"The Exhibition" by Christophe Poizat


For the original French version, use the language switch in the header of the website.

“I love it!”  

Hugo Reinhard, a former-senior-reporter-turned-art-critic, could not believe his eyes. The walls of the Art.Inc Gallery resounded to the rhythm of his “I love it”, uttered far too loudly. All the guests at the opening of Sélène Desbords’ photography exhibition turned at once to look at the forty-something-year-old, with both annoyance and amusement. Some smiled when they saw him in his pink suit, which was far too big for their taste, clearly confirming this stranger’s eccentric nature. Undeterred, he raised his glass and shouted even more loudly, “Congratulations to the artist!”  

Allowing himself to be carried away by the Ode to Joy, the chosen background music, he looked again at the photographs on display at the exhibition, which he found enchanting. Portraits of women, children and men of all ages and from all continents filed past him. Hugo was fascinated by their mysterious beauty, which was enough to make the Mona Lisa pale into insignificance. It was then that he noticed the backdrops, which were both strange and familiar. He wondered, as a good art critic should, “Could these cities, these interiors and these landscapes be a key to interpreting the photos?” He stepped closer, his face soon brushing against the portrait of a farmer with skin as wrinkled as the freshly ploughed fields that lay behind him. Intrigued, he noted that the paper was singularly and inconsistently grainy, like a work in relief.  

“Do you like it?”  

When Hugo failed to respond, Sélène Desbords, wearing sunglasses and a JR hat (JR being a street artist, for those not in the know), repeated her question, raising her voice. “Do you like it?” 

This time, Hugo reacted, taking a step back before making himself known again with an impassioned, “No, I don’t like it. I love it!” He followed up with, “But how do you do it? You’re the artist, right?”  

Sélène whirled around, letting her long blue dress break the silence that had settled, before she said in one breath, full of self-confidence, “Yes, I’m the photographer. And blind from birth, as you probably know. How do I do it? I take photographs by sound, smell, touch and with the help of my home-made camera, which recognises my environment, describes it to me instantly and, in doing so, helps me to frame and capture the moment. But that’s not the point. My secret is simple: I love people! I've never seen what I’ve photographed, but I’m told that it’s good, so....” 

Hugo nodded. “Your work is not just good, it’s brilliant! You have a real talent!” 

“Thank you, but why are you shouting so loudly? I’m blind, not deaf.” 

“You might not be, but I am, almost completely,” replied Hugo. “I lost 90% of my hearing in Ukraine during my last reporting assignment, and my hearing aid is not working very well today.” 

“Oh, I’m sorry! You… you… were in Ukraine?” 

“Yes, from March 2022, as a senior reporter. You don’t have to apologise; I didn’t notice that you were blind!” 

Hugo and Sélène burst out laughing. 

“On the other hand,” Hugo continued, “when this hearing aid works, it’s amazing, because it translates all languages simultaneously. Of course, I didn’t have it yet when I was in Ukraine. It’s a pity, because I didn’t understand when someone shouted in Ukrainian, ‘Watch out, mines!’ So now I have a hearing aid, and I’m able to walk thanks to an exoskeleton hidden discreetly under a baggy pink suit!” 

“Wow... from what I can’t see, you’re quite charming.” 

Their laughter intermingled once again, their smiles increasingly sharing a sense of accord, before Sélène spoke again, her face radiant. 

“Thank goodness humanity is progressing!” 

“You mean in terms of technology?” 

She thought about it, then decided on a simple answer, not wishing to get into a philosophical discussion about the progress of humanity in general. 

“Yes. Without technology, no photos for me and no listening or walking for you.” 

“If I understand correctly,” Hugo continued, “you developed your ‘home-made’ camera yourself... So you’re not only an artist, you’re good with technology as well?” 

“I’m an engineer with a PhD in optics.” 

“Are you kidding?” 

“Always, because laughter is important, but no, I really do have a doctorate in optics. I worked on DVS, or dynamic vision sensors, a new type of sensor inspired by nature, which is faster and uses less energy. It will revolutionise optics.” 

“Explain it to me!” 

“No time. Look it up on the Internet.” 

Hugo couldn’t fail to hide his surprise. “You seem to be in a hurry all of a sudden. What’s going on?” 

Sélène didn’t take the time to answer this question, being far too conscious of the fact that their words were running out.  

“If you want to know what changed my life, it was meeting a group of people who are, like me, different, shall we say, and who, together with others, want to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” 

Hugo asked, “What do you mean?” 

“Our experience is that, the more diverse we are, the more we find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems! The proof? I’m blind, I have a PhD in optics, I’m a photographer and my camera is highly innovative! So we have not only blind people, but also deaf people, sociologists, engineers, people without speech, neuroscientists, foreigners, athletes, homeless people, artists, geeks, autistic people, eccentrics... and even so-called normal people: a real joy! Our main problem is finding normal people. In fact, there are fewer ‘normal’ people than you might think, which is hardly surprising – for example, about one in four Europeans are considered to have some form of disability. So our group is incredibly diverse... and it works! We already have dozens of patents to our credit: ultralight, all-terrain, electric wheelchairs, our dis-app-bility series – apps for people with disabilities, such as a multilingual app that reads lips with immediate transcription on connected glasses, not to mention technical improvements for the future Olympic and Paralympic Games.” 

Sélène seemed to be staring at Hugo, who didn’t know what to say, drowning in a sea of words and ideas.  

“It’s impressive,” he finally murmured. “You’re creative because you’re curious and open, you care about other people and…” 

“Yes, we innovate because we decided not to leave anyone by the wayside. That requires lots of brainpower and determination! And love!” 

“Like when you take photographs,” Hugo ventured. 

“Thanks. I can’t see myself, but I’m sure you’re making me blush now.” 

“Are you always so surprising?” 

“No, I can be boring too, but if you really want to know everything, you haven’t actually seen anything... Because my photos are also designed for blind people!” 

“Can you explain it this time, without referring me to the Internet?” 

“Yes, but briefly, because we only have 1,500 words!” 


“You'll understand soon enough. So, in short, my photos are in Braille!” 

Sélène pointed out that the signs didn’t say “Don’t touch”, but rather “Please touch”. She took his hand and placed it on one of the photographs. Hugo felt the raised surface… Dots. Patterns made of dots... Hugo had noticed that the photo paper was grainy, but never, oh never, would he have imagined that it was to enable partially sighted and blind people to “see” photographs!  

“3D printing,” Sélène said proudly. “This makes it possible to scan a face and even to perceive emotions through the words in Braille that I hide in the reliefs that indicate the shapes.” 

It was definitely at this moment that Hugo fell in love, but that’s another story, and the words are running out... 

“Erm… what’s this about 1,500 words?” 

“Do you really want to know?” 


“Well, I like to write, but I lack imagination, so I gave a topic proposed by the European Patent Office on the 50th anniversary of the European Patent Convention... to an artificial intelligence tool.” 

“Are you joking again?” 

“No. The topic, which I’ve adapted a little and given to this home-made AI, which has been trained, as it should be, in diversity, is as follows: ‘Write, in 1,500 words, a story that addresses, with a touch of humour and a touch of love, the theme of ‘Disability & Innovation’, under the banner of diversity and inclusion.’” 


“We are at 1,498 words.”