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Becoming A Blind Photographer

A black & white image of a long stretch of railroad track taken from the caboose.

Introduction:

When I began Bold Blind Beauty my original intent was to empower others by sharing lessons I learned through my sight loss. As this site has evolved, however, many of us are beneficiaries of empowerment from the sight loss stories of others. Each of the Women On The Move (WOTM) and Blind Beauties featured here has unmatched strength and resilience. Every story is different as we walk separate paths yet the one thing we share in common is a change in our perspectives.

Experiencing losses in life is universal. How we each deal with our losses is the difference between living and thriving as Megan Sinks, today’s WOTM explains.

Becoming A Blind Photographer

There are events that draw very bold lines between your life “before” and your life “after”, in which nothing is the same on the other side. This is my story.

~Megan Sinks

The Body Battles Itself

Megan & Her Mom (#1 Supporter)
Megan & Her Mom (#1 Supporter)

My line was drawn when I was 25 years old. It was 2011; I was a newlywed and recent college grad with big dreams. What started as excruciating pain in my feet became much scarier when I could no longer see my face in the mirror. Although it’s still not well understood, I’d had an autoimmune attack. Many of my nerves had been damaged, including my optic nerves. Fortunately, after the hemorrhaging subsided, I was left with some functional vision, but I’m legally blind and in constant pain.

My first 25 years were as bright, as I had been, in terms of both grades and spirit. I was a happy person who studied abroad in Germany while getting my Bachelor’s degree in philosophy. My plans were to either go on to graduate school to teach or attend law school. Those plans—everything, really—changed when I was plunged into a disorienting, blurry world of alternating darkness and unbearable light.

My body and mind couldn’t make sense of the sheer amount and variety of pain sensations that never stopped. When I did sleep, it was during the day to avoid the harshest light. I didn’t have much of a schedule, sleeping or otherwise, for the years it took to get my pain under control. I could no longer drive, work, walk well unaided, even prepare a meal or have any semblance of a social life.

In Search Of Answers

My family and I were doing all we could to find the cause for my body’s deterioration, regularly seeing new specialists and trying increasingly dangerous treatments. Our lives were focused totally on this. My young marriage couldn’t handle the stress of this sudden and debilitating illness that made me very dependent, depressed, and… different. We all wanted “the old Megan” back.

I was no longer the bubbly, vivacious, smart young woman I had been, I was desperate and exhausted. I had become a tragic version of myself. In moments of lucidity, I recognized how bad things had gotten but had no idea how to address them.

When my husband and I separated, I felt even more physically and emotionally isolated, living on my family’s farm in rural southern Illinois. As difficult as that time was, I am so grateful for it because I had a lot of internal work to do. I had to learn how to live in this body that seems to hate me, how to appreciate what I have and define what I wanted. My primary goal was to become a contributory, functional part of society again. The only way to do that was to reframe how I saw myself and my situation. I’d been missing “the old Megan” so much, I hadn’t thought I’d appreciate my current self.

The Awakening

In my “Before,” I took everyday beauty for granted like most everyone else. That is until I lost most of my sight and identity. Sight loss caused me to see the world differently, both literally and metaphorically. I used the camera on my phone to take photos of things I wanted to see or read. Then I zoomed in to see the details I couldn’t identify without help. This was my first taste of assistive and adaptive technology which opened up a whole new world for me.

Organically I started to take more and more photos, which gave me a positive way to view my disability. I see the world differently than others and that can be positive as I can use my new perspective to become a better photographer. I’d taken photography classes in college but truly fell in love with it after becoming legally blind. I feel so much joy in rediscovering the visual world and sharing the experience with others.

After spending years going to doctors like it was my job, we were left with more questions than answers. It’s been almost 9 years since the autoimmune attack. I haven’t given up on finding the name of my disease, but I no longer see that as the key to my ability to live a good life I had to move on, somehow.

I attended a school for the blind in Chicago for a year, where I learned essential skills like using my cane properly, reading Braille and performing regular daily activities without sight. (Thank you, Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education/ ICRE-Wood!) From there, I was hired to work at the Base Supply Center at the Great Lakes Naval Center for the nonprofit AbilityOne agency, Beyond Vision.

Moving Onward

My husband and I decided to give our marriage another shot, so he moved with me to the northeastern Chicago suburbs. That was in the summer of 2017 and we are still here, I am still working at the Base Supply Center and I continue to explore the world around me with my camera.

