Taking stunning rowing photos has given Roesie Percy an even greater appreciation of our sport. Ira Dubey from Junior Rowing News finds out more
Rowing means something different to every athlete; some find the evening outings in sun-kissed waters to be a means of relaxation, while others immerse themselves in their steady-state ergos preparing for a regatta season full of highs and lows.
And it means something special to Roesie Percy, a third-year university student, more commonly known by her social media handle @a_blind_photographer who’s been registered severely visually impaired since birth.
“I don’t have much central vision, which means I can’t see detail very well. I don’t have peripheral vision either. The fact that I found a sport that I wanted to do, and could do… It meant a lot to me.”
However, Roesie never found rowing, it found her.
“I was walking around Bristol harbour at the age of 12 and I stumbled across a 250m erg testing session for the general public,” recounted Roesie. After competing in it, she was promptly offered a place on the waiting list and six months later she was rowing for City of Bristol RC.
Struggling with the internal dilemma of sometimes needing help, but also wanting to be independent, rowing helped to create a perfect balance. Through rowing, Roesie became part of a community, where she could feel the same as everyone else whilst using her visual impairment as an asset.
“I look for colours and bold shapes, things that are contrasting while many others look for detail”
“People do use their eyes in rowing, but you don’t necessarily have to, because it’s all about the feel of the boat. Having a visual impairment, having to feel for the boat a bit more than others would, does help with technique.”
Feeling the rhythm rather than seeing is something all rowers strive for but often struggle with. “From a sighted person’s perspective you do use your eyes more than you should, so you almost need to go all the way – to blindfold people or do eyes closed rowing to make them all feel the same”.
Competing in regattas through to her last year in the junior circuit, Roesie then found herself in a precarious position with no doubles partner. Luckily, it was around this time she began dabbling in photography.
“I went to the Boat Race the previous year, and actually got some semi-decent shots! I decided to keep going to events if I was racing, but to bring my camera along too.”
Like many juniors, Roesie later found herself questioning the purpose of rowing and load-intensive training regimes without the allure of competition. Like so many before her though, she decided that instead of leaving it completely, rowing photography was the best way to stay around and connected to the community she loved.
“In 2019 I went to the Boat Race and Nat Schools Regatta and then everything started to really kick off. I thought to myself, I could actually make this something, people are asking for my photos.”
Junior Rowing News were one of those asking for her photos. After a brief affiliation during Henley 2019, they messaged her formally in July 2020 asking her to be their official photographer. “I haven’t looked back ever since.”
Being visually impaired, Roesie has a different take on photography than many of her peers.
“I look for colours and bold shapes, things that are contrasting while many others look for detail.”
Fortunately, rowing is a sport with many bold shapes but even then, capturing the perfect rowing photo can be difficult.
“My favourite moment of my entire career was photographing the victorious Temple Challenge Cup Nereus crew”
“When you go to certain races you really need to know how the boat moves. Where are they going to come from, knowing the course you’re at. You need to know the sport like the back of your hand.”
Roesie credits her junior years for the knowledge she has amassed, but also feels that she’s learnt more about the sport through photography than she would have done if she were still rowing.
With COVID-19 bringing almost two years of uncertainty, HRR 2021 was always going to be a highpoint for many athletes, bringing with it that irresistible cocktail of highs and lows played out on dappled Oxfordshire waters. It was also an important memory for Roesie.
“My favourite moment of my entire career was photographing the victorious Temple Challenge Cup Nereus crew from the Netherlands as I went on the press barge.”
“It just shows the spirit of Henley, what it’s all about. After they won the final, all their supporters jumped into the water and just swam out to greet them. I remember I got the settings on my camera slightly wrong, but I just couldn’t put it down.”
Where some say a picture is worth a thousand words, to Roesie, photography means a lot more. The adrenaline rush, a feeling familiar to many athletes, is what drives her. Referring to her pictures from Henley 2021, Roesie says “It’s capturing moments like that make me fall in love with the sport even more.”
See more of Roesie’s photos on her Instagram feed here.