One thing I decided I wanted to improve this year for my professional development was my photography skills. My skills in photography are very limited and basic so I knew for the creative project I was going to do a photography piece in order to develop and learn a new skill. When jotting down my initial ideas for my creative project I had many ideas but I was unclear on how I was going to relate the practical to my critical theory findings which was the representation of disabled people. When doing research for my critical theory, one of my findings was that people made disabled as a result of war (amputees) were more accepted in society than people born with a congenital limb as veterans were seen as heroes. So my research began here. The first thing I did was research photographers of wounded veterans. One of my influences is Bryan Adams who is a photographer who photographed the wounded and released a book called ‘Wounded: The Legacy of War’ in 2013.
Similar to how the disabled are ‘forgotten’ about in society, Bryan Adams said the wounded soldiers are also forgotten about so that’s why he produced a book. – BillBoard 2014
I reached out to Bryan Adams on his Instagram page to see if he would answer some questions for me for primary research.
However Bryan never did find the time to reply back to my questions. However I did find this interview that answered most of the questions I asked. This proved really helpful in getting an idea of how society feels about amputee’s and perspective’s from a non-disabled person.
A selection of photographs from Bryan Adams ‘Wounded’ Collection – 2013.
What I really like about Bryan Adam’s work is how we witness each soldier’s scars, disability or disfigurement but at the same time, the photographs reveal the inner strength and bravery of the inspirational men and women who, in spite of their personal sacrifice, continue to live each day with dignity. I like how Bryan chose to do images in colour and some in black and white. The black and white images add a hint of mystery to the subject and emphasises the emotion of the wounded veteran. Black and white also made me look beyond the image and really think about what I am looking at. It made me think of the past which I suppose is what happened to the subjects, something in the past. I liked how the black and white images drew me away from the background space so it was almost invisible and all I saw were the subjects. The backgrounds are white which is really effective as the eye is only drawn to the subject. The images in colour attract the eye and we are able to make a connection. All of these soldiers are a connection to Great Britain and it makes me feel pride.
Amputee soldiers are very relevant to culture today. War is happening all over the world, especially at the minute, Syria, Afghanistan and Aleppo are constantly in the news. It’s important as there is a clash of cultures and innocents are being killed everyday. Like disabled people, we forget that soldiers are out in other countries fighting for us and we do not acknowledge their injuries unless it happens to someone we know personally.
After looking at Bryan Adams, I was then lead onto another photographer, Giles Duley. The difference between Giles and Bryan is that Giles is a photographer who was wounded in Afghanistan when he stepped on a mine. He lost both legs and an arm so is living life as a disabled person and so is a witness to attitudes of the public in regards to his disability.He is realistic about the things he can no longer do. Giles said of his disabilities ‘It means I’m going to have to focus even more on the connection with people. It’s an unspoken art and an unspoken skill, but I’m convinced I’ll be better than ever at that.’ –
What I like about Giles Duley’s work is that like Bryan, he did a project on the effect war has on civilians, but he also does other projects on other disabilities such as his Autism project and most recently, the Paralympic games.
What I liked about this project is how Nick, the subject with Autism, is photographed in everyday situations such as at breakfast, at the beach and in his own personal space showing disabled people are just like non-disabled people. Every image is filled with emotion even if you can’t actually see the emotion on Nick’s face. You get the feeling everyday is a struggle for him even though there are no words. Similar to Bryan, Giles has used a variety of colour shots and monochrome shots. I think the black and white shots are much more effective where there is no background to look at. You empathise with Nick, similar to how society emphasise with people with disabilities but never say it out loud. People in society see a disabled person struggling or having an outburst if it’s a mental disability and they look but carry on walking. These images make me feel like Nick is isolated. People see him but they walk straight by him. Like war, mental health is very relevant to today’s culture. With cuts to the NHS, people with mental health problems don’t get the help and support they need. I personally feel, people with mental health issues are treat worse than a person who has a physical disability as members of society avoid people with mental health in public as they feel unsafe and unsure, whereas if its a person with a physical disability, members of society can ask them.
After looking at both Bryan and Giles I decided I wanted to do a project in a similar style but focus on all disabilities, not just wounded amputee’s. I want to produce photographs showing that not all disabilities are visible as it is personal to me. My disability is not visible at first glance and I am victim to a lot of judging by the public as I am not deemed ‘disabled’ enough according to them.