I want to show people, through my art and life, that our limitations can become our strengths and there’s great beauty in disability. Disability is often thought of as simply a lack of ability, but it’s truly having different abilities and perspectives with value. Blindness and other disabilities are so badly understood, yet nearly one in five Americans is living with a disability. Widespread misconceptions are a problem that I hope to help, as no one expects a legally blind person to be a photographer (especially if they don’t realize that most blind people have some vision.) I hope to spread awareness and advocate for people with disabilities we have value and unique talents to offer if given the opportunity.

When I lost my sight, I didn’t think I’d be gaining anything, but I was wrong. The “old Megan” had more depth of field and visual acuity, but the new me has more depth of character and emotion, plus more vision than she could’ve imagined.

Connecting With Megan:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured photo
    • A black & white image of a long stretch of railroad track taken from the caboose.
  • First Gallery (before Megan’s autoimmune attack):
    • A color wedding day photo of Megan standing with her arms around her smiling Mom and #1 supporter. Both ladies look lovely with Megan wearing a strapless white wedding dress and her mom in a sleeveless black dress.
    • Black & white wedding photo of Megan, her husband, and two adorable young nephews. The boys are being held by Megan and her husband.
    • Photo from Megan’s vision test at the beginning of her illness.
  • Second Gallery 3 Black & White Photos:
    • A bare reflection of a tree in a puddle of rainwater on asphalt. 
    • Closeup of the center of a flower.
    • Another closeup of a leaf with water droplets on it.
  • Third Gallery 7 Color Photos:
    • A partial closeup image of a bright yellow sunflower with a brown center.
    • Downward perspective closeup of the pink and white petals and filaments of type of lily.
    • The veins of a brownish leaf with water droplets.
    • Closeup of white tufts of a dandelion.
    • Reddish/brown veins on a green leaf.
    • Yellowish/brown withering leaf and the bright glow of the sun can be seen in the distance.
    • Another pale pink flower belonging to the lily family whose filaments are the focus of the photo.
  • Fourth Gallery 3 Color Photos of Megan today:
    • In the first and third photos, Megan is posing with her mom sporting a stylish cropped haircut.
    • The second photo is Megan, her husband, and adolescent nephews. The four of them are standing close together decked out in winter gear.

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Blind Beauty 74 | Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

Blind Beauty 74 Featured Image Description is in the body of the post.

Blind Beauty 74 | Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

I was born with albinism, which caused me to be legally blind. Due to my lack of sight, I live in a world where bugs don’t exist, dust is something I only hear about but never see and everyone has flawless skin.

~Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

The Times They Are A Changin Rapidly

#1 Blind Beauty 74 image description is in the body of the post.
#1 Blind Beauty 74 | Antonia
Lliteras Espinosa

Aren’t we living in exciting times? I sometimes wonder what our ancestors would think if they could be here in this moment. Who would have thought we’d ever be untethered to a phone line? Or have the ability to connect with someone from around the world instantaneously? Heck, even receiving news almost as soon as it happens is almost miraculous in comparison with days gone by.

As an advocate, one of the things that really excites me is being here to see representation unfold. Just thinking about the logistics of tracking the numerous groups of people gives me heartburn. Can you imagine the group breakdowns? It’s enough to make your head spin.

Being one of the 15% of the world’s population who has a disability, seeing more representation is so empowering. When you have an online presence it’s even more so because you can meet so many more awesome people. Take today’s Blind Beauty, Antonia, for example. Prior to last week, I didn’t know this young woman. Yet thanks to Instagram, when I asked if I could share one of her posts, well, the rest is history.

The Beauty Of Unity

Since it’s out of the ordinary to see blind women on fashion magazine covers, I created Blind Beauty. Living the “be the change you wish to see” philosophy, I created this faux fashion magazine cover to highlight these women. As I’ve said since starting Bold Blind Beauty, “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.”

#2 Image description is in the body of the post.
#2 Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

There are so many beautiful people in our world and the real beauty is how we lift up one another. Following is the rest of Antonia’s quote:

Out of sight out of mind, right? I have been asked many times if there was a cure whether I would take it and, to be honest, I don’t think I would. It has taken me many years to get to where I am today, but I have learned to find joy through my other senses. I appreciate the beauty in the world just as much as the next person and my visual impairment has put me in a unique position where I get to experience the raw humanity that unites us all. I get to see people at their best because I am so vulnerable to others. If I were to suddenly gain my sight, I would miss out on all this and, let’s be honest, the world would be a much dirtier place!

~Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

Blind Beauty 74 Featured Image Description:

Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Antonia’s image on the cover is black & white. In this photo, Antonia is standing in front of a tiled wall posing with her white cane. She looks fabulous in a lace cami, jeans, jacket, shades, and a handbag over her right shoulder. Blocks of text superimposed on Antonia’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”

Additional Images:

  1. This photo is a color image of the Featured Photo. The tiled wall is sort of a dark teal color. Antonia has a
    white/blonde stylish bob hairstyle. Her cami is white with a light blue jacket, blue jeans, and sparkling silver sneakers. Her white cane also has a bright pink handle.
  2. This photo shows Antonia sitting on a park bench. She’s wearing a vibrant royal blue top with a luxe velvet navy jacket with jeans and black flats. Her white cane is propped up against the bench. In the background parked vehicles and storefronts can be seen.

Connecting With Antonia:

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Ginger Anderson| Blind Beauty 61

Blind Beauty 61 Featured Image description is in the body of the post.

Ginger Anderson| Blind Beauty 61

“So many times I want to quit!! But TODAY is the day to begin! This song has brought me through so much these last years. We all have it in us to succeed but often we have to dig deeper than we ever thought possible.”

~Ginger Anderson
Blind Beauty 61 Ginger Anderson image description is in the body of the post.
#1 Ginger Anderson

I cannot say enough good things about the pretty lady I’m going to introduce you to today! I’ve been following Ginger Anderson’s health journey on Instagram and she’s one of the reasons I chose a healthier lifestyle.

Ginger is a wife, mom, knitter, all around powerhouse, oh, and did I mention she’s also legally blind? Earlier this year Ginger began her journey to a healthier lifestyle with a simple decision to just do it. She knew she was in a bad place and also knew she needed accountability. So the next logical step was to find a program to suit her needs. The journey hasn’t been a walk in the park and what I like about Ginger is her transparency about her challenges.

In Ginger’s Own Words

Y’all I am in tears right now!! I am legally blind and I see through a tunnel that is about the size of a quarter and in that tunnel my vision is very distorted and cloudy. I told myself that I couldn’t do the #shiftshop Shop program or #provinggrounds because of my vision and the chronic state of vertigo-like symptoms but you know what??

#2 Ginger Anderson

When @happyhealthyhumble shared Saturday morning before her speech about mindset, that little voice inside me said Ginger you CAN do this!! And I DID it!! It was hard, lost my balance quite a bit, and modified as needed. Tears of joy right now!!! Thank you Amy!!! And thank you @thechrisdowning.

The following video “Today Is Your Day” by Shania Twain is the song Ginger refers to in her first quote:

Blind Beauty 61 Featured Image Description:

Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Ginger Anderson is on the cover in black and white. Her hair is styled in a fabulous asymmetrical pixie cut.

Blocks of text superimposed on Ginger’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”

Additional Images:

  1. Selfie of Ginger with streaked brownish/blonde hair at a craft show. I neglected to mention that Ginger has one of the prettiest smiles and it can be seen in all of her photos. She’s wearing a black top and her makeup is flawless.
  2. Six-panel collage of Ginger in various stages of exercise. She’s decked out in black shorts, black sports bra and gray tank with a white headband.

Connecting With Ginger Anderson:

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World Sight Day | A Road Well-Traveled

World Sight Day | A Road Well-Traveled featured image description is in the body of the post.

This road is where I had the most magical, moving epiphany of my life. 
You see, I had just been declared legally blind, turned in my license and quit work. Yeah, it was what you’d call a Shit-tastophe. But my legs still worked, so they were my transportation and I’d walk this road every day.

~Jennifer Dutrow

Today is World Sight Day and what better time to share this lovely piece written by my friend Jennifer Dutrow? What I love about this post is how Jen clearly demonstrates the power of choice and helping others, no matter our circumstances. Enjoy! 

World Sight Day | A Road Well-Traveled

I took this picture (featured image) in 2015, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not still brought to tears by it. This road is right behind my house. A country road for sure, since there are no lines. A road traveled often by horse and buggy people.

This road is where I had the most magical, moving epiphany of my life. 
You see, I had just been declared legally blind, turned in my license and quit work. Yeah, it was what you’d call a Shit-tastophe. But my legs still worked, so they were my transportation and I’d walk this road every day. 

Consider the road my state of mind at that point in time. The green field on the left was the life I had grown…work, family, success, purpose. The barren field on the right was what I thought my future would be without sight. Unless…unless. 

Unless I realized that life doesn’t end when my sight does. Unless I realized that my life is whatever I make it. It was on this road, on that day in 2015, that I decided to make that barren field green by staying active, learning all I could about fitness and nutrition, and making it my mission to help anyone I could to make their lives as incredible as possible.

World Sight Day Featured Image Description

As Jen described, the photo is an empty country road with lush green grass on one side and a barren field on the other. In the background are rolling tree-laden hills and the cloudless sky is a picture-perfect azure blue.

Connecting With Jennifer: