Shots in the dark

TONY DEIFELL, a photographer, is the author of "Seeing Beyond Sight," published this month by Chronicle Books.

WHEN I FIRST SAW the photographs of the sidewalk, I thought they were a mistake. Perhaps Leuwynda had intended to capture a classmate or one of the large oak trees scattered across the campus. I was wrong. As soon as Leuwynda got her camera, she knew what she wanted to do: photograph the cracks in the sidewalk.

The pictures were proof of damage, and she sent them, along with a letter, to Supt. Sheila Breitwieser. “Since you are sighted,” Leuwynda wrote, “you may not notice these cracks. They are a big problem since my white cane gets stuck.”

Photography wasn’t the most obvious subject to teach at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, N.C. Even Jackie, one of my first students, was incredulous: “What are you thinking, teaching photography to blind people?”

When the first pictures came back, I was looking for something that resembled what I was accustomed to seeing in photography. But all I saw were missed opportunities: heads cut off and out-of-focus images.

Over time, though, I came to see the images differently. I found that looking at them was like listening to someone who has recently learned a new language and speaks with surprising originality in his or her choice of words and unwitting candor.