Faces Behind the Screen: Ian Treherne

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Ian looks into the camera while wearing a cardigan over a shirt and tie. He's poses with his walking cane.

Ian Treherne is a blind photographer from Essex, U.K., a county in southeast England. Since childhood, Ian has always been fascinated with photography. In the mid-2000’s, Ian ventured into professional photography, uniquely capturing the beauty of the world around him. 

You can visit Ian’s website to view his full gallery and order prints. If you would like to keep up with Ian’s latest adventures, you can follow him on his social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Flickr

Part 1

I believe I was born an artist. The first thing I ever did was draw and sketch with pencils and paper. Just thinking about it, my photography and my drawing are very similar. I enjoy contrast, light, and shadows. 

I’ve always been a hands-on person. I had an interest in old film cameras, back when digital cameras didn’t exist. I particularly liked the idea of a mechanical box that could take a picture. It was something that always interested me. 

When I was 15 years old I was told that I was going blind. I remember the doctor sitting me down and telling me that I had Usher Syndrome, or Retinitis Pigmentosa Type 2, resulting in severe hearing and vision loss. When I heard the news, I panicked. I told myself that I have to see as many things as possible before it all goes too dark. 

I set out with my little camera, which I still have to this day, and I was obsessed with capturing every moment. It wasn’t anything artistic, but they were moments that I wanted to remember. I still have all those photos to this day in a massive box. 

That was one aspect of my love for photography, but there are so many other parallel things. I used to look through magazines or walk through art galleries in London and see paintings; it just does something to me that I can’t put into words.

My other informal art education was watching films. I used to go to a video shop and rent a video for a couple of days. I loved spending a Saturday afternoon watching a film. I learned a lot of my compositions through movies. Cinematography and photography are very similar. 

Fast forward to the early 00’s. It was still in the early stages of digital photography. I didn’t really get into it until 2009 when I did open mic night. I met a photographer in this quirky pub. I was looking at one of his photos and I realized digital photography got a lot better over the years. His photos looked amazing. From there, a little seed was planted in my mind. I didn’t have a lot of computer skills or knowledge on exposure, but I thought that this was something I could try.

I eventually bought a digital camera and acted like I was a professional photographer. I was being over enthusiastic, but that’s how I learned. I learned through trial and error. I was able to go out there and mess up. Then I would go on Google to ask questions. We live in such a great time where we can just apply ourselves and learn something new. Back in my day, you had to go to university to learn something. Now you can find a tutorial on the internet. 

Overtime, I became more confident in my photography skills. Photography has opened up so many doors for me. It’s helped me come out as a blind person. It’s the only thing keeping me connected to the world. I believe it allows me to still interact, but also be on the outside witnessing creativity. 

When people find out that I’m a blind photographer, they’re usually a bit baffled and confused. Generally when people ask, I’m more than happy to explain. I remember going on holiday last year. I was walking around with my white cane and my camera. This guy approached me and asked how I was able to take photos while being blind. I explained the situation to him and he understood. I like when people respectfully ask me questions. 

I find it harder when people stare and judge. They think that I’m not really blind and that I’m faking it. What I’ve discovered over the past couple of years is that the word “blind” is confusing to some people. They think it’s all or nothing, and that there’s nothing in between. It’s either you’re sighted or completely blind. The bizarre thing is that the people who are totally blind make up a smaller percentage of the blind population as opposed to what I call the “in-betweeners”, who are partially or severely visually impaired. 

I sometimes find it frustrating when people are totally incapable of acting normal around blind people. They say that they don’t, but they become awkward around you. I see it all the time from my little tiny window. I see the fear of my cane. Sometimes people will avoid me like the plague like I’m some zombie from The Walking Dead. They see my cane and immediately cross the road just to avoid me. 

Blind people are normal people. You get nice people. You get horrible people. You get plump people. You get funny people. You get quiet people. You get loud ones. That’s the same with blind people. We’re all different. We all come in different shapes and sizes. 

I sometimes wonder if people act the way they do toward blind people because there isn’t a sighted connection and it causes a barrier. It’s similar with hearing, too. Our sight and hearing are probably the most dominant senses we have in order to communicate. If there’s a sight barrier, then a sighted person may not have any instructions on how to deal with a blind person. I think there needs to be instructions on how to interact with blind people. There have been some amazing YouTubers who make videos about their blindness. I applaud them for getting their message across to people. 

If you’re sighted, don’t be afraid of blind people. Just approach us and say hi! Tap us on the arm. Don’t just shout. Just approach us gently. We’re not going to bite! 

Part 2

Black and white photo of a woman in a sweater

Photo by Ian Treherne

Blindness is what people don’t really generally want to hear. Most people want to hear just the more inspiring side of things, which is great. Which is great. But people don’t really want to hear things like, I wish I wasn’t blind, or, you know, I wish I had full eyesight sight. Or people always would say, would your photography be like this if you weren’t blind like this?

And the thing is I would be doing a lot more if I had full eyesight. I hate being blind. I’m very artistic. I’m very enthusiastic. I’m very adventurous. I like being out and about. I love doing things. And really, the last few years, it’s kind of just gone downhill. You know, I’m doing less and less. And I was thinking about this yesterday.

And I feel like since I’ve started using the white cane, I feel like I’ve had to give up even more things because I feel I have to conform to the public’s idea of what a blind person is. Thinking, oh, you know, should I be going rock climbing? People sort of questioning, you know, should you be doing that? You can’t really see very well.

