Ascribed identity and the prejudices of the photographer

How disabled people want to be seen and how we are represented is often quite different. Sometimes things like attitudes towards disability, disfigurement get in the way. And of course, the attitudes of the photographer can have a profound influence on how people are re-presented. Take for example, the photo below.

Terri Calvesbert celebrates school prom by Archant – see hereimage

I really like this photo of a badly disfigured girl. She is centrally located and surrounded by others, all dressed individually but in a similar ball gown styles. Even though the subjects are all looking toward the camera rather than each other it’s a happy inclusive photo of one group. Thus the photographer has emphasised the commonalities between the girls whilst clearly recognising and not shying away from their differences. Compare the photographic approach above with the photo below.

School Photo: a class part – see hereimage

This horrible photo of a disabled boy and his classmates is discriminatory and prejudiced. It wasn’t as though the little boy had been excluded from the photo, but rather he’d been excluded within it.

Clearly the photographer thinks that this representation is okay. It reflects his or her values. But this photo doesn’t just reflect a reality: it creates it. Imagine the impact on the boy’s feelings and sense of self. His self identity will be one dominated by difference. But he is not the locus of the problem; the barrier has been created by the photographer.

Yet its the second photo that to me represents a reality closer to my own experience. That is of being simultaneously with but separate from my society.   

About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in Projects 13 and 14: My Face; My body and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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