Another approach to representation of impairment – Sue Austin

A read an interesting article on Sue Austin today – see here. The interesting fact was that when I say the image of a wheelchair user seated in a wheelchair underwater my initial thoughts were negative. “Here we go another supercrip showing other, “less abled” disabled people how to achieve things.” were my initial thoughts. But as I read the article it was clear that Austin was not approaching the project from that point of view.

“My work is all about turning stereotypes around disability on their head,” she says. “It’s about the audience becoming the active producer of meaning, and 360 [filming] is particularly powerful in doing that; as a viewer, you have to make an active choice about where you look.” (Austin quoted in the article).

So I can see that from one perspective – Austin’s imagery can be interpreted as saying that most anything can be accessible to wheelchair users if its designed right. But I don’t think this will be the dominant interpretation. Rather that will be one focussed on the individual and along the lines of if someone wants something enough anything is achievable.

This approach is wrong and bad. It’s wrong because some things are really really wanted and worked for but are currently impossible – who remembers PC Olds, the policeman that was paralysed and wanted to walk? He tried everything to walk and eventually, upon realising that this was not going to happen, took his own life.

And that’s why the perspective is bad. It can suggest that success in overcoming barriers is down to the individual when the reality is its collections of individuals who make decisions about social and physical barriers.

But Austin’s approach throws up why I want to develop a body of work that when seen as a whole, is more directional and limited in its interpretation. I want to challenge dominant traditional  views about the causes and experience of paralysis. I know I can’t control the meaning of image as interpreted by others but I can create and place images in contexts that promote my intended meaning. Then it’s up to the viewer.

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About anomiepete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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2 Responses to Another approach to representation of impairment – Sue Austin

  1. rhiannon evans says:

    Hi Pete
    I’ve been meaning to leave this comment for a while…I have been thinking about this and feel that often you are challenging peoples’ understanding of paraplegia and paralysis and also resulting access problems rather than the wider issue of ‘disability’ in general…
    All Best Rhiannon

    Liked by 1 person

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