And so yeah, I feel like I kind of have stopped myself from doing a lot of things. And that’s really made me really down and really depressed, really, because I would never have thought that I would allow myself to do that, because I’m, one, very– I consider myself to be a strong person. To try and to push through things, you know, battle the biggest problems and issues.

But I feel like after the last seven years of like, say, you know, leaving my job, leaving my car license, forced into bankruptcy, having a breakdown, I just feel really defeated at the moment, if I’m really honest.

And I’m trying to find ways to keep myself going. And I’m trying to find ways to break those perceptions of what a blind person is. And I’m still trying to figure that out. And I don’t really know how to do that. I guess it’s why I’m grateful for my photography, because it’s somehow allowed me to bring up the blindness more and talk about that, and you know, and with the photography.

I think my biggest thing is loneliness. I’ve gone from the kid that was always out on his bike, always out with his friends, I was never in. You know, I was out all the time. I loved exploring, going on bike rides, hanging out with my friends. And when I got older, it was driving, so you know, I was doing the same sort of thing. I’ve always been passionate about life and– and yeah. But whilst at the same time knowing I have this eye condition that was already prohibiting me from doing things and I knew that eventually, all this life was going to come to an end.

But I wasn’t prepared for the lasting effects that it was going to give me. In a nutshell, how I feel, what I’m feeling is probably how retired people feel, in a way that you spend all your life working, you get up early every morning, you go to work, you’re busy. And you do that for years and years and years, and suddenly you stop. And it’s OK for maybe like a week, two weeks, maybe three weeks.

But I can tell you, after a month, two months, three months, a year, two years, three years, I can’t tell you how much that really just ruins you mentally. Because as human beings, we are meant to be on the go. We are meant to be productive. And as must we moan about it and we hate it and we wish it wasn’t Monday and we wish it was Friday, it is quite amazing how your body and mind just disintegrates very quickly.

I’ve had quite a lot of proud moments if I’m really honest. If I really, really think about it, it’s all to do with being blind, so I guess that’s where the positive comes from.

“I hadn’t really looked at my work for a long time. And I was like, oh. Man. You’ve taken some nice photos. And I can tell you, I rarely ever said that to myself in my life.”

Well, gosh, there’s so many. But I’ve been an ambassador for Sense. One thing that I was really proud of when I got an award a couple of years ago. It was a really great feeling of being recognized that I’m doing something for this mission in changing this whole idea of blind people.

A lot of it has been more quite recent. I have a really terrible memory if I’m honest. But even just been asked to do a SkyTalk to doing this TEDx Talk, for me that just makes me so happy that I’m on the right path of being able to talk about this kind of stuff. Yeah, just having my first exhibition or photographing certain people, which I never ever dreamed of would ever happen. And yet it did. And when I look at the pictures, I think my god, did that really happen? Was that real?

A black and white photo with a face looking off into the distance

Photo by Ian Treherne

I mean, how did I make this happen? So just being able to have my photography out there and for people to see. I think probably a lot of artistic people are very critical of their work, really harsh. But I can sort of say to myself that I’m really proud of the body of work that I created and in quite a short span of time from complete amateur to professional.

And I think recently when I was doing my new website and I was having to look through all my work. And I hadn’t really looked at my work for a long time. And I was like, oh. Man. You’ve taken some nice photos. And I can tell you, I rarely ever said that to myself in my life. But I can honestly say, it was only a couple months ago, I was like, yeah, I’m bloody proud of myself here. I managed to make all these photoshoots happen. I managed to meet all these people and people said really, really nice things and very positive and seem to get what I’m all about.

I remember when I photographed– she was an ’80s, ’90s vocalist– Lisa Stansfield. I don’t know if she ever was big in America, but she was big in the UK. And when I photographed her I was just like, this is a dream. I’ve watched her on TV and she’s super famous and all that kind of stuff. And I think I just couldn’t quite believe how this scruffy, long-haired guy somehow managed to find himself working for a film festival or doing portrait jobs or being commissioned.

So, yeah, I, unfortunately, don’t have one proud moment. But overall, I’m happy with what I created artistically, definitely for sure. What I’m going to create in the future, I don’t really know just yet. I think it’s going to be more maybe documenting. So kind of more moving pictures. I’m still doing photography, I’m just not doing as much as I had done in the last– well, I started 2009. So 2009, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. So it was about six years for an amateur.

And suddenly I was voted for Fringe Festival in London and that was another surreal moment that I was nominated for photographer. And it’s moments like that have made it all worthwhile, really. And I’m hoping to sort of move on to maybe something else. I did a protest photo shoot a couple of weeks ago outside London High Courts, the court that you always see on the news.

And it was all for a big protest so I’m really kind of more interested in doing something for someone else. So like they need photos for campaigning, and so if I can help in some way, then I will. And I want to create this photoshoot. They wanted it to be kind of like the Martin Luther King protest shoot, protest in ’68 by the sanitation workers. And it’s like, I am a man. But this time around it was I am a child with a disability, a voice.

So they wanted it to be black and white, quite moody, that kind of thing. Yeah, they were really pleased with the photos. So we’ll see what happens. If someone offered me a job at Vogue, I’ll take it. You know, that would be wonderful. I don’t really know what I want– I kind of just go along with the flow at a minute, figuring out what to do. Like I said before, sort of go back. But like I say, since using the cane, I seem to be doing less and that’s not really the whole idea or point of it so I need to figure that out somehow.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Faces Behind the Screen would like to thank Ian Treherne for participating in our storytelling project. If you’re interested in sharing your story with us, fill out our nomination form.

Pictures of four people who were interviewed for the Faces Behind the Screen project

Faces Behind the Screen is a storytelling project focusing on members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

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