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The Irony of Being a Blind Sports Photographer

At only 18, "artist, international student and blind man" Max Fulham is well on his way to making his dream of being a professional sports photographer a reality.

Blind photographer Max Fulham, behind the lens, captures the action during the World Cup in Amstelveen, Netherlands | Photo credit: Alwyn Robinson

Photography, an inherently visual art, is a highly detailed, skilled art form. But, as many ask: How can you be a semi-professional in a visual art field when you’re blind? That’s my story – a story I will gladly share with you now.

Before we get to the juicy elements, the real success story, a little bit about me: my name is Max Fulham. I’m an artist, an international student, and a blind man. 18 years old, I moved with my camera equipment from my home in Ireland to the Netherlands in the pursuit of two things: a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) and a photography career covering field hockey.

I was born with cataracts and quickly developed glaucoma. My right eye can only see hand movements from less than a metre (3 feet), and my left eye is 6/18-1. So the right eye is useless, and the left is pretty damn good.

I am an artist, and I’m blind. I suppose you wouldn’t guess that those two go together to produce a semi-professional sports and event photographer. But as I say, I only use one eye to look through the view-finder.

How it all started

The journey to the World Cup quarter-final as a photographer started when I begged my ophthalmologist to approve my request to play rugby. It wasn’t long before his team suggested I retire. I wasn’t very good at playing, but we were going through a bumpy part on the eye front. So, I retired.

Shortly, my father gifted me my first digital camera when he saw that I was taking photos of Coco, our pet dog. I took photos at my school game and worked up to covering Senior School Cup games in Hockey.

My breakout season

The big jump, all thanks to Rob Abbott: he asked if I could cover an EYHL fixture – Glennane v Lisnagarvey, a considerable step up from Junior 2 schools.

It spiralled from there, covering Hockey Ireland National League (EYHL), Irish Rugby AIL D1A final, amongst others.

The season taught me one thing: my true worth. It showed me that through all the struggles of dealing with visual impairment, it is not my disability that counts, but how we deal with it. We can find ways to adapt; we can find ways to strive. But what I achieved that year being an official photographer for some Hockey Ireland events, regularly press published, showed me that I am capable of whatever I set my mind to.

I won’t lie – it’s been a challenge. I only have one eye with useful vision, so when that is in use, looking through the viewfinder, I have missed a few things. Flying hockey balls, sticks being thrown aside, etc.

A man in a light red hoodie against a background of blurred trees wears an expression of intense concentration on his face.
Rob Abbott during the Leinster School Senior Girls Cup fixture between Mount Temple and Loreto on the Green | Photo credit: Max Fulham

The standout moment

In February 2022, I was approved for the FIH Women’s World Cup in Amsterdam. Everyone around me said it was a well-deserved achievement. But it wasn’t until I was sitting on the side of the World Cup pitch, with 11,000 supporters singing the Wilhelmus (the Dutch Anthem), that I realised that this was the pinnacle of the sport that I love. A sport I’ve followed since 2018.

A group of women holding field hockey sticks high in the air, smiling and waving to fans
Netherlands players greet the fans before the FIH Women’s World Cup Pool A fixture against Chile | Photo credit: Max Fulham

Access to World Cups as media is a highly regulated and managed process. To achieve it after one year in domestic hockey is unusual. However, with perseverance and hard work, anything is possible.

My future

Since that stand-out moment, I’ve had the honour of covering the European Junior Championships and the Hoofdklasse. Currently, I have to balance my love of photography with education.

I study International and European Law at De Haagse Hogeschool. Currently, photography is a side job, a part-time money maker. But I do hope that one day, with perseverance and hard work, I will make it to full-time sports photography.

A player wearing a number 10 jersey faces away from the camera, holding her field hockey stick high in the air in victory
Becky Manton celebrates after scoring in the EuroHockey Junior Championship Pool B fixture against Germany | Photo credit: Max Fulham

A few special mentions

I can’t end this post without saying a special thank you to a few people who have helped me realise my potential in photography. A special thank you to my Mum and Dad, who instigated my start in photography, gifting me my first camera. My brother Michael always offering critiques and help with connections.

To my school staff in Mount Temple, who gave me that platform to start, to practice. Rob Abbott, who helped with access to events, and connections; Chris Steele and Robert Forrest, who helped get me out of class; to the admin and teaching staff, for pushing me academically and never letting me miss a class.

Without all the help I have received, I never would have made it to the top of hockey in Ireland, and covered the world and regional championships.

A photo of the Fulham family, taken in front of a Christmas tree and stockings
(L-R) Michael Fulham, Derek Fulham, Sorcha Ní Néill Fulham, Dairearca Ní Néill, Seán Fulham and me, Max Fulham: my family who have individually and collectively supported me to be the best I can be | Photo credit: Max Fulham

About the author

For more information on Max and his work, visit his website, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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