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Featured Finalist: KERRY PRYOR

Unseen

Unseen is a finalist in the 2013 Head On Portrait Prize.

Unseen is from a series of photographs I took while documenting the work of an Australian non-profit foundation, Eyes for Africa.

The group travels to Ethiopia twice a year with volunteer medical staff and performs life changing cataract eye surgery. The series of portraits came from having to document each patient that was scheduled for surgery. This was predominantly for record keeping so the foundation was able to account for funds.

These records evolved into a beautiful series of portraits.

I found a window and set up a chair just next to it. The window was washed with white paint, diffusing the daylight and giving me a lovely result. I was set up in the pre-op area of the hospital, using the main office door as my white backdrop I begun the task of walking each patient through to have their photograph taken.

Asking every patient to sit for a photograph came with its own challenges and complexities that I had not fully appreciated. My Amharic language skills were basic at best and developed quickly. However, we were based in Harar and patients walked in from many areas including Somalia, so many various tribes that use different dialects meant the language barrier was complicated.

Many of the patients had extremely limited vision with advanced cataracts so it was also challenging for them to astatine exactly where I was. Usually through the help of family members and a newly adapted shooting style I made myself understood.

Touching hands, tapping surfaces to make noise, interpretations by helpful locals and guiding people to find the seat next to the window were all useful. Even though most of the patients had very little clue what I was saying, I kept talking through the whole process so at least I could be heard and the patient knew where I was and so could usually find the camera.

We were in a hospital that was, by our standards, very basic. There was no running water. It was delivered by a truck most mornings. Many of the patients had never been to a hospital before let alone seen a doctor. This is an extremely anxious time for the patients and I was given free range of the hospital.

I was able to follow the person through their entire journey from walking through the front gates of the hospital, queuing and waiting to see a nurse to be screened determining if they are suitable for the surgery. I sat with the youngest of patients who stoically waited by themselves, resting, while the anaesthetic in their eye started to work before they went into surgery, I walked in and out of surgeries documenting the whole process, all the way through to the next morning when the doctors took off the eye patch and the patient for the first time in a long time could see again.

It’s like magic.

The image, “Unseen” that I entered into the Head On Portrait Prize, is of a young boy. I saw a lot of people that had either injuries to their eyes, or have had an infection in their eye, that without timely treatment, have resulted in blindness.

This young boy was waiting to see a doctor.

I took this shot in amongst the chaos of the waiting room. Parents were directing him where to look. The next frame after this image he is looking up. His damaged eyes are clearly visible to us.

He is totally blind.

The image “Unseen” is part of  the series Sight Unseen. Visit http://www.kerrypryorphotography.com.au/

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage