Nov 16, 2015 | By Andre

As someone that has spent countless hours in art and photo galleries around the world, I am aware of the profound emotional impact original creative works can have on the observer.

Earlier this year, I spent an afternoon exploring the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The award-winning photography hanging on the gallery walls gave me a genuine view of what things looked like during some of the most horrific periods of the Vietnam War. It provided a way for me to gather an honest impression of what was taking place without the typical blurry bias of war.

John Olson, a long ago war-time photographer that captured some of the gallery's most prolific images, certainly understands the impact a visual recreation can have on its audience.

But just like so much else in the world, not everyone is so fortunate in access to become inspired and touched by what the art world has on offer.

There are 285 million blind and low-vision individuals around the world today that have subsequently been omitted from sharing the same level of emotion I felt that day in Vietnam.

This is where tech startup 3DPhotoWorks and what they're pioneering come into play.

They are a company, founded by the above mentioned photographer John Olson, that hope to give the visually impaired an opportunity to feel what I do while visiting cultural institutions that rely on visual inputs above all else.

3D Tactile Fine Art Printing is the term used to describe an important step that can hopefully narrow the divide between how the visually impaired interact with and experience the world. It is a way to feel the art for those that cannot see the art.

Mark Riccobono, the President of the National Federation of the Blind and partner in 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing says that "while sight is not a prerequisite for success, equal access to information is. The next great frontier in achieving this goal is access to image."

3DPhotoWorks has already spent 7 years developing their novel, patented technology that converts images, paintings or photographs that are traditionally reserved for a two-dimensional world, into 3D Tactile Art Prints.

The tactile feedback provides "a mental picture that allows them to see the art, often for the first time." It is said that the brain can use this tactile information, as if it's coming from their eyes.

This might become a breakthrough for the visually impaired and early case-studies and use reports support this. When asked to describe what 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing provides to them, "Freedom, Independence, and Equality" are all common answers.

Founder John Olson has said that "[their] goal is to make the world's greatest art and greatest photography available to blind people at every museum, every science centre and every cultural institution, first in this country [the U.S.] and then beyond."

And with over 35,000 museums in the United States alone (more than all the Starbucks and McDonalds combined), there is tremendous potential in terms of applying the technology in real-world situations.

From a technical standpoint, little is provided in terms of specifics of how the images are created. What we do know is that the prints consider length, width, depth and texture data during processing.

There also isn't much in terms of what printer was used to produce the tactile art or the amount of finishing necessary.

But providing the technology does what it claims, the details aren't the most important part in these early days. And if the 3DPhotoWorks experienced team of engineers, digital imaging artists, or print making and fabrication experts is any indicator, it appears as though there are some very talented individuals working to make this work.

Like so many 3D Print tech endeavours in the past, the team is currently trying to fund themselves further with a ask of $500,000 through their Kickstarter campaign. The proceeds will primarily be used to scale up production of art pieces so to share with the blind community through museums, science centres and cultural institutions around the USA (to start).

The pledge rewards are all very unique on their own right—a braille watch or your own custom tactile print for example—but the ultimate goal focuses on the bigger picture of enabling the visually impaired a chance experience the emotion I did while standing in front of John Olson's powerful photography in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this year.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Dr. No wrote at 11/18/2015 10:21:40 PM:

converting/sculpting photos/images into a BasRelief... then 3Axis routered and 2D UV inkjet printed on top... nice...

John Olson wrote at 11/16/2015 4:05:36 PM:

Thank you for your article that includes a great mention to our 3D printing for the blind and sight impaired. I think all would agree, it's time that the blind have access to visual information. In that regard, we are asking the world's blind community to tell us what art they want to see first. We hope to have 10,000 "votes" by early December. I hope you will share this link and ask all in the blind community to "Speak Up and let your voice be heard". Thanks, John Olson, 3DPhotoWorks Vote link:

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