Kate Oh, vice president and executive creative director of Cheil Worldwide, was struck by a picture she saw in a friend's office -- a child with his ear up to a camera.
"My friend, a professional photographer, said blind people do take photos with their sense of hearing, smell and touch. I was deeply moved and that was the start," Ms. Oh said in an email interview with Ad Age.
Cheil helped organize "Insight Exhibition" by Samsung last month in Seoul, featuring work by 11 students from the Hanbit School for the Blind. Cheil said the exhibit "shows Samsung Electronics' philosophy -- technology makes people happy."
Cheil originally started as Samsung's in-house advertising agency but in recent years has sought to differentiate itself from its key client. Cheil was behind the subway station virtual store campaign for Tesco that won the media Grand Prix at Cannes last year. Cheil has also hired industry veteran and former W+K exec Buz Sawyer to build its reputation in the Americas.
For the exhibition, the students were teamed with Kang Young-ho, a professional photographer, and taught to take photos using different senses.
Project organizers prepared sophisticated cameras that can automatically track and capture the subject of a photo, along with a function that takes the photo when the subject is smiling. But the students surprised everyone with their tech-savvy.
"The moment they received cameras and listened to the brief explanation, they learned everything instinctively and became very skillful," Ms. Oh said. "Then I realized that the kids are such an IT-friendly generation, even though they cannot see."
"Visually impaired children usually have a better sense of hearing, smell and touch," she continued. "Even for me with perfect eyesight, it's not easy to get a good picture of a fast-moving cat. But amazingly, these children just took the shot simply by listening to the cat's movement."
The budding photographers started snapping pictures around their school and homes. Eventually Samsung and Cheil took them to Jeju island, a volcanic island off the coast of South Korea. It was the first time some of the students had ever taken a plane.
"Jeju Island is a perfect fit for our purpose; one can easily find reeds taller than one's height; the island is well known for its strong wind and granite; and one can, of course, smell the sea everywhere," Ms. Oh said.
Some photos feature nature, with dry reeds bending in the wind or birds in flight. Another shows train tracks shrouded in fog. Yet another is simply a photo of a boy's feet, toes curled into wet sand.
Samsung and Cheil plan to continue the program -- in fact, it was a precondition from the principal at the Hanbit school.
"The principal ... wanted to make sure that it does not end as a one-off event. We were also asked to organize the course without hurting children's feelings," Ms. Oh said. "Some parents were concerned with the scheduled trip to Jeju Island, but the majority was very excited about the new project. Since every child needed one assistant teacher, we could not accommodate too many. We had a good start though, so plan to work with more children for the next occasion. "See more of the images from the exhibit below.