Belated Happy Birthday, Helen Keller!

Happy Birthday Helen Keller: June 27, 1880


Photo courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind Helen Keller Archives

This 1955 black and white photograph shows Helen Keller, on her 75th birthday, assisted by Polly Thomson (secretary and companion) serving birthday cake.
In this black and white photograph, two older women stand shoulder to shoulder behind a lace covered table. On the table is a three-tiered cake decorated with icing flowers and swags and a single small slender lit candle. A stack of small plates with dark patterned rims sits to the left of the cake.

The woman on the left, Helen Keller, is a few inches taller than the woman on the right. Her face is cast slightly downwards. Her eyes are open yet her gaze is not fixed upon anything within the picture frame. Her is mouth opened in a smile. Helen’s dark wavy hair is parted on the left and pulled back from her face. Short waves of whiter hair flanking the part frame her face. Her light-colored damask, short-sleeved dress has a V-shaped neckline that is both wide and deep. It covers her shoulders and dips down to just above her breasts. She wears a triple strand of round white pearls around the base of her neck. Her right arm, bent at the elbow, reaches forward slightly as the broad bladed cake knife in her right hand poises between icing flowers atop the cake, its tip just behind the lone birthday candle. The knife obscures the writing on the far side of the candle but two words, one above the other, are visible on the near side: Birthday Helen.

The woman on the right, Polly Thomson, is wearing a darker dress of the same style and similar fabric except for the sleeves on which are fuller and pouf out at the banded cuff just above the elbow. Her hair is darker than Helen’s and is also worn in waves pulled off the face and parted on the left. With her chin tucked in, Polly’s head tips down toward the cake. Her downcast eyes direct our attention to the cake and the four hands of the women.

Both of Polly’s arms are held in towards her body and are bent at the elbows. Her right arm crosses in front of Helen’s left arm, seen just between the two women’s bodies and below Polly’s right elbow. Polly’s right hand reaches across Helen’s waist as she holds, her fingers gently grasping, the top of Helen’s right hand as Helen cuts the cake. Polly’s lower left arm crosses her body as she loosely holds Helen’s left hand in hers.

The touching right hands and forearms of the women create a V shape at Helen’s waistline, above and to the left of the cake. Their touching left hands and forearms create a smaller V shape, echoing the first, at Polly’s waistline. The down-turned heads and points of the V that are created by the hands direct our attention to the cake.

In the background on the left, behind Helen’s right shoulder, is a candle in a wall sconce. To the right of the sconce, we see the top left corner of the narrow black frame of a picture or document, the glare from the flash bulb obscuring its contents. In the lower left, below Helen’s right elbow the upper left of the dark wooden frame of a shield-backed chair is seen. Between the women and behind Polly on the right, are indistinct dark shadowy shapes resulting from the photographer’s flash.




eyeDESCRIBE a portfolio of images in words

Today is Helen Keller’s birthday.  She would be 137 years old today.  And I am thinking that she would be amazed at the technological advances we all take for granted today.  Things too myriad to mention although I will mention one:  screen readers.  Screen readers that enable people who cannot see to use the Internet, read books, magazines and documents and to share more fully in our common culture.   Screen readers that I hope will be making this blog accessible.  So I am also thinking that this is a good day to launch this blog.

In this space, I will be sharing as some of the descriptions of people, places and things that I have written as well as some of my experiences an audio describer.  For now, it is my intent to post on a weekly basis.  A description of the photograph at the top of this page is below.

The photograph at the top of this post shows the back of a seated woman, seen from the waist up.  She sits, in the center of the photograph, within a darkened rectangle beneath a red swag with gold fringe and above a gently curved railing high above rows of red velvet seats.  A light from above highlights her white hair, bare shoulder and back of her dark blue top.  The white glow of the corner of a small screen is seen to her left, below her shoulder and above the railing.  The rectangular opening fills the right half of the space beneath the swag with its five ruched or gathered sections.  Red panels fill the left half.  There are two square columns to the right of the darkened rectangle where the woman sits.  They have gilding on their framework as well as the scrolling details at their capitals and their square bases.  Gracing the arched frame over the scalloped red swag above the box where the woman sits is more gilding. Another smaller swag arches over the narrow opening between the two columns.

Below the booth where the woman sits, a curved railing with vertical lozenge shaped cutouts.  The lozenge-shaped cutouts are surrounded by more gilding and resemble block Os.  The railing is divided wider, plainer panels into sections of three Os.  There are three full sections visible.

Below the railing, a wedge of steep rows of empty red velvet theater seats rises from the lower left corner to fill most of the lower half of the picture.  A small triangular area of gold fills the lower left from the corner up to the horizontal line of the bottom of the railing.

The walls, panels and swagging all have a busy scrolling pattern of gold on a red background.  It is barely discernible on the swags with their series of shallow U-shaped folds or the wall beneath the railing where a trick of the light and the proximity of the solid red seat make it appear more gold than red but can be clearly seen in the wash of light in the narrow passageway between the square columns in the upper right.