Looking through the eyes of ‘Blind Ambition’
Sunday:Blind Ambition; (BBC Two, 10pm)
Do you need good eyesight to make great art? And how do artists react when their vision deteriorates?
Those are the main questions that arise from Blind Ambition, a one-off programme in which two visually impaired creative people explore how others cope with losing their sight.
Over the past 20 years in the industry, director and producer Jamie O’Leary has produced groundbreaking TV programmes taking a fresh look at disability: Seven Dwarves, I’m Spazticus, and Teenage Dwarf, as well as working on popular travelogue shows with the likes of Karl Pilkington, Romesh Ranganathan and Katherine Ryan.
However, Jamie also has really bad eyesight – the average person with myopia has a prescription of -2.5 whereas his is -32, and now he’s facing eye surgery that could potentially lead to sight loss.
At this pivotal point in his life, he wants to explore how creative people cope with losing their sight, and how blind artists achieve their creative vision of a world they see from a unique perspective.
He’s hooked up with blind Glaswegian stand-up comedian Jamie MacDonald to bring light and shade to facing blindness.
Last year, disabled artist and film-maker Richard Butchins presented BBC Four programme The Disorderly Eye, in which he challenged the importance of good vision in making great art and suggested that visual impairments have contributed positively to its creation.
This documentary follows similar themes, as the ‘two Jamies’ embark on a ‘blind leading the nearly blind’ mission to uncover and collaborate with the best blind creative talent out there.
Under the control of the programme producer, they set off on a road trip, meeting blind creatives and sampling life in their worlds.
They begin with Ian Treherne, a professional photographer specialising in arresting portraits and compelling landscapes.
Ian is 95 per cent blind and has Retinitis Pigmentosa Type 2 which means he has central vision but no peripheral.
He takes the Jamies along the Southend seafront so they can have a go at photography.
Ian then takes some publicity stills of the pair for the programme, but they become suspicious of the producer’s motives as they’re ask to wear increasingly ridiculous costumes.
Next, O’Leary and MacDonald meet a young rapper from Reading, 27-year-old Stoner.
He contracted meningitis aged 11 and within five years became completely blind.
His music has been lauded by established stars on the rap scene, including Tinie Tempah and Giggs, who he has supported on tour.
MacDonald and O’Leary travel north to Derby and meet Chris Fisher, the UK’s only completely blind professional woodturner.
In 2008, he contracted toxoplasmosis and within four weeks had completely lost his sight.
Chris produces textured sensory and tactile pieces of art, and encourages the duo ‘to have a go’, which leads to O’Leary having quite an emotional turn.
In London, the pair meet Lizzie Capener, who has been performing opera nationally and internationally for the past 20 years.
Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, this new mum navigates the world with her guide dog Ziggy.
But when the programme producer insists that this tone-deaf twosome learn to sing opera, the pair revolt.
O’Leary wrestles back control of the programme and begins a series of surprising collaborations with these and other artists, including blind figurative painter John Bramblitt and visually impaired digital artist Robert H King, to create an exhibition of extraordinary ‘blind ambition’.
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