Kate Holt’s photograph in a digital frame at the Sightsavers BLINK! Exhibition at the Oxo Gallery in London (Kate Holt/ Arete/ Sightsavers)

Perhaps the most poignant way to raise awareness about a medical condition such as trachoma is by providing people with an experience that illustrates its debilitating effects. During its time at the Oxo Gallery in London, BLINK: The End is in Sight exhibition set out to do just this.

Many of us won’t give a second thought to blinking; we do it mindlessly around 20 times per minute. For people with trachoma, every blink of the eye can cause excruciating pain. Trachoma is a painful eye condition where the eyelid starts to turn inwards; the eyelashes scrape painfully across the eyeball. The disease is infectious and can spread easily in areas that lack proper sanitation and clean water. It is a debilitating disease that worsens over time, trapping people in a cycle of poverty and dependence on others for their care.

Trachoma was illustrated during the Sightsavers BLINK! exhibition through the display of five very special photographs, each in a clever digital frame. Five top photographers, including Arete photojournalist Kate Holt, were asked to provide a photograph of the last thing they would want to see before they lost their sight. The exhibition was designed by Jason Bruges Studios. Each time someone looked at the photo and blinked, the image would gradually decay, representing how someone suffering from trachoma would see the world as their eyesight deteriorated.

Exhibitions are a powerful medium. My thoughts on ‘BLINK! The End is in Sight’ by Kate Holt

Photojournalist Kate Holt standing beside her photograph of the Mau Forest in Kenya (Kate Holt/ Arete/ Sightsavers)

“Innovative exhibitions such as BLINK! can change the way we look at the world and promote education and understanding. I was fascinated by the concept of the exhibition and also the technology behind it.

The Mau Forest, Kenya, in the very early morning. (Kate Holt/ Arete/ Sightsavers)

I chose the image of the Mau Forest in Kenya because it is one I love. It was taken very early in the morning as the sun was just rising and the mist was starting to burn away. Early mornings in Kenya are always special — the day still holds so much hope. When I saw it disappearing in front of my eyes though I felt sad thinking of the people who know they are going blind and what it must be like realising that, very soon, they won’t be able to see or experience that joy and hope of an early morning again. I have elderly parents with eye problems — this makes it even more poignant.

Exhibitions are a powerful medium for educating people and creating awareness amongst new audiences. It was amazing to see the story of this condition told in a new and imaginative way, bringing the concept of trachoma to life so effectively. The Oxo Tower has thousands of people walking past it every day who may not be aware that a disease like Trachoma even exists or what its impact is. The more engaging an exhibition, the more people are drawn to understand the subject further and see how they can help. Blindness as a condition is terrifying to most people and this exhibition illustrated that creatively and effectively.

The exhibition received overwhelming support and reviews and I was very proud to be invited to be part of it”.

A visitor of the Sightsavers BLINK! exhibition looks at a photograph of a woman lying in a meadow of wildflowers (Tommy Trenchard/ Arete/ Sightsavers)

Sightsavers, through ‘The End is in Sight’ campaign, aim to bring life-changing treatments to some of the most vulnerable communities across Africa. In 2019 they beat trachoma in Ghana and have now set their sights on eliminating the disease everywhere else by 2025. A straightforward surgery costing just £44 can reverse the disease and bring back eyesight for late-stage sufferers. Those with the beginning stages of the disease can take antibiotics costing just 15p per treatment. Up until January 9th 2020, the UK government will match all donations up to £2 million, to find out more or how you could make a difference please visit the Sightsavers website or their Medium page.

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