Thursday, 30 May 2013

Photographing Dwarfs

A client thought I would be perfect to photograph Tina, I can understand why and in some ways I was but I struggled to find a subtle way to approach the subject. She was badly scarred and blinded and although the circumstances that led to her deformation are informed by an accompanying text, the image alone offers no nuance. In fact, the injury if anything is a distraction from the delicate responses to the camera that can betray a subject’s humanity.

The brutality meted out on Tina’s face by her boyfriend invoked the memory of a beaten dog I saw in a tabloid newspaper the previous day. Tragically, her visual identity now is more of an expression of her attacker’s personality, rather than any expression of her own. The scarring is a distraction and constant reminder of a single terrible moment infecting her present; an identity of the violence.

Physical disabilities offer a similar complexity in visual representation. Cerebral Palsy is represented by distortions and involuntary movement that unfairly define a person. It offers a visual narrative disconnected from the recognized indicators of emotion that are more easily read in the ‘able bodied’. I have had issues with my portrait of Naked Man Turning with Walking Stick’ for this reason; all my other images are mostly a readable response to the camera so it took sometime to justify its inclusion with the other works.

At a school in the UK for severely disabled young people the students have minimal amount of movement, they require the highest levels of care and their life expectancy is short. Here is a work in series of them playing with me - 'Boys Playing Outside Sheltered Accommodation.' I felt a strong emotional connection with one of the boys and may have embarrassed him a little. Its very hard to see beyond the chair and the physical aberration to reach the person but that is the point.

In the genius book ‘On Photography’, Susan Sontag wrote In photographing dwarfs, you don't get majesty and beauty. You get dwarfs.” I understand the context but I think this is the only clumsy and stupid thing she ever said. We 'choose' to photograph the dwarf.

Boy with Hollyhocks #1, from series 'Boys Playing Outside Sheltered Accommodation' © Richard Ansett
Boy with Hollyhocks #2, from series 'Boys Playing Outside Sheltered Accommodation' © Richard Ansett

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