I began to think of ideas and ways I could portray ‘invisible’ disabilities and came up with a number of ideas including:
1) Missing jigsaw piece. – The idea was I would cut out the invisible disability on the photograph using a jig saw shape. The jig saw piece would highlight the disability or the part of the body that was affected. The jig saw piece would hopefully send the message to the viewer that this subject had a disability. The good things about this idea is it’s an unusual way to represent disability. I think the jig-saw piece would work well at representing ‘something missing.’ I didn’t like this idea for representing mental illnesses as I think it could be a bit insulting to insinuate there’s something missing and I didn’t want to offend anybody.
2) I had an idea that I could use images within images to highlight disabilities and the struggles faced, such as the image (left) could highlight how a person with dyslexia feels like ‘a prisoner in their own head’ as they know what they want to say but they struggle articulating it. The issue I had with this idea was how i would be able to represent a range of disabilities in this way. The head and looking into the thoughts was a really good idea, but I didn’t think it would be as effective using physical disabilities. I thought this idea was too complex to pull off.
3) Another idea I had was was to use images where I would mix colour and black & white. The black & white part of a photograph would highlight the area of disability or show, like the example photo, the two sides to disability. The reality and the view society see’s as disability in the media does not show a real perspective. Media doesn’t highlight the pain or struggle disabled people go through behind closed doors. I really liked this idea, I thought it was effective and different. However like my other ideas, I thought it would be really effective at highlighting mental disabilities but not physical disabilities as I thought when using physical disabilities I would just be ‘blacking’ out the disability whereas if you can’t see a disability, it’s a mental health issue, then the photo would be effective in making the viewer think and look deeper into the image.
4) – The last way was to photograph people with disabilities, similar to Bryan and Giles focusing on a certain part of a subject’s life. Example, “I have Muscular Dystrophy… I also have tattoos” and I was going to photograph this person’s tattoos or “I have muscular Dystrophy… I also go to the gym” and photograph this person in the gym, similar to Giles photographing Nick in everyday scenes. The idea behind this was that just because a person is disabled doesn’t mean they can’t do every day things like a non-disabled person would do. The good things about this idea was that it would represent mental illness as well as physical disabilities as the photography would literally be telling the audience what was wrong. The issues I had with this idea was I didn’t think it would work well representing the media industry and I didn’t think it would be effective enough as a project representing disability as it is too similar to many other projects.
I was also looking at different ways in which I could present my photographs to be effective and different and looked at composite images. I also looked at this site. and this one. A composite Image is a picture that is made from the combination of multiple images merged into a single surface and are a good way to merge the visual elements together in a natural way. I thought I could use composite images to highlight some disabilities in my project so I went to the studio to give composite images a go. I wanted to do an image using a chair and table same as the site above but as I wasn’t experienced enough, we decided to just have an individual person as I would have problems with the editing if either the table or chair changed position when my subject was getting in or out of the chair. I got my subject to take three different shots in three different positions and expressions so I could edit them all together to make it look as though she was upset with herself. I learnt a lot of new things today and learnt how to use a lot of new equipment. I learnt how to use a light meter and how to control the lights using an air remote so there is minimal touching of the hot equipment. Light meters are great for selecting the right exposure. I learnt that if I had used a higher frequency of lighting on the backdrop that I would have had a ‘whiter’ background but as this was a test I wasn’t too fussed and the background could be touched up in editing. The camera I used was a canon 60D. I have experience with this camera from previous studies and although i know Canon are not the best for photography, I stuck to the camera I know. I used photoshop to edit my images together. In the end I only decided to use two of the images I took. I merged the two photos together and using the brush tool I was able to ‘brush out’ the background so my two images met and merged into one. So I ended up with two images of my subject looking at each other. I learnt why for this reason, it was important to use the same background otherwise my photo’s would not have merged so easily. So its important to remember when shooting a composite image, not to adjust lighting, exposure or set for each shot. It must stay the same. This was my first time at using photoshop so I was learning another new skill to add to my professional development.
The final outcome of my practice composite shot is as follows:
I am very pleased with how it turned out. If I was to develop this image further I would have spent a lot more time on the background editing, as it is streaky where my two images meet. On the image on the left, you can see where I started to use layering masks to lighten the background to make it whiter. I would have done this to the whole image so all the background was the same. Overall this was a positive learning curve for me. I learnt about equipment in photographic studios and how they work. I learnt why we use light meters. I also learnt how to produce a composite image and I am very happy with my outcome. Composite images is a technique I am thinking about using in my project to highlight a mental disability.
After more thinking I decided to that for my project I would produce an ad campaign aimed at people with disabilities getting a job in the media industry. The ads would represent disabled people and the media industry and so related to my critical theory. I would feature disabled people in media related jobs showing the world that just because a person is disabled doesn’t mean they aren’t abled. So with this idea planted firmly, I began researching my idea further.