Vitanova, the connective tissue bank of South Africa.

I can(’t) see clearly now the rain has gone…

What does ‘seeing’ look like to someone who is visually impaired?

Our world is made up of colours and shapes and we rely on sight – one of our five senses – to see objects around us and perceive colour, brightness, and depth. The sense of sight is considered to be one of the most complex of the five human senses.

Emma and Sandra Venter, Awareness & Recovery Manager, Vitanova

How do we see?

Vision occurs when light is processed by the eye and interpreted by the brain.

Light passes through the transparent eye surface (the cornea). The pupil, the black opening in the front of the eye, is an opening to the eye interior. It can get larger or smaller to regulate the amount of light entering the eye.

The coloured portion called the iris, is really a muscle controlling the pupil size.

The inside of the eye is filled with a gel-like fluid.

There is a flexible, transparent lens that focuses light so it hits on the back of the eye (the retina). The retina converts light energy into a nerve impulse that is carried to the brain and then interpreted.

The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer. It is the thin, transparent dome-shaped surface of the eye that covers the iris (the coloured part of the eye), pupil, and anterior chamber. The cornea forms the protective covering of the eye and focuses most of the incoming light.

All the colours of the rainbow

Colour enhances our ability to give meaning to the world around us. Which colours humans and other animals see depends on the light-sensing cells, or photoreceptors, in the eye. There are two types of photoreceptors: rods, which detect dim light and are used for night vision, and cones, which detect different colours and require brightly lit environments.

Humans have three distinct colour-sensing cones—for red, green, and blue light. By combining these cells’ signals, the brain can distinguish thousands of different colours. Most other mammals only have two types of cone cells, for green and blue/ultraviolet (UV) light.

But what do you see when you can’t see?

Most of us take sight for granted.  But there are millions of people worldwide with impaired vision.  Damage to the cornea of the eye causes a range of eye conditions.  Some conditions are treatable, while others require a cornea transplant to improve or restore sight.

The non-profit German Society for Tissue Transplantation (DGFG) found a novel way to illustrate to sighted people what ‘seeing’ may look like, if your vision is impaired and raise awareness about tissue donation.

For more than a year, seven students of the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography course at the Hanover University of Applied Sciences devoted their cameras to tissue donation from different perspectives. Students filmed real patients who gave an insight into their lives, their work, and their families. They reported their pain, their suffering, and their recovery.

The project was supported by transplant institutions and donor hospitals which arranged contact with transplant recipients and allowed photographers into normally restricted areas, such as operating theatres.

A close-up look

One of the students, Elias Holzknechta freelance photographer based between Hannover (Germany) and Innsbruck (Austria) with a deep interest in social and geopolitical issues – spent a year documenting the recovery journey of a cornea recipient, Jan whose eye was severely injured in an accident at work.

During a routine task on an ordinary day, a sharp object slipped and lacerated Jan’s eye.  Jan required several eye surgeries as well as a cornea transplant to restore some sight in the injured eye.

Through interviews and filtered photography, Elias tried to depict, through the images below, what Jan saw at different stages of injury and recovery.    At the end of the project, Jan was still recovering, but his sight was improving daily.



With these images that talk straight to the heart, DGFG would like to encourage people to think about tissue donation.  A poster exhibition and accompanying newspaper articles helped highlight the need for tissue donation.  Read the full story here.

You can give the gift of sight.

By registering as an organ and tissue donor, you can help patients waiting for life-saving and life-enhancing transplants.  Simply click here, complete the short registration form, and a representative from the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF) will call you to complete the registration and answer any questions you may have.

It is important to share your wish to donate organs and tissue with your family.

Information regarding cornea donation and transplants can be found at the following locations:


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