Notes on Blindness, a synopsis by Rachel Pulver

Notes on Blindness document showing awards from various film festivals.

Notes on Blindness

At age 45 John Hull was registered blind due to a combination of cataracts that developed in his youth and later a detached retina. In June of 1983, three years after being registered blind, Hull began to keep an audio diary on cassette to make sense of his gradual transition into blindness. Hull recorded 16-hours of audio describing his new-found world, the dichotomy of sight and blindness, his new relationships with his children, family, wife and colleagues, and his dreams.

Hull’s audio diary is full of insight, poetic language and a chance to understand what blind individuals may feel and experience. As a blind individual myself, I connected and found companionship with what he said in his cassettes. Hull brought light to the darkness of blindness with his unveiled truths.

Hear John’s Audio Diary Clips

Notes on Blindness_courtesy of the artists.

Notes on Blindness VR Film Experience

In 2016, artists Peter Middleton, James Spinney, Arnaud Colinart and Amaury La Burthe brought the cassette audio diary of John Hull to life by pairing Hull’s words with a six-chapter virtual reality (VR) film experience, Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness. The project has received multiple awards such as the Legacy Peabody Award for Digital & Immersive Storytelling.

The Synopsis

I attended the VR film experience through the distribution of Wonderspaces, which connects the work of artists to new audiences. The VR experience is an interactive soundscape of Hull’s memories. The listener is an observer through the eyes of John Hull. The VR film has an artistic rendering of blindness with colorful signals of sound that are seen and heard throughout the film.

The six chapters in the VR film follow the storytelling of Hull’s audio diary. A landscape is painted before you to aide in the poignant words of Hull’s new world of blindness, as John tells the listener that sound presents the world to blind individuals which is normally covered up by inactivity. Hull states, “If only there could be the equivalent to rain falling inside. Then the whole of the room could take on shape and dimension. Rain brings out the contours of what’s around you. In that it introduces a continuous blanket of differentiated and specialized sound uninterrupted which fills the whole of the audible environment”.

In another chapter of the VR film, Hull describes the anxiety that accompanies him while trying to travel with his diminishing vision. The listener is able to feel and understand the difficult task of travel, the anxiety of not knowing what is around you and the confusion of your space. Hull is quoted saying, “I had a dreadful sense of impending doom. I turned around and walked back to the house”. The audio from Hull and accompanied music are able to convey this challenge to those who have no reference of blindness.

Video of John Hull

John Hull – Blindness and memory: being reborn into a different world.

Notes on Blindness_courtesy of the artists.
In Conclusion

The part that made me tear up was the epilogue section of the film. In this section, the viewer is able to see a realistic, visual outlook of the scenery through the eyes of a person with blindness. Hull is able to dissect and put words to a lot of indescribable feelings related to blindness and disability. Hull most eloquently says, “It is strange going back to these memories after more than 30 years. It’s like reopening an old wound; perhaps disability is like that. At one level, of course, you get used to it. You heal. You forget. But then something like this comes along and it is as if there’s a running sore far beneath that has never been healed”. A fact of life that many can relate to.

Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness is a multi-facetted work of art that allows others to experience a world that is not theirs, but nevertheless; is still a world that many blind people live every day. Arnaud Colinart, creative director, producer of Notes on Blindness, stated in an interview with the podcast Voices of VR, “…this project is really to raise awareness in terms of what it is to live without the sense of sight that leads 90% of our relation to the world”. Sighted listeners are able to understand the challenges that come with being blind, thus, bringing the blind and sighted audience together.

Special Note:

Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness is available on Oculus Quest and Rift for anyone who wants to experience this story in VR.

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