By Touch and By Sight


We have been giving away free tactile prints. A tactile print is a version of a photograph designed to be experienced by touch rather than sight. To receive one you simply have to be a subscriber and send an email to with the subject-line 'tactile'. Include in the email your postal address and whether you are a new or existing subscriber. There are about 20 prints still available.

The print comes in an envelope with a link that will take you to a web address where you will hear instructions on how to take out and feel the print and a description of what it depicts. Some readers have already received their prints and have been describing their experience of them.

I gave a collection of prints to a class of students many of whom said that the image was much smaller than the scene they imagined. Emma Gray another reader makes a similar observation:

I found the tactile image to be a brilliant and simultaneously frustrating experience. There was so much detail in the audio description that I failed to pick up on through touch. I'd somehow managed to build up a much more complicated mental image than what was actually represented on the print. The scene turned out to be a lot smaller than what I had envisioned. The whole experience really demonstrates how much we take vision for granted and how we mentally construct images. I think engaging with a photograph through touch makes you more aware of what is important within an image and leads you to realise just how complex an image can be.

In a nice synergy the latest edition of the radio 4 programme In Our Time is about the philosopher Bishop Berkeley. In this programme Michela Massimi talks about a philosophical conundrum of Berkeley's time known as the Molyneux Problem. In this problem a person who is born blind learns to distinguish between a cube and a sphere. They then gain sight, will they be able to tell the difference between the cube and sphere by looking at them, having previously only experienced them by touch? This translation between different types of sensory experience, touch to vision, is exactly what is going on when you feel a tactile print and construct a mental image of the picture.

Here's is the film again that explains how the tactile prints work. If you are a subscriber give one a go and please email or tweet us and tell us what you made of the experience.

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