Saturday, 10 March 2012

Joe Stinton: a shot in the dark

Last week I completed my story of Joe Stinton, a thirty-seven-year-old blind shooter from Helston, Cornwall. Joe shoots every Wednesday afternoon at Helston and District Rifle Club as part of the Cornwall Blind Association's club programme which started in 2002 (the club itself was originally set up in 1939, and is still used to this day for amateur shooters young and old).

Joe is an incredible man, and an extremely talented shooter; but he hasn't been blind from birth. As I found out upon the second time of meeting him, Joe had his sight for nearly thirty years prior to going blind. An unimaginable event, which took place in 1998, meant Joe would be rendered completely blind for the rest of his life.

Joe is both diabetic and wheat intolerant (two conditions which are often thought to go hand-in-hand). It was around the first anniversary of his marriage that he had a severe reaction to wheat, hospitalising Joe immediately. To help with the reaction - which saw Joe in a coma on the day of his anniversary - he was administered immunosuppressant drugs. However, whilst in most cases people with their immune systems down are required to stay quarantined in the hospital (for example after a kidney transplant), Joe was discharged, and allowed to walk free with a severely weakened immune system. It was then that Joe contracted septicaemia, a form of blood poisoning which, in severe cases, can result in blindness. Joe would never see again.

But he does not dwell on it, and is grateful for having "built up a good life" and "met some amazing people". "I have done a lot of things which I wouldn't have if I hadn't lost my site" said Joe of the fact that, apart from shooting, he has cycled tandem from John O'Groats to Land's End. 

Joe relies on a laser fixed to the gun's barrel  to 'see'. The laser points towards the target, resulting in a high pitched noise to be relayed to the headset; the higher the pitch, the closer he is pointing to the centre of the target. Once all his shots are fired, the target is pulled back to the Joe via the rope and pulley system for inspection.   

There are two disciplines in blind shooting: Supported and Unsupported. Quite self-explanatory, Supported shooting is with the use of a tripod and a chair; Unsupported is with neither. Of course, shooting unsupported is far harder, and only Joe and one other shooter at the club are skilled enough to do it. 

Joe's gun

Joe has been shooting since 1999, stopping only momentarily when his child was born. He has been selected twice to compete in the World Championships, and last Friday he competed, along with the rest of the Helston team (which consists of around eight other blind/visually impaired shooters), at the British Blind Shooting Championship in Wolverhampton.

Keith Busby is Joe's 'helper', guiding him only for manoeuvres which require more dexterity than average - for example: as he moves from the waiting room to the shooting range, loading the gun, and the initial aiming of the rifle.  

Helper Kieth Busby acts as Joe's eyes when initially aiming the gun towards the target. After that, it is all down to Joe.

Keith inspects Joe's target after a round of shooting.

A perfect score of fifty. Joe gets five shots before the round is over; the bullseye is worth ten points. During competition, however, the competitors only have two shots per target, with thirty targets to hit under timed conditions. 

This series of photographs will be edited down to just a five-picture story for my 'Fragile' assignment. My next assignment will be based around the idea of 'Touch'. 


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