should be considered the artwork produced as part of this task itself. Here are my three favorites. I've done some very minor color adjustment in post processing, but no cropping or other manipulation.



In the end, the journey was a whole lot more interesting than the photos. But then, I am a loyal BartPA member. We don't need no freakin' art stuff to make something worth doing! We don't journey in search of photos. We journey in search of journey. We take photos merely in order to navigate bureaucracy.

+ larger

25 vote(s)

Favorite of:



14 comment(s)

(no subject)
posted by SNORLAX on October 2nd, 2007 12:01 PM

i read the first sentence and voted. i look forward to reading the text and looking at pictures when i'm not at work.

carry a big stick...
posted by Bex. on October 2nd, 2007 1:38 PM

Hey baldy, if manliness were expressed in chest hair, you'd look like this:

Loki = Hardcore +1
posted by YellowBear on October 2nd, 2007 1:51 PM

People who do this task unasisted rule.

posted by The Vixen on October 2nd, 2007 2:54 PM

Too amazing.

(no subject)
posted by Ink Tea on October 2nd, 2007 3:39 PM

The task explicitly asks us to submit only a couple images.

Yes! Thank you. I've bitten my tongue and not bitched about this.

(no subject)
posted by The Villain on October 2nd, 2007 3:50 PM

Congratulations, this completion is nearly on par with Lank's.

And simultaneously makes Lank's all the more incredible. I think he cheats -- as in sold his soul to the devil somehow.

By your request, I have now entered training. I will complete this task.

Unlike lowteck, I skipped to the end.
posted by Fonne Tayne on October 2nd, 2007 7:24 PM

I read the last sentence. Then voted. Then the last paragraph, and laughed. Yes!

p.s. you deserve supervotation for your theories on map data.

(no subject)
posted by Ben Yamiin on October 2nd, 2007 10:03 PM

Excellent writeup (I read the whole thing) and excellent photography. Maybe I should try this...I wouldn't mind borrowing your equipment if I do, or at least your idea (if that's OK)


posted by Lank on October 2nd, 2007 11:00 PM

You rule, sir. I chose my route for this task in such a way that I could avoid crossing streets (I only crossed 4). Crossing streets blindfolded is very scary! That's amazingly brave of you.

I love:

"OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT curb grass pole median pause photo photo photo wait listen wait listen wait listen GO OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT CURB"


Re: lots of previous comments.
posted by Loki on October 3rd, 2007 12:53 AM

Bex, that's a wild photo. (I'm descended from the nearly body-hair-less ethnicities of three different continents. I've not been sufficiently grateful for it until now. . . )

Ink Tea, you'll note that I acknowledged the rules and then flaunted them with wild abandon. If anything, I deserve more scorn than those who can claim to have never paid attention to the task description. I've committed the tasking equivalent of saying, "If I were a jerk, I'd tell you how stupid and ugly your pants look."

Ben, or "he of many names whose fonts I've not yet learned to produce on my keyboard," to the extent I can claim "copying Lank" as an original idea, you're welcome to use it. And, as they say in the trendier Barcelona sex clubs, "Mi anteojos de la soldadura y mi bastón plástico es su anteojos de la soldadura y su bastón plástico."

Lank, thanks for the compliment. From you, it means a hell of a lot. You may have crossed fewer streets, but some of them were in locations you have never seen with open eyes. In my book, that makes you a fucking rock star.

(no subject)
posted by Charlie Fish on October 3rd, 2007 9:55 AM

Brave. And honestly described.

Makes me want to do it, and I couldn't ask for more.

"literally shaking"
posted by susy derkins on October 5th, 2007 11:54 PM

After I started reading this completion it was impossible to stop. Wincing while going through almost every paragraph, shoulders up, wanting it to be over, to just read that you had lifted off those damn welding googles already. Such a carefully crafted task and so much left unsaid, I feel: the way your breathing would have sounded on the spoken notes, never a single "I sat on a bench for a while" and the time flying by unnoticed; nothing about manouvering the cane on stairs or about bruises found afterwards. Just on passing,

cafes with outdoor seating, signs, bike racks, city utility cabinets, newspaper racks, bus stop benches, parking meters, planters, light poles, utility poles, trees, broken pavement, traffic cones, and a dense flow of pedestrians, dogs, and skate-boards on the sidewalk
every one of them a puzzle that was deciphered and left behind. I can only come with adjectives from old SF magazines: Astounding! Amazing! Startling! Astonishing! Stirring!
Ah, and the map placard caption is my favorite.

(no subject)
posted by Burn Unit on April 20th, 2010 8:14 AM

Perfect object lesson: now we can vote with a low value vote to preserve your original intent (keep Lank's fleur) and still show our great approval.

Everyone wins!

(no subject)
posted by Lincøln on April 20th, 2010 9:45 AM

Fine point Senator.