Research on classes of people and representation: trying to draw some conclusions

I think my exploration as suffered from some mission creep over the past year. I began investigating dominant representations of women and then moved onto Black people but when I cam to explore Queer photography I moved away from whether there were any dominant representations of gay people and if so, what they were, to one where I explored whether gay people created images that could be classed as a category or not. The research has been further complicated by my exploring both representations of disability and representations made by disable people over the same period.

So has the mission creep undermined the research? What have I learned?

The first thing to conclude is that the summaries I have posted relating to my research show that while there are dominant re-presentations of classes of people it doesn’t take much digging to find alternatives. For example, simple searches of women might show up young non disabled white women but it is relatively easy to find alternative representations. Yet while this was true in terms of race and gender it is only partially so in terms of disability and sexuality. Both of these categories were dominated by representations of the body and symbolism with few exceptions. Such photos challenged the norms of representing things like beauty but did not reflect on social stigmas or other sources of oppression. For example I found few well known images, graffiti or street art focussed on being gay other than say Banksy’s Kissing Coppers or others here. But I found very little in the way of imagery that focussed on the disabling nature of the built environment.

However what links each class of person and how we are represented was brought together in Hughes and Patersons’ The Social Model of Disability and the Disappearing Body: Towards a Sociology of Impairment where the sociology of the body was highlighted. This reinforced my view of the power of dominant identities and the role of representation of the body in promoting hierarchies of the personal. This conclusion is supported by Vernon’s The Dialectics of Multiple Identities and the Disabled People’s Movement (1999) where she explores the interrelationships of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability and exposes how identities can put us at the centre and periphery of different groupings while always being absent from the dominant non disabled white male group. Of course she wasn’t exploring how we are represented visually but her points apply equality here as to any other area.

Even so, the imagery I did find reinforced my view that images are pretty meaningless outside of the contexts they are presented and consumed within. Sunil Gupta’s and David Benjamin Sherry’s images illustrated this with some only having any gay connotation once you know the artists are gay and intended that evocation.

What does all this mean for my work?
I think some of the groups of images I have created should offer me a chance to build a comprehensive visual discourse on the management of my impairment and the social construction of disability. The key to whether it is successful or not will be due to the association values I create between images and sets of images and the context I offer them in. However before I move toward association and presentation I need to review the comprehensiveness of the body of work around the subject matter. This will be a major task for term 4.

Vernon, A (1999) ‘The Dialectics of Multiple Identities and the Disabled People’s Movement’, Disability & Society, 14:3, 385-398, Published by Routledge


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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